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How to get a car when you can't afford one

Updated on April 29, 2016

So let me ask you...

How did you get your first car?

See results

A question of the era! It's an issue for anyone to get what they need these days, let alone a costly car. They're expensive, and once you even procure one, you have to worry about insurance, maintenance, gas, and more. However, even with effective public transportation, bikes, and other forms of transportation, it can be pretty hard to get by without a car, depending on where you live. I know that even though I hate to drive, I still find myself using my car more than I would expect, and Bay Area public transit is supposedly one of the best systems in the U.S.

As a self-proclaimed cheapskate, I've found a few ways to get a car when you don't exactly have thousands of dollars:

  • Ask your parents. Some of you may have wealthy families... I know quite a few people who got great cars on their birthdays. Perhaps you can make a deal with your parents; if you get straight A's for your entire life, you can get a car. I also know that most of my friends inherited cars or got their parents' or aunt's old car when they got a new one. It's kind of a long shot, but hey.
  • Find a cheap CHEAP car. I also know a good deal of people who would find cars by reading the "For Sale" words painted on the car windows. Those cars tend to be cheaper and not too bad in quality. Additionally, there are people who purchase cars from places like the Salvation Army... probably not the best shape, but if you just need any car for a short time, it could work. I actually got my first car from the lot of a neighbor; the car had belonged to the lady's father-in-law and was 21 years old when I bought it for $500, but it got me through three years of high school and college, and it still remains my favorite. You can also check the classifieds, craigslist, or other places for cheap cars; my second car was found in an ad for $4,000.
  • Enter contests. Again, another long shot, but there are always those raffles in the mall. Try going on "The Price I$ Right"! I mean, my dad's co-worker won $32 million in the lottery a few years back... You never know!
  • Use a scholarship. This is something a lot of my AmeriCorps friends do. Depending on the organization/foundation, if you win a scholarship, you might be awarded a check that you can use however you like. With AmeriCorps, you are awarded a Segal Education Award that is worth $4,725 after serving for a year. If you enroll at a community college, you can use that award to pay off a loan, and you will be cut a check for the remainder of the funds after you pay the couple of hundred for tuition. That can mean $4,000 or more for a car (or a laptop, or rent, or anything that can be used for education or to make receiving an education easier)!
  • Get a job. You really might just have to suck it up and work to earn money for a car. That's what I did to buy my first call all by myself. And it's really not that bad.


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    • profile image

      Dan Pencer 

      15 months ago

      I can totally relate to this article. I had the same problem. I had bed credit and thought I was out of options. I found this website called Car Loans of America. I am not sure if you know them but here is the link I financed my car with them when I thought I was out of options. I was finally able to get my first car.

    • Muhammad Khalid12 profile image

      Muhammad Khalid 

      23 months ago from Pakistan, Rawalpindi

      We can also buy the car on installments from Bank.

    • Randal Ankeney profile image

      Randal Ankeney 

      2 years ago

      Independent dealerships often are more aggressive about financing, and have ways to get you approved with banks or credit unions that franchise dealerships don't. Try or check out your state's independent dealer association for places to try.

    • ChristinaJohns1 profile image


      2 years ago

      Sorry for missing the link. It is not visible so i'm posting the complete link here:

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you for the information!

    • ChristinaJohns1 profile image


      2 years ago

      I liked two of your suggestions of doing a Job to get a car & finding a cheap, cheap car online. I have a suggestion that you & your readers can go through ( they sell all the best & well-maintained second-hand auto. They have been market competitive since 2009. This ensures that when you choose to work with them that you always receive the best customer service – from professionals that want to build lasting relationships for all your automotive needs.

      The vehicles that are offered at Padela Motors, go through a thorough & rigorous point machine examination. Their whole stock is handpicked. They also offer automobiles at 0% interest rate and 0% down payment. THEY LITERALLY FINANCE EVERYONE REGARDLESS OF CREDIT. THEY ARE THE BANK SO YOU ARE APPROVED EVERY TIME! Don’t permit bad credit score to hold you anymore. It’s simple, the charge you spot the auto advertised for is the fee you will pay for that car.

      For Suggestions, you can visit their website:

      Hope this helps those who are looking for used cars in USA.

      Cheers & thumbs up on your superb article Glassvisage. =)

    • ChristinaJohns1 profile image


      2 years ago

      Loved your article Glassvisage!

      Very well written article with all the humor.

      Thumbs Up!

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you for the insight Alec - yes, this is definitely from the American perspective. I wonder where you are where cars and insurance are sold at those prices?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hahaha it took me a while to realize this was meant for Americans. Anyone younger than 23 has to pay $4,000 annually just for the insurance around here. The cheapest new car on the market is a Chevrolet Spark, which is $20,000. Used cars for under $4,000 are often useless, and it's way too much to throw away. I mean, I'd definitely take a chance on a car that costs $500.

    • profile image

      craigslist discussion portal 

      7 years ago

      Here you can find more Craigslist resources to find and post anything.Just visit and find all your required products.

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Northern California

      Emma, I know it can be hard. I actually take public transportation most of the time. But definitely take the time to learn to drive and remember that a car can be closer than you think!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm 18 and I my parents have not had a car. We can't afford one so we use public transport to get around. It is so embarrassing not owning a car. And it's hard because I have to ask family members to teach me to drive.

    • Ehnaira05 profile image


      8 years ago from Charlotte, Florida

      Nice post, I do love it. I also have a hub my friend you are free to visit it.

      Lovely Day!

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Northern California

      Thanks Jama! Great tips and a great place for people to start looking.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      8 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Two of my best cars I got for a song from people who'd handed them down to their kids to drive to school. A friend got really good cars for practically nothing (which he'd re-sell for a nice profit) from widows who wanted to get rid of the deceased hubby's car that had sat in the garage from the time he went to a nursing home. All were advertised in non-dealer newspaper ads under "Used Cars".

    • profile image


      8 years ago from CA, USA

      New Hybrid Car by Kongtuk -

      Where do i find free auction access car online?

      i am trying to find a web-site that allows me to access auction cars sales on line with out charge or cost?

    • claydejesus profile image


      10 years ago from CA, USA

      Hello glassvisage, thank you for your suggest, why? that you help me found and got cheapest my dream car, thank again.

    • jamison1977 profile image


      10 years ago from london UK

      hello,the owner of this web must be the fav of ford car .as I 'm ever ,but if you own a car you will find so many troble will come soon,that you will find wether afford just a simple

      hand,you must take more into account .money is short,the bigest problem.

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Northern California

      KD, that makes sense! I think the background on your situation makes me feel better for not coming up with a good solution :) But the first thing that came to mind was to trade it in for an upgrade, or to sell it and get a new car. My family has done that in the past and it worked pretty well.

      Smoke, that's so nice! I think it's better for a teen to get a used car because it keeps them grounded, and I think safer! My Ford Granada GLX 1981 was huge and I felt so safe in it... I wish I could drive that car forever!

    • profile image

      smoke juice 

      10 years ago

      My daughter is graduating from HS in 1 wk and I'd like to buy her a car for graduation. I've seen a few cars parked on the side of the road that are in my price range. She's not getting a new BMW or anything outrageous. My first car was a '79 Nova. It was absolutely indestructable.

    • K.D. Clement profile image

      K.D. Clement 

      10 years ago from USA

      This is the issue: We already have a "family" car that my husband takes to work. It is a great car but our family doesn't fit in it anymore since the birth of our last baby. We need a second car for various reasons and live at least 30 minutes from the nearest city. I am a SAHM who is looking into money possibilties at home but I don't think HubPages and the like will help me for quite awhile. Can I work? Not really. Too many little ones at home and I would rather not pay the high cost of daycare. The point of a new car is so I can take my entire family places and we have a bit of mobility. Right now we are still using the one car and we stay home a lot. Seems to be the only solution. Like I said-my question was a "wish fulfillment" kind of thing. I am well aware of the cold realities, classifieds and the like...but I wish a car fairy would come down from that great car dealership in the sky and grant me my wish! ;-) We just saw Bedroom Stories with the kids and I was feeling a bit Adam Sandlerish ("For free?")

      Still, it is a great hub for those who want to buy their first car (and also good for a laugh at a pretty dumb question! ;-)

      Eventually things will work themselves out-I am sure of it. Maybe a relative will get rid of one of their automobiles-who knows. Maybe we can trade in our existing vehicle for an upgrade. And now, you wonder, how on earth did we end up with one car and so many children? 3 international moves in less than 9 years, each time we left all of our possessions and started anew, medical debts from a medical emergency, and oh so lovely school loans from graduate school.

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Northern California

      Thanks everyone! Teresa, your first car sounds amazing!

      Yes, getting a bike is also a solution... If you can't bike, K.D. maybe a segway would work. Have you considered a motorcycle? That's definitely cheaper than a car and gets great gas mileage. Why couldn't you get a job? I mean, I got my first car by working at a restaurant for a couple of years... It might be hard to get a career kind of job right now, but odd jobs always exist. And it did take me a while to find my cars... You don't just open up the classifieds on day and give up when you can't find one. It took me months to find the right car. Worst comes to worse, get a loan and buy a car, then sell it. Maybe even lease one. Otherwise, if you really can't afford it and you can't work, then I'd say maybe this isn't the right time for a car. Bus it!

    • K.D. Clement profile image

      K.D. Clement 

      10 years ago from USA

      LOL Thanks for answering my request. Ahhh...always the same answers to this question. Okay, so riddle me this, what do you do if you can't bike, can't get a job, and there are no cheap CHEAP cars! ;-)

    • Teresa McGurk profile image


      10 years ago from The Other Bangor

      My first was a '68 Ford Fairlane (purchased in 1985)--it got us to Canada and back from SC, and cranked first time every time. Second, a '76 Honda Civic Wagon (1986). Both were great cars. And cheap.

    • jamestedmondson profile image


      10 years ago from San Francisco

      Of all your suggested methods, "Get a job" and "Find a cheap CHEAP car" are my favorites.

      I'm also going to suggest getting a bike.


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