Skip to main content

Car Buying Tips — 10 Tips for Buying Your First Car

Muhammad Rafiq is a freelance writer, blogger, and translator with a master's degree in English literature from the University of Malakand.

Car Buying Tips

Car Buying Tips

What’s the best type of car to buy? What about new versus used cars? There are so many decisions to make when you’re shopping for your first car, and with so many different options out there, it can feel overwhelming. If you’re new to car buying, these 10 tips will help you find the right vehicle that matches your needs, budget, and lifestyle. No matter what kind of car you end up choosing—new or used, small or large—it should help you get where you need to go efficiently and safely.

1. Understand Your Budget

You need to know how much money you can afford for a car before you head out on the road. If you don't know how much you can afford and stick with that, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of buying a car and finding yourself with a payment that doesn't fit your budget.

When preparing your budget, it's important to include costs other than the monthly payment. These include the down payment, taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs.

Take a look at your existing financial status as well. If you have debt like credit cards or student loans, paying them off could be a higher priority than buying a car.

The general rule of thumb is that your monthly car payment should be no more than 20 percent of your take-home pay (after taxes), and ideally 10 percent or less. Since most people make multiple payments every month, including mortgage or rent payments, this percentage can help determine how much money you will have available for all living expenses each month.

For example, if you earn $3,000 per month before taxes and take-home about $2,400 after taxes each month, then the 20% rule says that your total car payment shouldn't exceed $480 per month.

2. Shop Around to Get the Best Deal

Before you buy your car, you should shop around to get the best deal. The more quotes you get from the different companies, the better chance you have of getting a better deal. Once you get a quote from a company, be sure to ask about discounts that may apply to your situation. For example, if you are in good health and don't smoke, some insurance companies will give you a discount on your premiums.

Also, if your car has safety features such as airbags or automatic seatbelts, this can reduce your premiums as well. If your car is equipped with an anti-theft device, this can also lower your rates. You can also save money by taking advantage of any special deals offered by auto insurance companies.

For example, many insurance companies will give you a discount if you buy multiple policies from them, such as home and auto.This is known as bundling and it can save you hundreds of dollars per year.

You should also consider purchasing multiple policies with the same company. This is called multi-line coverage and it offers the potential for significant savings over time. In addition to saving money on premiums today, multi-line coverage gives you the opportunity to save even more in the future when your rates go up due to age or claims experience.

3. Haggle the Price

Your car dealer always has a large profit margin, so you're in a position to negotiate the price.

Haggling over the price of your vehicle is very important. You don't have to pay the full sticker price for your car. Dealers list their cars with a very high price tag so that they will be able to knock thousands off of this price. They have a large profit margin already built into these cars, and you should be able to get anywhere between 5-20% off the original selling price.

A good way to start haggling is by asking the dealer what their lowest selling price would be on the vehicle. If they say $10,000, then tell them you'll take it for $7,500. Chances are good that they won't come down quite this far, but they will meet you someplace in the middle (like $8,500). In most cases, the dealer won't budge at all unless you offer them something lower than their asking price.

You can also save quite a bit of money in taxes when buying a new car if you do some research ahead of time. For example, many states have tax holidays and other special times during which you can get a break on sales taxes and registration fees when buying a vehicle.

Keep in mind that the sticker price on your new car isn't necessarily set in stone. You may be able to negotiate the price down with the dealer, especially if there is an incentive in place or if you are paying cash for the vehicle. As a general rule, dealers are willing to accept less than the listed price if they believe it will help them close a sale quickly.

4. Consider Second Hand Cars

When buying a car, many people only consider new cars and don’t consider second-hand cars. However, there are many good reasons to consider buying a second-hand car.

One of the biggest reasons to buy a second-hand car is to save money. Second-hand cars are cheaper than new cars and will cost much less to run. This is because of the depreciation factor that affects new cars greatly as soon as they leave the dealership. New cars can lose up to 20% of their value within the first year of being driven off the forecourt. So if you buy a second-hand car, you are already saving money on the initial purchase price and you won’t be as affected by the depreciation in future years as compared to a new car.

Another reason is that many of today’s second-hand cars are incredibly well built and durable, making them reliable and cost effective for many years after they have been bought. A number of vehicle manufacturers now offer long warranties when their cars are purchased from new, so this means that when these vehicles become used, they still have some warranty left on them which will be transferred over to the new owner – this gives further peace of mind for people who want to buy a used car as opposed to a new one.

Scroll to Continue

If you are looking to buy a used car from a dealership, there are also great finance packages available. Dealerships such as Motorpoint offer special ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ deals where you choose your car and then pay nothing for six months.

Car Buying Tips - Consider Buying Used Cars

Car Buying Tips - Consider Buying Used Cars

5. Determine Your Priorities

Whether you plan to buy a car on your own or have a dealer find one for you, you should know what you want. Your "wish list" might include the type of car (e.g., SUV, sedan), color, and features (e.g., four-wheel drive, air conditioning). You can simply find this information over the internet.

You may want to prioritize your wish list in case you can't find a car that fits all of your wants and needs. For example, if you need a car with good gas mileage, but also want a powerful engine, you might have to choose between the two.

Once you've picked out some cars that fit what you want and need in an auto, find out how much they cost by looking at the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) on the window sticker. This is also called the "sticker price." It's also important to find out how much each vehicle really costs by looking up its "invoice price." This is what the dealer paid for it. The difference between these two prices is called the "dealer's holdback."

Dealers get this money back from the manufacturer when they sell the car. It helps them cover expenses while they're waiting for their cars to arrive. The dealer holds back may be 3 percent of the MSRP or invoice price. So, if a car has an MSRP of $20,000 and an invoice price of $18,000, then the holdback is $600. If you buy a car that costs $20,000, then you're paying $20,600 if there's a 3 percent holdback.

6. Take the Car for a Test Drive

One of the most important things you should do when buying a car is to take it for a test drive. After all, it's hard to get a feel for how a car will handle and perform in everyday driving conditions if you only sit in it while idling in the dealership parking lot.

The test drive is your chance to experience the car's performance and handling on the road. It also gives you an opportunity to assess the car's comfort level and its features.

If you're planning to buy a used vehicle, it's even more important that you test drive the car before buying it. That way, you can find out whether there are any issues with the vehicle — some of which might not be obvious unless you drive it for an extended period of time.

Following are 4 tips to help you get the most out of your test drive:

  • Schedule several test drives at once so that you can compare different vehicles back-to-back.
  • Take a test drive during rush hour to get a feel for how the vehicle performs when there's traffic.
  • Bring along another family member or friend to help assess features or assist with driving duties if needed.
  • If you're interested in buying a used car, ask whether you can take it to a mechanic who can inspect it while it's not running on dealership time.
Car Buying Tips - Take the Car for a Test Drive

Car Buying Tips - Take the Car for a Test Drive

7. Don’t Buy From People You Don’t Trust

The car you are going to buy will be with you for a while, so don’t buy from people you don’t trust.

If the seller is unwilling to let you take the car to your mechanic, that should be a red flag. A good seller will want to establish trust with a potential buyer, and letting them take the car to their own mechanic is one of the best ways to do this.

Some sellers are more than willing to throw in extras, like warranties or maintenance plans, to sweeten the deal and ensure that you get great service. These are folks that you want to shop with. Similarly, if the seller of the car is unwilling to let you with any sort of maintenance plan or warranty after purchase, that is another red signal that you should take into account.

There are plenty of reasons to buy a car from someone you don’t know, but there are a few more reasons not to.

In the past, buying a car was an intimidating process filled with salesmen who didn’t have your best interests in mind and countless hours spent at the dealership. Thankfully, as technology has evolved, so has the way we buy cars.

With the rise of online purchases and shopping, you can now find a car that meets your needs without any haggling or stress involved. In fact, several popular websites are dedicated to helping customers find and purchase a car online.

While this may sound too good to be true, the process is easy and straightforward. However, before diving into this new world of car buying, you should be aware of some of the risks with buying from someone you don’t know or trust.

8. Avoid Bait and Switch Tactics

Car dealers are notorious for using bait-and-switch tactics to get customers into their showrooms. They advertise a low price on a car, and when you arrive at the dealership, they try to get you to buy a more expensive model.

While this is typically seen as an annoyance, it can also be dangerous for people who have bad credit. If you've been denied for a loan, or your credit score isn't sufficient to qualify for the advertised rate, some dealers will try to talk you into buying a more expensive vehicle. That's because it's easier for them to find financing for more expensive vehicles with higher down payments than it is for cheaper ones.

If you aren't careful, car dealers can take advantage of your bad credit situation and convince you to buy something you can't afford or don't need. You might end up making monthly payments that are too high or putting yourself at risk of defaulting on the loan if you can't make those payments.

To avoid being tricked by a bait and switch tactic, do your research before visiting the dealership.

9. Look at the Car’s Maintenance Records

A used car might be more cost-effective than a new one, but it’s also an investment. Before you start the buying process, make sure to ask for the vehicle’s maintenance records. If it doesn’t have any, you could be in for expensive repairs down the line.

Most vehicles will have scheduled maintenance checks every 5,000 miles or so, which should include tire rotations and oil changes. If you don’t see any records between 30,000 and 40,000 miles, that could mean that something was ignored or never checked.

If the previous owner didn’t get tune-ups on time and kept hitting their odometer limit before stopping in for help, they may have damaged the engine without realizing it. A damaged engine can either need a repair or total replacement. Depending on the type of vehicle and its age, a new engine could cost anywhere from $4,000 to $9,000.

Even if you know how to perform regular maintenance yourself (which is great!), it’s still a good idea to see if there are any records of recent inspections. If the old owner had them done regularly and kept track of their progress with a mechanic or dealership, you might be able to get your hands on them. If they’re not available, it can be a red flag that the car hasn’t been properly maintained.

Look for these three things when examining a car’s maintenance history:

Proper fluid changes. Most modern vehicles need an oil change every 3,000-5,000 miles. The owner’s manual will have specific recommendations for your vehicle. Oil changes are one of the most important preventative maintenance tasks because oil keeps the engine running smoothly and prevents overheating.

Transmission service. Transmission fluid helps keep the gears lubricated so they don't grind against each other and cause damage over time. Your owner's manual should indicate how often you should change your transmission fluid. It's usually between 30,000-100,000 miles — or when the manufacturer recommends it — but some cars never need a transmission fluid change at all.

Check engine light repairs. The check engine light can come on for any number of reasons, from something serious like a failing transmission to something more benign like a loose gas cap. But whatever the reason, it’s not normal for the light to stay on indefinitely and should be looked at by a mechanic as soon as possible. If you see that the check engine light has been coming on for years without getting repaired, that means whatever problem was causing it likely still hasn’t been fixed.

10. Check the Mileage of the Car

While buying a used car, one of the first things that you should check is the odometer reading. It is important to check whether the odometer says km or miles. In case of difference between what is mentioned on it and other documents, do not go ahead with the purchase.

Mileage is a critical parameter to consider while buying a used car. The lower the odometer reading, the better it is for you. A car with lower mileage has been subject to less wear and tear and will be in sounder shape than one with a higher odometer reading.

The extent of wear and tear depends on several factors like how the owner drove the car, the condition of roads that he took it on, and maintenance. While you cannot change these factors, knowing the extent of wear and tear can help you negotiate a better deal.

The following points can help you get a good idea about the extent of wear and tear in a car:

Check exterior paint condition. Look for scratches, dents, chips, rusted parts, and faded paint. This will give you an idea about how well the car's exterior has been maintained. Minor scratches and dents can be easily fixed; however, if there are multiple scratches or dents at multiple places, it could mean that the owner did not take good care of his vehicle.

Check interior condition. A used car with a spotless interior will be much more pleasant to drive than one with tears in the seats, damaged dashboard or cigarette burns. If you are buying a used car for your family, ensure that it is comfortable enough for them to ride in it comfortably. Also, check if all the controls on the dashboard work properly.

Check engine bay. A clean engine bay indicates that the car has been well maintained. Look for leaks, stains or any signs of corrosion. Check for oil/coolant leaks around gaskets and seals. The condition of engine belts can also tell you about how well-maintained the car is.

Next, check the tires. If they are worn out, there is a good chance that other parts of the car are worn out too. Also, you need to keep an eye out for uneven wear and tear which indicates imbalance in wheels or incorrect alignment of wheels.

Lastly, check for rust. Look closely at places like undercarriage and around the wheel wells. Rust is an indication of corrosion and can lead to serious damage later on if not taken care of immediately.

Car Buying Tips - Check the Mileage of the Car

Car Buying Tips - Check the Mileage of the Car

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Muhammad Rafiq

Related Articles