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First Time Car Buyer Tips

Updated on May 9, 2012
My first car; my beautiful 1997 Volkwagen Jetta that I owned for about one week.
My first car; my beautiful 1997 Volkwagen Jetta that I owned for about one week. | Source
My precious little Jetta.
My precious little Jetta. | Source

It can be hard to think logically when you are in love; love with a person, love with a car, it’s all relative. My first car was found and purchased through the popular buying and selling website, Craigslist. I had about $1,000 dollars and a few thousand burrowed from my parents, for a grand total of around $5,000 to spend on a car. Like many teenagers back then, I had my heart set on a real crappy car choice, but none other than a 1997 Volkswagen Jetta.

It wasn’t a great decision, but my parents were proud that I had done a lot of research on this car. We drove down to the seller’s house to take a look at the car, and did the almighty test drive. We were naïve. We didn’t take the car to a mechanic to have it inspected prior to the purchase. In fact, we dove right in and gave the seller all my money a few days later.

We met at a shopping center halfway between our houses. Problems arouse immediately after the keys were handed over to us and as the seller drove away. It was an unbearably hot day and the air conditioning was not turning on in my new car. We called the seller and he told us a trick to make it work. It turned out the a/c and the ignition switch to turn on the car on, both wouldn't work under normal conditions. You would have to turn the key a little backwards to make the car start, and make the a/c come on. This wasn't always the case though. We did do a test drive and everything had appeared perfectly functional. It was a Canadian car and the head lights would stay on all the time; to shut them off you would pull up the emergency break.

I was heartbroken when we took it to a mechanic a few days later to see if the air conditioning and ignition switch could be fixed. We were initially shocked when we were told that those two problems were the least of our concerns. Since it was a foreign car, the pieces needed would cost a fortune to order. We were stuck between a rock and a hard place. The mechanic told my dad the news as he thought it would break my heart if I heard it all. There was so many things wrong with my car that it was clear we completely got screwed and really made a stupid buying decision. Luckily, it was only a few thousand bucks in the whole, and l was able to learn from my mistake.

A few things should be considered when buying a used car. Utilize the tips in this hub to try and avoid being scammed.

A video about first time driving

Question the seller

Ask questions that will give you a grasp of the condition of the car.

  • How old is the car?
  • How many primary drivers? How often did they drive the car and how far?
  • How many accidents has the car been in?
  • How often has the car been brought in for maintenance?
  • What is the cars mileage?

Take a test drive

Always take a test drive when buying a car, but most definitely when purchasing a used car.

During the test drive, explore the car, its features, and how well the car handles.

  • Take the car on the highway and see how it handles at 70 MPH.
  • How is the alignment? Can you lift your hands off the wheel and still remain in a relatively straight path?
  • Do you notice any unnerving noises coming from the car?
  • How well do the brakes work? Is it a smooth ride?
  • Does the air conditioning and all the windows work properly?
  • Try out anything and everything in the car. Any problems you find, mention to the seller upon returning with the car.

Get a second opinion

If everything looks great to you, that is one thing, but you may not be totally qualified at finding mechanical problems, so seek some additional help.

  • Get a Carfax vehicle history report and find out any events the car has been involved in, that may or may not have been brought to your attention by the seller of the car.
  • Bring the car to a certified mechanic. Have a professional take a peak under the hood and check for any possible problems, minor or severe, that may influence your buying decision.

Decide the spending limit

Consider a few questions when determining your spending limit.

  • How much are you willing to spend on this car?
  • If any problems have arouse with the car, are they easily fixable?
  • If problems will be costly to fix, is the car still within your allotted budget?

Was your first car a real lemon?

Were you a bit naïve in purchasing your first car?

See results

Make a final decision

  • Add up the costs of all the problems.
  • Deduct this number from the number you're willing to spend. If no problems were included in the asking price - first reconsider buying this car from someone who was not straight up with you - and then, propose a new offer if you're still interested in purchasing this car.
  • Be knowledgeable, and do your research. How much do similar cars go for? If it appears you are getting a serious deal, there could be some serious hidden flaws.
  • How many other cars have you looked at? Check out a whole bunch and get a feel for what is out there. Don't jump into a car that looks beautiful, but that turns out to be a real lemon.

My reliable car owned since 2007, purchased after trading in my 1997 Jetta.
My reliable car owned since 2007, purchased after trading in my 1997 Jetta. | Source


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    • profile image

      Esti77 5 years ago

      I will and thank you emilybee and vechiclereg :)

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 5 years ago

      Hi Esti! Research thoroughly before buying a car, and always bring it to a mechanic first if it is a used car. Thank you for commenting and for the votes! Good luck when it comes time to buying your car.

    • profile image

      Esti77 5 years ago

      Hey Emilybee. Thank you for sharing your experience and I will definitively follow your advice, when I purchase my first car and its great that you learned from your experience because some people never do. Voted up useful and awesome :) I will now be following you and I will greatly appreciate, if you read my first Hub; peace and keep up the great work :)

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 5 years ago

      Hi traslochimilano!! You are very welcome. It definitely is a good practice to be very choosy when car shopping for cars! Ask lots of questions and do lots of research, too. Thanks for stopping by and best of luck in your car search!! :)

    • traslochimilano profile image

      traslochimilano 5 years ago from USA

      HI emily, Thanks for sharing the tips for buying a car first time. It like a lesson to me because i want to buy a car. After reading this i am going to be choosy.

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 5 years ago

      Hello Nell- that's a very good point. It's so tricky to get a car- really involves some serious investigative work, as one can't solely rely on trust. I would have put lots of money into fixing that car-so in the end I got a brand new car which should last many years. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Hi, emily, sorry to hear about your disasterous first buy, all your tips are really helpful. the thing is though, you can still get ripped off by buying from a reputable dealer, my brother recently bought a car, 4,000 pounds, around 7 thousand dollars, second hand, and it was from the best dealer with a lot of years behind them, he still has had to take it back in for loads of stuff wrong with it, I am fuming mad at them, and next week he has to take it back again! so yes always be careful and take an independant mechanic with you, cheers nell

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 5 years ago

      vechiclereg- Great additions. Thanks for sharing your insights, they are great things to consider when buying a car. Thanks for stopping by!

    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 5 years ago

      Hi writer20! It was disappointing at the time, but I'm very happy with my car now. As you say, I hope it lasts me a good while - it should as I do take good care of it. I hope others will learn from my error and do more research than I did when car buying! Thanks for the comment!

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

      I'm sorry that creep totally let you down, but at least you've learned from that and that's good.

      Enjoy your second car some last forever.

      Voted up useful and interesting. Joyce.