There are literally thousands of combinations of different automobile types, makes, models, styles, and prices, which can make it difficult to choose. However, we will help you determine the perfect car for your needs.
What is a good first car? Which car is the best buy? Which is more reliable? Which gets the best gas mileage? Should I buy a SUV or pickup? Which car is safer? Which is more economical? Which is cheaper to insure?
What car should I buy as my first car?
If you were to ask this question and you gave no other information about yourself or what you wanted, we would suggest you buy either a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, two of the most popular and most purchased cars in America. Both cars come in either a sporty 2-door coupe version or a 4-door sedan, and with a variety of engines, luxury features, and safety options. Both also offer gas-saving hybrid versions.
However, if you already know you don’t want a Honda or Toyota, stay with me. I’m not going to try to convince you that these are the only brands you should consider. I’m just using them as a starting point to help you choose the right car for you.
Why the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry? Because these two cars have an almost ideal blending of all the following characteristics — the characteristics that most people want in a vehicle:
- Excellent quality and reliability
- Attractive styling
- Easy handling
- Great performance
- Good gas mileage
- Outstanding safety rating
- Excellent value for the money
- Affordably priced
- Luxury features standard
- Roomy and comfortable
- Good cargo capacity
- Inexpensive to insure
- High resale value retention
- Relatively low maintenance and repair cost
However, as good as the Accord and Camry are, they are not the right vehicles for everyone.
All of us have different likes, dislikes, needs, and financial situations. But if you have no idea what car you should buy, and are flexible as to the brand and model, and need a good starting point, these two vehicles are excellent candidates. You won’t go wrong.
First time buyers like Honda Civic
One of the most popular cars for teenagers and other first-time buyers is the Honda Civic. It’s a little smaller and more economical than the Accord, and it’s easy to find used models in good condition. Insurance rates are relatively low and it’s inexpensive to drive. It’s also very reliable and safe.
For those who like to customize their cars, there are thousands of after-market appearance and performance products for the Civic. Used Honda Civics are affordable and dependable.
Other cars for first time buyers
The Kia Rio is a good choice with a base price of just $11,395. It is ranked high in quality and safety, and is very economical to drive. Beware of used Rio’s however. Have them inspected before you buy.
The Toyota Corolla is legendary for it’s dependability, great performance, quality, and lots of standard safety equipment. It’s the smaller sister to the Camry. Used models are usually in excellent shape and hold their value well.
The Mazda3 is popular with first time buyers because it looks good, is roomy, has good performance, low fuel cost, and doesn’t cost as much as other cars with similar features. Used models have excellent reliability.
Other cars, both new and used, that are popular with new teen drivers are the Ford Focus, Honda Fit, Nissan Sentra, Mitsubishi Lancer, Ford Mustang, and Scion models.
What if I have different needs?
Using the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry as a base of comparison, what would you want to be different? Why doesn’t the Accord or Camry work for you? Do you need a different type of vehicle? Do you want a lower price? Do you need a smaller or larger size? More performance or speed? Larger with more passenger and cargo capacity? More luxury? Sportier appearance?
Vehicle buying is a very personal experience. As such, it is almost impossible for us to tell you exactly which vehicle you should buy.There are many vehicle makes and models, and style variations, called “trim levels”, within each model. And then there are options that can be added. The result is that there are thousands of different combinations from which to choose — which is a big part of the problem of deciding.
Recommendations as a first car
Certain vehicle makes and models consistently rank high in owner surveys and ratings. Here are our suggestions of recommended vehicles — both new and used — in different categories, based on overall quality, reliability, safety, performance, and value for the money. Note that some vehicles listed below are no longer in production but still make good used-car choices.
|Budget||Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris, Ford Focus, Scion xB, Hyundai Accent, Scion xD, Kia Soul, Smart ForTwo|
|Small Compact||Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Prius (hybrid), Subaru Imprezza|
|Hatchback Compact||Toyota Matrix, Scion xB, Mazda3, Subaru Outback|
|Mid Size||Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Elantra|
|Full Size||Toyota Avalon, Buick LaCrosse, Buick Lucerne, Hyundai Azera|
|Near Luxury Mid Size||Acura TL, Lexus IS250, Acura TSX, Volvo S60|
|Near Luxury Full Size||Lincoln MKZ, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti M35|
|Luxury Mid Size||BMW 325i, Lexus ES350|
|Luxury Full Size||BMW 530i, Lexus GS350, Cadillac DTS, Audi A6|
|Sporty Performance||Honda Civic Si, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Subaru Impreza WRX|
|Luxury Performance||Lexus S430, BMW M3, Audi S4, BMW 650i|
|Small SUV||Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Nissan Xterra, Honda Element, Toyota FJ Cruiser|
|Mid Size SUV||Toyota Highlander, Acura RDX, Toyota Highlander, Toyota 4Runner, Lexus RX330, Mazda CX-7, Infiniti FX35|
|Large SUV||Toyota Sequoia, Chevrolet Tahoe|
|Minivan||Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna|
|Convertible Sports||Miata MX-5 Miata, Nissan 350Z/370Z, Audi TT, BMW Z3/Z4|
|Hybrid||Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, Lexus HS, Honda Insight|
Some of the factors that you should consider before making a final decision are in the following list. Rank them as to which are most important to you.
Important Factors in Making a Car Buying Decision
- Reliability / Dependability
- Safety Rating / Features
- Price – Rebates and Incentives
- Styling / Appearance
- Passenger and Cargo Capacity
- Comfort / Luxury Features
- Performance – 4, 6, or 8 cylinders
- Resale Value and Depreciation Rate
- Operating Costs and Fuel Economy
- Routine Maintenance Costs
- Insurance Costs
- Availability of aftermarket customization parts
The resulting prioritized list will help you in determining the vehicle that will best fit your needs.
My first car – new or used?
Even if you have the money or finances to buy a brand new car, it’s often smarter to buy used. But not always.
For example, in a tough economy, car manufacturers and dealers are desperate to sell cars. As a result, most brand new cars currently have heavy incentives, rebates, low-interest loans, and large price discounts. This means that a current-year model car can often be purchased for less money than a relatively new used car of the very same make and model. See the following web site for a list of current new-car incentives and rebates: Best Car Deals
See the following article for more advice about buying new cars versus buying used: Your First Car: New or Used?
Narrow your choices and get prices
Try to narrow down your list of cars to no more than three. Then research the cars on the Internet, shop at dealers or online listings, go see and drive the cars, and finally make your decision. If it’s a used car, you might want to have it inspected by a mechanic — or buy a “certified” used car that has been inspected and comes with a warranty.
If you are considering a brand new car, you can find out what other buyers are paying and get a pre-discounted price quote at TrueCar.com.
You can look at used cars online at dealers in your area at UsedCars.com. The prices are already discounted.
Caution for online car buyers
Watch out for common car scams if you are considering buying your car online. Dishonest sellers often advertise used cars at unbelieveable low prices, take your money, and disappear. It’s always best to buy from a local source where you can see and inspect your car, and meet the seller face-to-face.