10 Tips For First Time Car Buyers

Written by Danny Collins
Last updated: January 27, 2024
tips for first time car buyers

So, you’re ready to buy your first car. We understand that the idea of acquiring your own vehicle is exciting; however, cool your engines and do a little research before purchasing the first car that catches your eye.

You may have already considered your budget (well done!), but you must also consider other factors, such as a car’s history, fuel efficiency, and the required safety features.

Your first automobile will be one you remember, making it vital that you choose wisely to have fond memories instead of regrets in years to come.

See our top tips for buying a first car, which you’ll find incredibly handy if you’re a first-time car buyer!

1) Set a Budget

If you don’t already have one, let’s cover why and how you should create a budget.

A realistic budget is critical because it will determine not only how much you can afford to spend on your first car, but also how much you have spare for running costs, i.e. fuel, maintenance, repairs, and annual must-haves, such as your MOT test, vehicle service, Tax, and insurance.

You are legally required to insure your automobile, so you must check if vehicle insurance is valid before driving it. This will make your life a whole lot easier if you are involved in an accident! 

If you don’t have insurance yet, shop around; the cost of getting insured is likely to swallow a big chunk of your money, so it’s a good idea to have an estimate of pricing while budgeting.

Once you have a clear understanding of the expenses that will come with owning a car, you should be able to see where you can cut back. 

Try to keep your monthly car payments below 10% of your monthly pay.  

2) Prioritise Reliability

Prioritising reliability when buying your first car is of paramount importance for several reasons. 

Mainly, purchasing a reliable car will help you to avoid unexpected breakdowns. 

Sudden breakdowns are inconvenient and potentially dangerous, especially if they occur on busy roads or in adverse weather conditions. A reliable car reduces the chances of being stranded, helping you feel more secure in your daily commutes or long trips.

Perhaps less important but still desirable, a reliable vehicle will retain its value over an unpredictable car when it is time for you to sell it.

Reliable cars generally maintain a higher resale value. People are often willing to pay more for a vehicle with a track record of dependability and fewer issues.

Below are several steps to undertake to help you find a reliable vehicle.

  • Consumer Reviews

Read consumer reviews and testimonials from owners of the specific car models you’re interested in. Real-world experiences can provide valuable insights into the reliability and overall satisfaction of the car.

  • Ratings

Consult reliability ratings from trusted sources. There are organisations that conduct thorough testing and surveys to assess the reliability of various car models.

  • Maintenance Records

If you’re buying a used car, ask for the vehicle’s maintenance records. A well-documented history of regular maintenance is a positive sign that the vehicle has been well looked after, increasing the likelihood of its reliability.

  • Manufacturer Reputation

Research the manufacturer’s reputation for producing reliable vehicles. Some manufacturers have a long history of building cars known for their durability and dependability.

  • Certified Pre-Owned Programs

Consider certified pre-owned (CPO) programs offered by manufacturers. These vehicles undergo rigorous inspections and come with extended warranties, providing extra assurance of their reliability.

3) Fuel Efficiency

Consider a car’s fuel efficiency before purchasing it.

Fuel efficiency demonstrates how far a vehicle can travel with a specific amount of fuel. A car with a poor fuel economy will cost you a lot of money in the long run.  

Furthermore, fuel-efficient cars have a reduced carbon footprint compared to less efficient automobiles. They emit fewer greenhouse gases and pollutants, contributing to cleaner air and a healthier environment. 

Here’s how you can compare and evaluate fuel efficiency ratings.

  • Miles Per Gallon (MPG)

MPG is a standard measure of fuel efficiency that indicates how many miles a car can travel on a gallon of fuel. The higher the MPG, the more fuel-efficient the car is. 

  • Energy Efficient Labels

Many countries require vehicles to display energy efficiency labels that provide information about the car’s fuel efficiency and environmental impact. These labels are usually found on the windows of new vehicles and can help you quickly compare different models.

  • Fuel Efficiency Websites and Apps

There are various online resources and smartphone apps that allow you to compare fuel efficiency ratings of different car models. These platforms often provide comprehensive information, including estimated annual fuel costs based on your driving habits.

4) Safety Features

You may be tempted to buy a car based on its looks – don’t!

Instead, choose a vehicle based on its safety features. Most newer cars will have safety features; however, older, second-hand vehicles may not, so you must check carefully and choose wisely. Your and other road users’ safety is a top priority.

Furthermore, if your car has the right safety features, this will reduce the cost of insurance.

Below are just a few of the safety features your vehicle must have:

  • Airbags.
  • Anti-Lock brakes (ABS).
  • Adaptive headlights.
  • Traction control.
  • Electronic stability control (ESC).

The newer the vehicle, the more safety features you’ll have!

5) Research Car Values

Before making an offer on a vehicle, ensure you understand the value of it. 

Even if it’s just an estimated value, at least by doing your research, you’ll be able to make a realistic offer as well as know when a vehicle is overpriced!

6) Vehicle History Reports

Along with finding out the value of a car, also check the vehicle history.

Vehicle history checks play a crucial role in the process of buying a used car, offering a comprehensive overview of a vehicle’s history that can greatly influence your decision. 

Vehicle history checks:

  • Reveal potential issues.
  • Provide insight into a vehicle’s accident history.
  • Uncover title problems such as salvage titles, rebuilt titles, or vehicles with liens against them, which can affect the value of a car and/or your ability to obtain insurance.
  • Declare ownership history.
  • Show maintenance records.

7) Test Drive

While vehicle history reports can provide valuable information about a car’s past, a test drive gives you a real-time sense of how the car feels on the road and whether it meets your personal preferences. 

Test driving a potential car is a critical step in the process of buying a vehicle, as it allows you to experience the car firsthand and assess the following:

  • Comfort – Seat comfort, driving positions, and visibility.
  • Technology – Infotainment system and navigation.
  • Noise levels – Unusual noises/vibrations that may indicate mechanical issues.
  • Handling and performance – Accelerating, braking, manoeuvring, and overall responsiveness.

8) Seek Expert Opinions

Seeking expert opinions, especially from trusted mechanics or experienced car owners, is pivotal when buying a car. 

While you can gather much information through research and test drives, expert insights offer a unique perspective that can provide valuable information you might otherwise overlook. 

9) Avoid Scams

Avoiding car scams is particularly crucial when purchasing your first car, as being a novice in car buying can make you more susceptible to deceptive practices. 

Falling victim to a scam could lead to financial losses, safety risks, and overall dissatisfaction.

So, how can you avoid car scams?

  • Be wary of deals that seem exceptionally good, like a price significantly lower than market value. Scammers often use such offers to lure unsuspecting buyers.
  • Avoid sellers who insist on payment methods that lack security, such as wire transfers or prepaid gift cards. Legitimate sellers typically accept standard forms of payment.
  • Scammers may create a sense of urgency, pressuring you to make quick decisions without thoroughly reviewing the deal. Take your time and do your research.
  • Be cautious of sellers who add unexpected fees to the final price. Scrutinise the details of the transaction to ensure transparency.
  • A legitimate seller should provide essential documents, including the vehicle title and a bill of sale. The absence of these documents could indicate a scam.

To avoid the risk of being scammed, research car dealers, check the vehicle history of any car you’re interested in, and buy from trusted sellers/platforms.

10) Read the Contract

Whether buying from a garage or a private seller, you must read your contract thoroughly before signing on the dotted line.

It’s vital that you carefully read your contract because some car dealers may add extra charges that you were unaware of or change the terms and conditions you discussed.

If you need clarification about something on the contract, feel free to ask questions or seek advice from an outside party.

Now you know how to buy your first car!

By following these tips, you’ll increase your chances of finding a reliable and affordable car that will last and one that you’ll enjoy driving!