Ten tips for buying your first car

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8 min read

Congratulations! You’re looking to buy your first car. Whether used or new, straight from the shop or via the trade-in process, this is an exciting moment in your four-wheel history.

Let’s chat through 10 car buying tips for your first car––what to expect, what to avoid, and how to keep the most cash in your wallet. This way!

tip 1: get your credit and pre-approved loan ready before heading to the dealership

According to a recent article by Nerd Wallet, getting a loan from a lender outside the dealership helps you understand what kind of car you can afford. That way, before you fall in love with a(ny) car on the lot, you know where you stand. This process will also reveal your credit score, which can help in the long run. Knowing your credit score can save you thousands of dollars at the dealership––dealers work with lenders at a predetermined rate and can add a certain amount (as much as 1 or 2 percentage points) to your approved rate if you come into the shop without a pre-approved loan.

tip 2: keep it simple

Whether it’s via an email thread or negotiation for a job, short and simple gets to the point the fastest. The same is true for the dealership. Whether you’re buying used or new, remember that this is a game for both sides. If asked about your trade-in process or getting a loan from a dealership (not preapproved like above) it’s best to keep a poker face and not answer those questions. The dealership is looking to make extra money on you (which could include lowballing your trade-in) or pushing a high interest rate. You know more about what you want than they do! Trust yourself.

tip 3: keep the option of a used car on the table

When thinking about your first car, there’s probably a certain fantasy that comes to mind, and the fantasy may not include “used” in its description. That’s OK, but hear us out––used cars are not what they used to be, and the reliability of certain makes and models is outstanding. If a car has passed the 100K mile test, there’s a good chance you could drive it for another 100,000 miles too. Don’t assume that every shiny car you see on the road is brand spanking new. Used cars can be a great (just as shiny) option for you while saving your wallet some serious amounts of cash.

tip 4: utilize online resources to help you

If you’re in the strategizing phase, online resources can help you with your search. Especially during harder times in the economy (ahem, inflation), resources like Consumer Reports can give you a rundown on other aspects of the car that a dealership––new or used––is going to leave out of the equation. You’ll also be able to understand the reality of car pricing vs. your expectation, so when you walk into a dealership, you truly know that if you purchase a car(often after rounds of negotiation)–you’re walking out with a car whose price mirrors what you already know (not believe) to be true.

tip 5: always test drive the car

We get it. Pretty is pretty and nice is nice. But if you’re blown away by the look of something and buy it without even sitting in it––the main activity between you and your car––you could be paying to regret and resent a hefty purchase. Test drives will not only help you understand your nonnegotiables (which might change), but if the car is worth the price tag. If it’s pretty but uncomfortable, or made by an innovative company and drives clunky, is it really worth your time, energy, and investment. Read that again. Oh, and while you’re at it, take the car for another test drive. Can’t hurt.

tip 6: if you’re buying third-party used, have a chat with the seller

Just like dealerships, sellers also have their best interest in mind. It’s important to note that if you’re not going to use a service like Peddle––that picks up your car and leaves you with cash––you need to understand the nitty gritty details that come with this car. This list includes how many owners the car has had, other information that may not have been in the ad, if the seller is willing to have the car looked at by your mechanic. And how they got to their asking price. If you’ve done your due diligence, these answers (or lack thereof) will provide you with all the information you need to make the best gut decision.

tip 7: always negotiate

Similar to a job offer, car prices should be negotiated. If you’ve done your research (like reading this article, score!) you’ll know that you need to come into the conversation educated and ready to negotiate a certain amount off the car based on previous reads and resources. At the end of the day, whether your negotiation knocks a couple hundred dollars or thousands of dollars off, the point is that you were able to argue fairly and save yourself money in the process. That’s a major win!

tip 8: remember your transportation needs

Something to consider as you’re strategizing, collecting resources, and getting ready to negotiate is what you’ll be using this car for. If you’re not commuting to work––and don’t foresee a future where you’d have to––the kind of car you’d need may drastically change. Let’s say you’re a 30-something single living in the city. You commute for work via public transportation, and solely use your car for road trips on the weekend and during vacation. You probably don’t need to factor in the same needs of a working family of four (with a baby on the way!) since the car would be used differently. If your transportation needs easily fluctuate, a car with great gas mileage is a great choice.

tip 9: take your time and go slowly

Buying your first car can be overwhelming, and exciting, and terrifying––and of course, new! But it takes time, money, and energy to get the car-buying process done (and done correctly). The right car for you will always be there, so take your time. You can leave the lot at any moment and you don’t ever have to commit to something, even if you are sold on it. Sharing the news with family and friends can also provide insight that helps with the decision so you don’t feel trapped in your thoughts about it. Move at your own pace, take deep breaths, and understand that this purchase is a commitment so being picky is a good thing.

tip 10: if you’re going to trade in, do your research beforehand

Look into how much money your vehicle trade-in could put in your wallet. Peddle will buy any car––junker, clunker, inherited, semi-working, or not at all––off your hands and give you money right away. on. the. spot. Handy, huh? While we make it easy for you to get a good deal, it never hurts to know how much your car is worth before the fact to avoid any surprises or unrealistic expectations. If you decide to trade in at the dealership, this process is vital. Read read read! (Or sell to Peddle!)

Cheers to loving your new (or preloved) new car!