Tips Every First Time Car Shopper Should Know

Buying your first car can be a difficult undertaking to navigate.

It might feel like every salesperson is pulling the wool over your eyes to take as much money from you as possible while delivering the least value.

Not to worry! Here are a few car buying insights that can help you get a ride that meets your transportation needs without sacrificing your financial stability.

Buy a used car
Chances are, you’ll buy your first car with limited financial resources. You most likely just need a vehicle that reliably gets you around town without breaking the bank.

In terms of price, used cars beat new cars almost every time. And reliability is decreasingly an issue–used cars sometimes travel 100,000 before they need a major repair.¹

As a rule of thumb, look for used cars that are three years old or more. They often can have the same features as newer models, still have many miles left before they break down, and can cost a fraction of a brand new car.

Ask for a car’s VIN before you buy it
If you decide to buy used, ask for the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of each car you consider. A VIN gives you access to the full history of your car, including…

  • Where it was built
  • Its make, model, and year
  • Whether it’s been subject to recalls or damaged in a crash or flood

Once you have the VIN, check it out on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. They have digital resources that allow you to search VINs and discover the history of the vehicles you’re considering.

Say no to bad deals
Don’t sweat it if you find a not-so-great car at a good price. It’s perfectly fine to walk away and keep searching. 40 million used cars were sold in 2019.² You’ll find the car you want at a price you love soon enough!

Above all, do your research. Buying a first car is a serious financial commitment. The last thing you want to do is drive off with a car that costs too much or will need constant repairs and maintenance. Check out sites like Kelley Bluebook and Consumer Reports to find information on car prices and reliability. Then, start asking around. You might be surprised by how many people in your circles are trying to unload a reliable used car!


¹ “How Many Miles is Too Many on a Used Car?,” Autolist, June 27, 2017, https://www.autolist.com/guides/how-many-miles-is-too-many-used-car

² “New and used light vehicle sales in the United States from 2010 to 2019,” I. Wagner, Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/183713/value-of-us-passenger-cas-sales-and-leases-since-1990/#:~:text=U.S.%20new%20and%20used%20car%20sales%202010%2D2019&text=Sales%20of%20used%20light%20vehicles,and%20automobiles%20were%20sold%20here.