You’re buying your first car! Buying your first car can be exciting, but frustrating if you’re not prepared. Here’s what you need to know before and after buying your first car.

What You Need to Know Before Buying Your First Car

Before you buy your first car, there are different factors you should consider. Let’s take a look at some of the things you need to do.

Do Your Homework

Whether you have your ideal car in mind or not, you still have to do your homework and research cars on different reputable sites, such as Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book (KBB),, and J.D. Power. These sites give you information about different vehicles to help you make an educated decision on what car to buy and include reviews, safety information, and other facts about vehicles. You can search for the cars that interest you by providing the model, year, and make of the vehicle. You can also provide mileage range, engine type, and other criteria to help you find vehicles that will suit your needs.

If you prefer to purchase your first car from an individual instead of a dealership, the provided sites can help you find people who are selling their vehicles. If you’re going to purchase your vehicle from an individual, consider these 4 factors:

  • Value

KBB is a great resource for helping you estimate a car’s value based on its current condition, make, model, and year. You can also compare vehicle prices, which will help you negotiate pricing.

  • Recall History

Your vehicle may be a part of a recall. In this scenario, you must ensure any part(s) that were subject to a recall were/are correctly replaced or repaired. Making sure the problematic parts were/are correctly repaired is the best way to avoid unwanted surprises later.

  • Read Reviews

Driver feedback is essential information. This information gives you insight into what it’s like to own a vehicle without going through the hassle of purchasing the car and not liking certain things about it. Driver feedback can be in the form of complaints or praises. Read the complaints and praises to get a balanced view of the vehicle and everything it has to offer.

  • Repairability

If you’re purchasing an older vehicle, consider how easy it is to find parts. You’ll also want to check with a mechanic to ensure the shop works on the type of vehicle you have, especially if it’s a luxury or imported vehicle.

Take a Solo Test Drive

Test drives are important because it helps you determine things about a car that you can’t necessarily see with your eyes, such as how comfortable the vehicle is to drive, and how smoothly it operates on roads and highways.

When you’re ready to take a test drive, take a solo test drive, which means taking a test drive without the sales representative or current owners in the vehicle. It may sound strange, but taking a solo test drive allows you to focus on your experience in the car without someone trying to soft-sell you into purchasing the vehicle.

While you’re driving the car, venture on smooth and rough roads in the city and the highway. If you can do so at night, this is a plus! You can find out a lot about a vehicle by driving it.

DIY Maintenance

Before you purchase a car, keep its maintenance in mind. If you can make many of the repairs yourself, you can save a lot of money on standard maintenance. However, if you can’t make the repairs on your own, no problem. Make sure you factor the maintenance in with the overall cost of the vehicle.

If you’ll be maintaining the vehicle on your own, there are a few things you’ll want to consider. Take a look under the hood to see what you have to work with. Determine how accessible the oil filter and air filter are. Check to see if there are any fluid reservoirs.

Maintaining a vehicle takes time and effort. Figure out if changing the oil and performing simple maintenance on the vehicle will require a host of specific tools to move components and make repairs.

Get a Vehicle History Report

Once you have a list of at least 3 cars that you’re interested in, get a free vehicle history report. The dealership will give you one for free. If you’re purchasing a vehicle from an individual, you can use the National Insurance Crime Bureau to get the vehicle history report. You’ll know if the vehicle has been declared as a total loss (salvage vehicle) or if the vehicle has ever been stolen.

Maintain Your Focus in the Finance Department

Most people have a smooth car-buying experience until financial matters come up. You’ll notice that when it’s time to discuss payment options and payment methods, dealerships will start offering “extras”. These extras may sound nice, but they will increase the total price of the vehicle. If needed, you ask for time to think about these extras and the price increase you’ll be faced with.

If you can, schedule a financing appointment with your local credit union. Credit unions often have the lowest rates.

Questions You Should Ask Before Buying Your First Car

Finding the perfect first car, and then negotiating the best price can be quite an experience. Finding the answer to these 7 questions can help you find a car that fits your needs and one you’re proud of.

1.    What Safety Features Does the Car Include?

This is an important question because some safety systems are not included as standard equipment. Some safety features can be grouped into different vehicle packages, so make sure you know which features are included in which package.

To find this information, research the car and the safety features it offers. Most of the time, the highest vehicle tier possesses a plethora of safety features. The internet is great because you can compare packages and determine which features you can do without.

Next, you’ll want to call the dealership and ask a sales representative about the standard safety features of the car you want to buy. Double-check that the safety features you want come with that particular vehicle trim.

2.    Is the Car Gas-Only, Hybrid, or Electric?

You need to know this information because the type of car can increase or decrease the car’s price. For example, hybrid and electric vehicles cost more money upfront, but they cost less to operate, especially when gas prices are soaring. When you create your budget for a vehicle, it’s good to know how much you can afford to pay for a new vehicle, and how much it will cost to operate it, such as regular maintenance, gas, and other factors.

If you’re interested in a hybrid vehicle, these cars can pay themselves off in as little as 2 years. The monthly fuel savings alone can offset a slightly higher monthly payment from the day you drive the vehicle off the lot.

If you’re leaning more toward a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, this car will benefit you most if you take short car trips, such as driving around town to school and work. These vehicles have a range between 20 and 50 miles. After this, the gas engine takes over. Check the window sticker to determine the type of fuel economy you’ll receive when it’s in hybrid mode. Did you know that some PHEVs qualify for federal tax credits?

3.    Does the Vehicle Have Essential Extras?

You need to know about the car’s essential extras because some cars are specifically designed to perform certain tasks, such as driving off-road, or towing. Before making your way to the dealership, you need to know what the car’s capability features. Without knowing this information, this mistake could cost you. Paying extra for capabilities you won’t use is a waste of money.

If you’re interested in the towing feature, know how much the vehicle can tow. Some vehicles can appear to be the exact same on the outside, but one vehicle can have more towing capacity by thousands of pounds than the other vehicle. The vehicle’s towing capacity will depend on trim levels, option packages, and engine choices.

You’ll also want to factor in road and weather conditions. If you live in an area where it snows a lot, you’ll want to purchase a vehicle that can handle harsh weather conditions, such as a vehicle that has an all-wheel drive system, or front or rear-wheel drive. As far as road conditions are concerned, if you’re an individual who loves to go on off-road adventures, you’ll want a vehicle that is built for such adventures, such as an SUV.

4.    How Much Will Maintenance Cost?

Knowing the cost of maintenance is important because you need to know how much it will cost to keep your vehicle functioning properly. Many new vehicles come with complimentary maintenance, such as free tire rotations and oil changes. However, some new vehicles don’t come with complimentary maintenance, so you’ll need to account for these costs to keep your vehicle on the road.

The most important part of determining the maintenance cost of a vehicle is to get everything in writing. You must find out if any part of maintaining the vehicle is free. You also need to know if there are limits to the number of times you can have your car serviced within a given time. If maintenance coverage is available, you need to know how long the coverage lasts.

5.    How Much Seating and Storage Is Available?

Seating and storage space are important if you have children or you’re considering working for a ride-share company, such as Uber or Lift. Even if you don’t have children or plan on working for a ride-share company, you want to make sure you’re comfortable while you’re traveling. A vehicle that has little to no leg or headroom can be an issue if you’re tall. You’ll notice that car manufacturers will brag about how much space the car has in cubic feet, which doesn’t help you determine exactly how much space is available.

When you go to the dealership to view the vehicle, sit in the seats to determine if the car has the space you need. Notice how easy or not so easy the seats are to get in and out of, and if there are obvious issues with head and leg room. If the vehicle has a third row, determine if the seating space is big enough for passengers to sit there comfortably.

You also want to check out the trunk. If there’s a specific item you need to fit, such as a folding wheelchair, stroller, pet carrier, or other item, make sure there is enough space for this item. It’s a good idea to take the item(s) with you to the dealership to ensure there is enough room. Pay attention to the time you spend loading the item in the truck and how difficult or easy it is to do.

When it comes to car seats, correctly installing one can seem like you need a degree from NASA. If you have small children, take the car seat with you to see how easily you can install the car seat securely. In most instances, the second row can fit a maximum of 3 car seats. In other vehicles, the maximum may be two because of how the car is designed. Remember that all car seats are different, and the only way to be certain the car seat fits is by taking it with you to the dealership.

6.    Check Out the Infotainment and Tech

While technology may be at the bottom of your list of must-haves, if the vehicle comes with an infotainment system, you’ll get better use of the vehicle if you know how to use it. Take the time to get familiar with all the bells and whistles of the vehicle during your test drive.

First, you’ll want to check the basics. See how easy the technology is to figure out and use. Also, many tech features of a vehicle provide a benefit to the driver, so see what benefits you can take advantage of.

One of the worst things you can do in this situation is make assumptions about the equipped technology. Most vehicles don’t have CD players or USB-A charging ports. Depending on the model year of your vehicle, a radio, including satellite radio may not be included. Speaking of satellite radio, if the vehicle has it, there is often a free trial. Once the trial period ends, you’ll have to pay for the service. With satellite radio, you have access to news, weather, and a ton of different radio stations.

Keep in mind that you can’t always count on the vehicle features that are listed on the website. If there are tech features you are looking for specifically, make sure the vehicle you choose has these features or can be added with a package or different vehicle trim.

Also, if you have questions after you drive the car off the lot, will there be someone available to help you? Some dealerships will help you set up different technology features, such as pairing your phone to Bluetooth and completing the setup of satellite radio.

7.    Should You Wait for the Vehicle You Want?

If you’re the master of instant gratification, waiting to purchase the vehicle you want won’t be ideal for you. However, waiting to get the vehicle you want can be rewarding in the long run. For instance, you like to car you just test-drove, but you wish it had more safety features and a different interior color. In this scenario, it may be worth the wait until the dealership has the vehicle in a higher trim level to get more safety features. If you don’t want to wait, you can look at another car altogether.

Shopping around is important. There is more than one car dealership with many types of vehicles for you to check out and test drive. If you can’t find a vehicle that interests you at local dealerships, expand your search to a dealership that may be able to ship the car to you, or look at dealerships that aren’t too far away to travel to. If you are interested in having a vehicle shipped to you, keep in mind that this will increase the vehicle’s upfront cost.

If you find a vehicle at a local dealership, don’t be afraid to negotiate the price. You will also want to complete as much paperwork as possible online or over the phone. By doing this, you decrease the amount of time you have to spend at the dealership. The sooner the paperwork is complete, the closer you’ll be to driving off in your new car!

Finding a car that meets all your needs is rare, so if you find one, it may be worth the wait. You can put in a custom order for the vehicle. Although you’ll have to wait to receive the vehicle, when you put in a custom vehicle order, you can order a new car with all the bells and whistles you want.

Things to Do After Buying Your First Car

Congratulations! You purchased your first car. There are a few things you need to take care of before you ride off into the sunset.

Get Auto Insurance

You’ll need an active auto insurance policy to legally operate your car on roads and highways. If you paid for your vehicle in full, you won’t need collision and liability coverage. However, if you took out a loan to purchase the vehicle, you must have liability and collision coverage. Before you choose an auto insurance carrier, make sure you read the fine print. You need to know what you’re paying for and what your policy covers.

Get the Car’s Title

If you paid for your vehicle in full, the dealership should sign over the title and give it to you. Make sure the title indicates you are the new car owner. If you are financing the car, the dealership may not provide you with the car’s title. In most states, the dealership is required to send the car’s title to your state agency (DMV, DOR, DOT, etc.) for processing.

Keep the Bill of Sale

The bill of sale acts as your receipt of purchasing the vehicle. This document shows the following essential information:

  • Seller and buyer’s information
  • The vehicle’s purchase price
  • Any applicable terms

The bill of sale is used to determine sales tax and is often required to register your vehicle with your state.

Obtain Temporary Tags

In most cases, the dealership will give you temporary tags that are valid for 30 days. You must register your vehicle in these 30 days. In addition to temporary tags, you may also be given a 30-day registration document. If you get pulled over by authorities, you can use the temporary registration to prove you are the owner of the vehicle.

Register Your Vehicle

Before your 30-day grace period ends, you must register your vehicle and pay all applicable fees. Remember that it is illegal to operate your vehicle without registration. In most cases, you can register your vehicle and receive permanent license plates at the dealership.

However, you are required to visit your state’s transportation authority (DMV, MVD, etc.) in person to register the vehicle. When you reach your local transportation authority office, you’ll need to present the car’s title, loan documents, if applicable, and proof of a valid auto insurance policy. Depending on the state you live in, you may also be required to show proof that your vehicle passed the state emissions test.

Stick to the Maintenance Schedule

Don’t assume that your car won’t soon require maintenance because it’s new. Ask the dealership about the car’s maintenance schedule, and follow it to ensure you keep up with the maintenance schedule.

Although it may be tempting, don’t skip standard maintenance to save money. Avoiding regular maintenance can cost more money in the long run.

Keep Your Paperwork in a Safe Place

Keep all paperwork related to your car in a safe place. The car’s registration should be kept in your vehicle. It’s a good idea to keep all your car’s paperwork in one folder for easy access if you need it later. You should keep the following documents in one folder:

  • Tax receipts
  • Bill of sale
  • Financing documents
  • Insurance certificate
  • Extra copy of the car’s registration

Tasks to Complete After Buying a Used Car

If you purchased a used vehicle, you’ll have different steps to complete. Let’s take a look!

Transfer the Car’s Title

The seller must transfer the title to you. If you purchased the used car from a dealership, the title may not be transferred automatically. If you purchased the vehicle from a person, you can transfer the car’s title at the DMV or other transportation authority.

Obtain Auto Insurance

You must have an active auto insurance policy before you can register the vehicle and drive it. Some dealerships partner with auto insurance companies to provide special rates. If you obtain auto insurance through a third party, make sure you are aware of the type of auto insurance your state requires your car to have. If your budget allows it, you may want to consider obtaining additional coverage.

Have the Car Inspected

Your vehicle must be inspected by the dealership or a mechanic. Qualified mechanics can check many vehicle components, such as:

  • Transmission
  • Exhaust system
  • Engine
  • All other major systems

Qualified mechanics can also check your vehicle for emissions, which may be required by your state.

Register Your Car

To register your used car, you’ll need the car’s title, all loan documentation, proof of a valid auto insurance policy, and your government-issued driver’s license. It’s a good idea to check with your state’s transportation authority to confirm the registration requirements.

Schedule Repairs

It’s not uncommon for a used car to need minor repairs. It’s important to address these issues as quickly as possible to prevent these minor repairs from becoming expensive major repairs.

Create a Maintenance Plan

Read the vehicle’s owner manual to learn about any routine maintenance the car requires. For instance, you may be required to change the oil, rotate the tires, change the battery, or replace fluids after a certain amount of time or once you’ve traveled a specific amount of miles. Following the manufacturer’s maintenance plan can prevent breakdowns and keep your car running smoothly.

The Bottom Line

Buying your first car is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Make sure you are prepared by doing your research. The most important part of buying your first car is to enjoy your experience. Happy buying!