Surviving high school is an accomplishment—and obtaining your driver’s license is an even greater one. Summer’s here, and soon you’ll be itching to leave the house and cruise around town in a car of your own. But before you put your hard-earned money on the first, fanciest coupe you see, we have some suggestions on what to look for in your first car.
Fits Your Needs: Consider how you’ll actually be using this vehicle. Will it be driven locally in an urban setting or on long trips across rural distances? Transporting loads of luggage, or generally travelling light? What weather will you be faced with—blistering heat or heavy snow?
An Affordable Price: As rational as purchasing a brand new car may seem, it’s not a wise investment as a first car. If you can find a used car which you can pay for entirely upfront, that’s fantastic. If you finance your used car purchase, make sure you can afford to put down at least 20% of the total cost upfront. The total cost of the car should be no more than 25% of your anticipated income and be paid off in 48 months.
Low Cost of Maintenance: Unfortunately, the sticker price on your first car isn’t the total amount of money you’ll be spending on it. You’ll have to consider how much the vehicle will cost to maintain each month, so avoid models with high insurance premiums and gas-guzzling appetites.
Mileage Under 160,000: While higher mileage usually means more affordable, every car reaches a point when it’s too old to be worth buying. Any more than 160,000 miles, and it’s probably nearing the end of its life.
Moderate Size: A mid-size sedan is ideal for first-time car owners. Bulky and overly-powerful vehicles are hard to control and more trouble than they’re worth, while compacts tend to compromise on crash safety.
Automatic Transmission: Unless you learned to drive a stick shift, don’t be taken in by the appeal of the cheaper price tags and slightly better gas mileage of manual cars. They’re easy to tear apart if you’re not used to driving them.
No Rear-Wheel Drive: Stick with front- or all-wheel drive. Believe us, rear-wheel drive vehicles are a challenge in slippery, curvy conditions and act differently than traditional cars.
Safety: Because you’re still getting used to driving, it’s important to have a car with solid crash test results. Look for good safety ratings from the NHSTA and IIHS, and find a vehicle with airbags, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control.
No Major Problems: Make sure you get your vehicle inspected before purchase, uncovering any pricey upcoming maintenance costs or problems the current owner is hiding. It shouldn’t have any warning lights on, not much rust, and a clean history.
Don’t worry about issues that can be fixed post-purchase, like getting new tires or fresh paint. A lot of elbow grease can still turn any car into a beauty, so don’t let that be your deciding factor.