Every first year driver is confronted with a major question: What is a good first car? Unless your parents just gave you your first automobile, you have a lot to think about when buying a car. Although there's no definition of what makes a good first car, I want to help you by providing info about what to look for in a starter automobile.
Safe cars for teenagers
As a 16-year-old driver, you need to keep safety in mind. Your parents will thank you. But what should you look for in a safe vehicle?
To start with, you may already have an idea of a good first car. If not, that's OK. This step can be returned to when you do narrow your choices down. If you know the make and model, you should do a little research about the safety of that car.
All good first cars in the last 20 years have been ranked according to a 5-Star Safety Ratings system (available online), which measures the safety of vehicles in a crash or rollover.
Although you don't expect to be in an accident, a 16-year-old driver has a higher crash rate than any other aged driver, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This means that a well-built vehicle is good insurance for you.
Where to buy a good first car
A few common places to buy a good first car are through private parties, the new car dealership used vehicle section, and through used car lots.
Private parties: These are automobiles listed on Craigslist, in somebody's driveway with a for sale sign, in a newspaper ad, word of mouth, and many other ways. You are more likely to get a good price and won't have a high-pressure salesman breathing down your neck.
New car dealership used vehicle section: These automobiles are usually in the back of the lot and are usually trade-ins. Bought at dirt cheap prices, dealerships usually sell these cars at auction if nobody buys them in a specific time frame. Some are good first cars -- others, well, are on the lot for a reason.
You can usually offer a pretty low price on one of these and get a good bargain, but you need to make sure your offer provides the dealership with some profit.
Some dealerships offer certified used cars, which have been inspected and usually have a warranty; this can be a piece of mind.
Used car lots: These lots get a bad name, with images of snake-charming salesman ready to sell you a lemon. A used car lot may be a good choice if you need a loan to buy a good first car and can't get one anywhere else.
Tips for buying cars for young adults
You'll need to determine your budget. I don't recommend buying cars on credit. (Good first cars provide a learning experience and are not always that well-taken care of.) But if you do have to take out a loan to buy a good first car, you should shop around at banks and credit unions. The best way, if your parents agree, is to get a small loan from them. Of course you'll need to pay your parents back, but they might be generous and not charge you interest.
An important point is to get a car that's not too sporty because eventually you'll be asking insurance agents about “what car insurance coverage should I have?” The agent will most likely mention that you fall in an age bracket where even just liability on a sporty auto will be expensive. To cut down on the insurance costs, get a car insurance policy that has good discount programs and keep your grades high in school.
Finding out possible insurance costs before you buy a car will provide no surprise and may mean the difference between buying, say, a 3000 dollar car over a 4000 dollar car.
Once you know how much you can spend, watch the market for used cars before you buy. This will give you an overall idea about how much certain makes and models cost. You can also use Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds – both of which are online – and determine what price range that car should fall within.
Having the price range info will help you know whether or not you are paying too much or getting a good deal on a good first car.
Once you have found a safe vehicle, you need to ask the seller questions about the vehicle and its history.
Some sellers can be dodgy or lie about vehicle problems, maintenance, and history, which means you should get a CARFAX on the vehicle. The last thing you want is a salvage titled car that was wrecked, rebuilt, and now being resold!
You may want to bring your dad or a mechanic friend along; he can help you determine if the car needs mechanical work to be safe and about how much it would cost to fix it.
Now you've found a good first car with a title, made sure all the mechanics are tip-top, and are ready to buy. Now all you need to do is negotiate with seller.
Use your research to your advantage and try to get the best price possible. Point out any flaws or mechanical problems that need to be fixed and deduct from the asking price.
Although there's no one thing that makes a perfect car for new drivers, we've looked at a few things you should think about when answering the question "what's a good first car?"