Ready to get started? Here are our top 9 tips for first-time car buyers.
- Establish a budget
- Decide how you're paying for the car
- Identify what you need and want from a car
- Research car prices
- Choose several models to compare
- Buying a Car: Dealership vs. Private Seller vs. Online
- Research how much those cars should cost
- Research the lifetime ownership cost
- Take a test drive
- How many passengers will you normally have?
- How much garage or parking space do you have?
- What safety features are important to you?
- Will you listen to the radio or need Bluetooth?
- Do you have a long commute?
- Do you need to drive in ice or snow?
- Will you be taking the car off-road?
- Do you have pets that will ride in the car?
Once you have a list of options, narrow down your choices. For similar car types and price ranges, it may make sense to compare features and specs side-by-side. Online reviews from owners of the car types you’re considering can also be helpful. Need a starting point? We’ve got several lists of popular vehicles for different needs, including family cars, cars under $20,000, cars with great gas mileage, and even great cars for tailgating.
There are several major factors that affect lifetime ownership costs, including:
- Finance charges
- Vehicle license, registration, and taxes.
Fuel costs will vary by vehicle. Vehicles with higher MPG will usually cost less in the long run than cars with lower MPG. However, there are also other factors that may affect fuel costs, including whether it’s a diesel or gas engine, and if it requires a higher quality of fuel than Regular.
Regular maintenance can help keep your car running smoothly, and includes oil changes, fluid checks, and more. Unexpected repairs can happen at any time, but keeping your car maintained can help minimize the unexpected costs of repairs. RepairPal® has a great tool to help you compare maintenance costs of many different makes and models, including average annual repair costs for vehicles.
Insurance costs depend on factors like your age, driving experience, and driving record. There are several automotive insurance quote tools online, and you can call your current insurance company and ask for rate quotes for the cars you’re considering.
If you finance your car, you’ll usually have interest included in each payment. However, this can vary by car and financing type, so read the details carefully before you sign.
Vehicle license, registration, and taxes
License, registration and tax costs are affected by vehicle sales prices, alongside state and local tax rates. These taxes and fees must be paid in order to drive and own your vehicle.
A test drive shouldn’t be restricted to driving around the block. At CarMax, you can take a car home for a 24-hour test drive, so you can find out how it drives on the types of roads you’ll be using regularly. Before you drive a car you like, make a list of things you want to check. For example:
- Does the car have any blind spots? If so, are there any blind-spot monitors to help out?
- Find a nearby highway and see if the vehicle has enough power to comfortably merge with highway traffic.
- Find an empty street with several winding turns or sharp corners to test the car’s handling.
- Can you park the car easily? How about parallel parking?
- How do the brakes feel? Do they catch quickly? How easily does the car stop?
- Is there a lot of noise in the cabin, or is it quiet?