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Good First Cars: 5 Tips On A First-Time Car Purchase


2012 Toyota Prius V

Buying a car for the very first time can be intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. With so many cars available, both new and used, where do you start? Looking for good first cars is a little more manageable if you consider these five tips.

Know what you’ve got to spend. It doesn’t make sense to look at a luxury sports car if what you have to spend is more in line with a compact sedan or a used vehicle. Factoring in how much you have to spend also means more than the purchase price. If it’s a new car, there’s the amount of down payment (which helps lower the total amount financed). There’s also insurance, maintenance, gas, tolls and other expenses to factor in. Use a car loan calculator to help you figure out monthly payments.

Consider how you’ll use the car. Will the car be used primarily to commute to and from work or school? Do you need a vehicle to travel long distances on a regular basis? Will you be adding a second car to the family and using it mostly for transporting the children, running errands, going to the grocery markets, nursery, home improvement store and the mall? Determining how you’ll be using the car will help you narrow in on the vehicle type that will fit your needs. A commuter car may be a fuel-sipper like the Ford Fiesta or a hybrid like the Toyota Prius. A second family car could be a used sedan or a crossover SUV, such as the Ford Taurus or Honda CR-V, respectively.

MORE: See What Car Should I Buy? What To Consider Before You Start Car Shopping

Line up your financing. Unless you’ve got cash to cover the price of the vehicle, before you head out to look at cars for a first-time purchase, it’s smart to line up the financing to cover the deal. Check out rates at local banks and credit unions, what the automakers themselves may be offering through their captive finance arms. Get pre-approved for financing and your car shopping will be much less stressful.

Check out available discounts and rebates. With new cars, automakers often offer attractive discounts and rebates. This is especially true when it comes time for a new model to be introduced, as dealers want to clear the lots of last-year’s (but still new) models. You might be able to get into a new car for about the same price as a used one, if incentives are offered. On the other hand, considering the first-year’s depreciation of a new car, a good first car might well be a two- to three-year old used vehicle instead.

Make a list and test-drive them all. How do you know if the car you think is right for your first-time purchase will really be adequate to suit your needs? For one thing, you need to have several vehicles on your consideration list. These may be similar models from different automakers, or they could include a couple of different body styles and types, such a sedan, a crossover, a hybrid or even a coupe. Next, be sure to test-drive everything on your list, paying special attention to how the controls work, how the car feels on the road, if visibility is good, what kind of gas mileage you get, and how roomy, quiet, spacious and comfortable the car feels.

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