How to Pick the Right Car (If You’ve Never Had One)

How First-Time Car Buyers Can Find the Right Car

If you’ve never bought a car before, but you’re in the market for one, you might feel more than a bit intimidated. Scheduling a test drive is easy, and you could always talk to a professional salesperson, but most dealerships only carry certain makes and models of cars, and you could be talked into making a decision that isn’t best for your goals and lifestyle.

So how are you supposed to pick the “right” car if you’ve never had the experience of buying and/or owning one?

How First-Time Car Buyers Can Find the Right Car

Determine Your Priorities

Your first step should be to determine your priorities. You’re probably going to use this car for a specific purpose, like commuting to work or taking the kids from place to place. But it’s important to outline your priorities so you know which types of cars to look for.

  • Cost. Obviously, you’ll have an upper limit on cost. Depending on how you plan on financing the vehicle, you may want to consider this as a total value for the vehicle, or as a monthly payment, you’re willing to make. In general, you’ll want to spend less than 10 percent of your monthly net pay on a vehicle. This should help you determine what class of vehicle you’ll be seeking, including whether you want to buy a new or used one.
  • Functionality. How are you going to be using this vehicle? This will direct you to determine the ideal features for your car in terms of functionality. For example, will you need lots of seating and an interior room? Or is it better to have something compact and maneuverable?
  • Comfort. Comfort may seem like a negligible factor if you’re more concerned about functionality, but it’s worth your attention. You’ll likely be spending many hours of your life behind the wheel, so you must be comfortable in that position, with features like heating, air conditioning, and music that work for you.
  • Lifespan and reliability. Everyone should strive for a car that lasts as long as possible. The question is, how does this priority fit in with other priorities like cost? The average car should last about 8 years from the time you purchase it, but better-manufactured vehicles can last 15 years or longer.
  • Safety. Different cars have different safety ratings. Some are equipped with extras like airbags, and some are built hardier, capable of absorbing more impact.
  • Performance factors. You might also consider various factors related to how the vehicle performs. For example, you might be interested in accelerating the vehicle, or you might be worried about its fuel efficiency. Many variables can affect your choice in this category, and they often affect the price you’ll pay.

The Research Phase

Once you’ve outlined these important priorities, you’ll be able to start researching. Resources like Car and Driver and Kelley Blue Book typically publish articles listing the best vehicles available in each of several different categories, including different classes of vehicles, different price ranges, and even different safety standards.

That’s a good starting point. You may also be able to talk to other people in your social circle who are familiar with purchasing and maintaining vehicles; they may be able to recommend a specific make or model to you.

Please make a list of the vehicle models you’re considering and start researching all of them. Look at manufacturer descriptions, consumer reviews, and professional reviews. Even if you know nothing about how cars work, these sources of information should help you get an idea of what you’re most interested in.

The Testing Phase

Once you’re armed with sufficient research – including the going rate for the models you’re most interested in – you can start contacting dealerships to take those cars for a test drive. During this phase, you’ll get a feel for how each vehicle drives, how it looks up close, and what issues you might experience as a vehicle owner. This is also your chance to talk to a salesperson, who likely has more information than you do, and can answer your most important questions.

Finalizing Your Options

Once you’ve found a make and model that works for you, you can start finalizing options that may be variable in your vehicle, like different engine types, different interior materials, or other design features. Some of these will add significant value to your vehicle, but others aren’t worth the money.

You’ll want to do a bit of research on these options in advance and determine which ones fit your priorities – including cost. At that point, all that’s left to do is negotiate the final price, but with the prevalence of online information, there isn’t as much wiggle room as there used to be.

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