first carI frequently visit the popular web site, Yahoo Answers, and answer questions about cars there. Many of the questions are from teens and other young people who are buying their first car.

One of the most common questions is, “What is a good first car?” or simply, “What is a good car?”

Sometimes the asker has already narrowed down his or her choices to a few makes and models but, more often, they simply don’t know and want some advice or suggestions.

It’s difficult to recommend a specific car to someone when you have no idea of their needs or preferences. But I usually suggest the popular Honda Civic as a good first car because it has a great combination of most of the things that buyers are looking for. It offers a lot of car for a relatively low price, whether it’s used or new. It’s very reliable and won’t be expensive to maintain.  It has good gas mileage which makes it relatively inexpensive to drive. Insurance costs are low, compared to many other cars. It’s safe and comfortable. And its 4-cylinder engine provides peppy performance.

Although the Civic is a great car for a great price, it doesn’t fit everyone’s needs.

If the buyer needs a larger car, they could consider the Civic’s bigger sister, the Honda Accord, or a Toyota Camry.  These are two of the best-selling cars in America — for a lot of good reasons. Generally, people who select these cars have done enough research to know how good they are. Other good cars are the Nissan Altima, Mazda Mazda3, and Hyundai Sonata.

Small “crossover” SUVs such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 make good first cars for people who need an extra bit of cargo capacity while keeping costs low.

I’ve found that teen guys often want a “fast” car and are thinking about something like a Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro, which are a good choices. However, the high-performance V8 models are not recommended because they are difficult to manage for inexperienced drivers, they have often been abused or not well maintained, fuel economy is poor, and insurance cost is very high.  The new sporty Subaru BRZ and it’s twin, the Scion FR-S are also good choices.

Many girls seem to want a “cute” first car, which usually means a small car. A Civic might not be “cute” enough. They may be more satisfied with a Scion iQ, Toyota Yaris, or Honda Fit. Although cute enough, these models are often noisy, rough riding, and don’t have great performance. A Volkswagen Beetle, Mazda Mazda2, or Mini Cooper might be better choices.

There are obviously many more vehicle makes and models than we’ve mentioned here.  However, some are simply not good vehicles for first-time buyers. For example, we don’t recommend full-size SUVs because they are hard to handle in emergency situations. We also don’t recommend sports cars or convertibles as first cars because the are too dangerous and insurance rates are very high. Although many luxury cars, such as BMW and Mercedes, make fine first cars, buyers should realize that maintenance and repair costs are very high, as is auto insurance. Insurance is higher for sporty 2-door coupes than on 4-door sedans.

Young people typically have no credit  for an auto loan and have very little cash. They often have as little as $1000 or $2000 to spend on a car. It’s not impossible to find good cars for so little money, but the odds are against it. Generally, cars in this price range are old cars with lots of miles, and possibly lots of problems. Smart buyers will always have a professional mechanic inspect such cars before the purchase. Used cars are sold “as-is” which means problems found after the sale can’t be used as a reason to return a car or get the previous owner to fix it. There are no “right of return” or “3-day return” laws for used cars.

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