First Car Questions

We answer questions from first-car buyers almost every day when we participate on the Yahoo! Answers web site in the Car Buying and Selling section. The majority of those questions come from teens and young adults who have little or no experience in buying, trading, or selling cars.

In the few years that we’ve been doing it, we have seen certain common questions come up over and over again. Some come up numerous times in a single day.

We thought we would post some of the most frequent questions here, and answer them just as we do on Yahoo! Answers.

Here goes.

Q.  How many miles are too much for a used car?  How many miles will I get from this used car?

A. All used cars are different. It’s not possible to say that a certain car of a certain age and of a certain brand that has 150,000 miles is a good car. It depends on how it has been driven and cared for. Some cars with only 50,000 miles are ready for the junk yard, while others with 150,000 miles are good for another 150,000.  Even brands such as Honda and Toyota, that are known to be very reliable, can have serious high-mileage problems. Therefore, don’t make a purchase decision based on mileage alone. Get a professional mechanic to inspect your car before you buy. It’s the actual condition of the car, not mileage, that is important.

Q.  Can I get a car loan? 

A. It depends. Ideally, if you are at least 18 years old (legal age to sign contracts), have good credit, and have a good job, you should have no problems getting a car loan. Your credit score will determine your loan interest rate. If you don’t have good credit, you’ll need a co-signer who has good credit and a good job. What’s your FICO score? Find out now when you check your credit report for $1 at Experian.com! It’s best to go to a local bank or credit union and get pre-approved for you loan. Compare your loan rate to that of your car dealer’s financing. Go with the best deal.

Q. How much should I spend on a car?  Can I get a good car for $1500? 

A. Used cars are like a lot of other thinks you buy — you get what you pay for. The cheaper the car, the older the car, the more miles it has , the higher the risk that it has problems. $1500 doesn’t buy much car these days. At that price, you’re likely to have to spend much more than that just to keep in running. It’s not impossible to find a good car at such a low price, but it’ll take a lot of looking. If you can spend $4000-$6000, you have a much better chance of getting a car that you can depend on to get you where you’re going — without having to constantly repair it. Of course, if you can spend more, you’ll get a better car that will be even more reliable.

Q. Which car should I buy? What’s a good first car?

A. This is always a tough one to answer because the right car for one person might be completely wrong for another. And there are so many car brands and models to choose from. But with no other information about what the person might like, we always suggest a Honda Civic, one of the most popular first cars.  The Civic is relatively inexpensive, is super-reliable, relatively cheap to insure, is great on gas, is safe, has good performance, is comfortable to drive, and looks good. And there are thousands of aftermarket parts for it that can be used to improve its performance and appearance. It’s just a great car. Also look at the larger Honda Accord or the Toyota Corolla or Camry.

Q. I bought a used car from a dealer (or individual seller) and it broke down soon thereafter. What can I do?

A. Not much. Used cars are normally sold “as is”, meaning that the seller has no further responsibility for it after the sale. Dealers and sellers typically don’t know about all their car’s problems. They don’t do detailed inspections. Therefore, it’s rarely possible to prove that a seller knew about the problems prior to the sale. This means it is the buyer’s responsibility to take every precaution before buying a used car. Buyers should have the car inspected by a mechanic before the sale, get a Carfax vehicle history report, take a look at the title to make sure it’s not a salvage vehicle and that there are no outstanding liens (loans) on the vehicle, and most importantly, take a good long test drive on city streets and highways. Never take a seller’s word that a car “runs fine” or “has not problems” — they all say that.

Q. How to buy a car if I have no credit and no co-signer?

A. Paying cash is the best way. If you have little cash, you might consider a “buy-here-pay-here” (BHPH) dealer who finances his own car loans and doesn’t care about customers’ credit. What’s the catch? BHPH dealers (“no credit, no problem”) generally sell older overpriced cars that come with expensive high-interest loans. They put customers on strict weekly or bi-weekly payment plans and don’t tolerate missed payments. Their cars are frequently repossessed and put back on the lot. If this is the only way you have to get a car, then go in to it knowing how it works. Otherwise, save your money and pay cash to avoid potential problems.

Q. Can I trade my car if I still owe money on it?

A. Maybe. It depends on the value of the car (check KBB.com and NADAGuides.com) and the amount of your loan balance. If your car is worth more than your loan balance, you’re in good shape. A dealer will pay off your loan and apply the difference as a down payment to your new car. However, if you still owe more than your car is worth, you are “upside down” — you have negative equity. If your negative equity is relatively small, a dealer can pay off your loan and ADD the difference to the price of your new car. If the difference is too large, you’ll have to make a large cash down payment. It’s always better to delay trading, if possible, until you have paid down your old car loan enough to not be upside down.

Q. How much can I talk a dealer or seller down on the price of a car?

A. If it’s a brand new car, you can use a web site such as TrueCar.com to find out what other people are paying and get low price quotes from local dealers. If it’s a used car, use KBB.com and NADAGuides.com to find the value of the car. If the dealer or seller is asking too much, show him the value you found on those web sites and offer that amount or less. Just because a seller asks, say, $12,000 for his car, doesn’t mean that’s a fair value. Even if you “talk him down” to $10,000, you may still be paying too much. It’s essential to do your pricing and value homework before negotiating used car prices. Trying to negotiate a car price when you don’t know what price is fair is foolish.

Q. Is this (car make, model) a good car?

A. We see this question every day. The asker has been looking at cars and wants to know if a particular make,model, year vehicle is a good car to buy. Some car brands and models have better long-term quality and reliability than others. Consumer Reports magazine publishes results of car owners’ surveys every year in its April issue (find it at your local library or go to the company’s web site). They even provide a list of “used cars to avoid.” However, when buying any used car, regardless of brand, age, or mileage, it’s always a good idea to have a professional mechanic fully inspect the car before making a purchase decision. Since most used cars are sold AS-IS, there’s no going back if problems are found after the purchase.

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