Your First Car – Making Your Decision

first carMost of us get our first car as teenagers. It’s the car we’ll always remember.

Let’s take a look at some of the important questions you’ll want to consider when deciding about what you’ll buy as your first car, how you’ll pay for it, and how to go about the purchase.

How much can you spend?

If cost is not important and you can choose practically any car you want, we’ll get to you later. However, most teens have restrictions on how much they can spend. It might be that your parents are buying and have set a price limit, or that you have your own budget and a limited income.

Since most teens start driving before they become of legal age to sign a car loan contract, it’s typical to pay cash for their first car. The cash can come from savings, gifts from relatives, or a loan from parents — or a combination. Usually, it’s not enough money for a brand new car, but possibly sufficient for a good used car.

The amount of money you have to spend on your first car will directly affect your choices. Lots of money, lots of choices. Little money, fewer choices. In general, the more money you spend, the better the car — better condition, better mileage, better performance, better safety, and better reliability.

If I only have $2000 or $3000?

Two or three thousand dollars is not very much money for an automobile. It’s certainly not impossible to find a good used car for that price range but it will require a lot of searching and legwork, particularly if you restrict yourself to only certain makes and models. Many cars in this price range will be junk, but not all. Your job is to find the jewel in the pile of junk. Don’t become over-anxious. Take your time. You’ll be glad you did.

The following article, Cheap Cars, explains where and how to look for inexpensive cars. This information should be a great help to you in your search.

Needless to say, any car you find should be thoroughly test driven and inspected by a qualified mechanic before you buy.  Do not depend on the word of a seller regarding a car’s history or condition.

Also think about the additional money you’ll need for insurance, taxes, oil, gas, tires, and repairs. Insurance for young drivers can easily be the most expensive part of car ownership. Will your funds or income take care of these additional costs?

What can I buy with $15,000?

Buyers with more money to spend have more choices. With $15,000 or more, you might have the option to buy either an almost-new used car

A number of new makes and models fall into this price range, such as the Kia Rio, Ford Fiesta, Mazda3, Chevrolet Spark, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, and Toyota Yaris.

Good used cars in this price range that are no older than 10 years old are: Honda (Accord, Civic, CR-V, Element), Nissan (Altima, Maxima), Toyota (Camry, Corolla, Highlander, RAV4, Matrix), Mazda (MX-5 Miata), and Suraru (Impreza, Outback).

What if I have more than $15,000?

More money buys more car and more choices. Most new cars fall into the price range of $15,000 to $30,000. Consumer Reports magazine lists AudiToyota, Lexus, Mazda, Kia, Buick, and Subaru as top brands in terms of reliability.

If you want to buy a previously owned car, you have many used luxury models to choose from. Lexus, Acura, and some BMW models are good used-car buys. Beware of older models of Mercedes, many BMW models, Jaguar, Audi, and Land Rover. These makes have higher-than-average problem rates.

Can I get a loan?

Not unless you’re 18 years old (or older, in a few states). However, if you are at least 18, you may be able to get a loan. If you don’t yet have an established credit history, you may have to get a co-signer. A co-signer is usually a parent or family member with a good credit history who is willing to accept responsibility for your loan if you should fail to pay. A co-signer is not always a co-buyer or co-owner.

What is a good first car?

Most teenagers choose smaller, more economical models such as the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. But tastes vary by region of the country and even by city. Car models that are considered not cool in one region may be well respected in another region. Peer approval is an important factor for teens when choosing a first car.

Generally speaking, Japanese and Korean cars will have higher quality, better reliability, and higher resale value than their American or European counterparts. There are exceptions, of course. The following article, Which Car Should I Buy?, makes some specific recommendations, based on your needs.

Should I buy new or used?

The amount of money you have to spend on your first car is a major factor in determining whether you buy a new car or a used, previously owned car. The cheapest new cars sell in the range of $13,000-$16,000. If your budget is smaller, or you don’t like the low-priced new cars, you’ll be looking at used cars. Of course, new cars have improved safety features, modern technology, full manufacturer’s warranty, and that wonderful new-car smell.

Where is the best place to buy a car?

If you’re going to buy a brand new car, you’ll buy from an authorized automobile dealer who sells brands from one or more manufacturers. You can get free online price quotes at The prices are already discounted by local dealers. See the article, How to Buy a New Car, which gives you important tips and buying techniques.

If you’ll be buying a used car, you have a choice of places to buy: from an individual, from an auction, from an independent used-car dealer, or a new-car dealer who has a used-car lot. You can browse local newspapers, free “autotrader” magazines at your local supermarket, used-car consignment lots, online at, eBay Motors, or One of the best online sources of used cars is

What’s important to you?

Consider the things that are most important in the car you want. Is it style and looks? Is it performance and speed? Is it safety? Reliability and dependability? Cost of operation and gas mileage? Room enough for friends? Coupe, sedan, convertible, small SUV, large SUV, or truck? Color? Certain features, such as premium sound system?

Make a list of the things that are most important to you and use the list as you evaluate cars. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of good sense. If your budget prevents you from getting your dream car, remember that you will be able to afford better cars later. Be patient and don’t over-extend your finances.


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