There is nothing quite so memorable as putting the key into the ignition of your first personally-owned vehicle. The pride of having earned it yourself, the gratitude to those who might have given it to you, the joy of being completely autonomous with no strings attached﹘each feeling is distinct and will serve to make the memory all the sweeter for the rest of your life. 

Whether you are a newly licensed driver, a parent to a teenager in need of more mobility, or find yourself moving away from reliable public transit, the time may have come for you to embark on one of the benchmark purchases of anyone’s life: buying your first car. At first blush, the decision doesn’t seem like a difficult one; what is aesthetically pleasing and within your budget? However, there are numerous other qualities to consider when determining which car to get, criteria determined by where you live, your recurring needs, and what kind of car will increase your safety and the safety of those around you. 

Understanding Your Needs

Imagine living in a location routinely snowed-in; you wouldn’t want to be driving a convertible. While this example is admittedly quite pedestrian (no pun intended), it is nevertheless an apt illustration. There are always extenuating circumstances that should be considered when making a purchase as important as a first car. Otherwise, what is the alternative? Worst-case scenario: driving a car totally unsuited to your environment might lead to bad experiences behind the wheel and/or frequent trips to the auto repair shop. 

Below is a list of questions to consider when trying to determine which car you need, as opposed to which car you want. Each car shopping experience should more or less be prefaced by this personal inventory. 

  • Will I get use out of this car year-round?We used a frequently snowy locale as an example to illustrate this principle; choosing a car with a removable top to drive in the snow can not only be a hazard to the driver but may lead to numerous searches for a car repair place. This scenario doesn’t just pertain to the weather, however. Cities and towns with fewer paved roads can mean a muddy, undulating mess each Spring; driving a car with low suspension can be more trouble than it’s worth.
  • How much car can I handle? The author David Foster Wallace once reminded the critics of large, gas-guzzling SUVs that there are scenarios in which the drivers of those vehicles have all but been ordered to drive such cars by their therapists and doctors. Perhaps they were involved in a life-changing auto accident and can’t get back over their phobia of driving unless they are nestled in a big, safe car, or maybe they suffer from chronic pain and need more space and less resistance when ducking in and out of their car. For you, the story may be something similar or altogether unique. But having the self-awareness to know what type of car can handle will save you from a lot of grief in the future.
  • Do I need a new car? Often, first-time car owners simply don’t need anything more than a used car to get from Point A to Point B. Buying used will reduce the number of future payments and will be easier to maintain than a new car that comes with multiple manufacturer requirements in order to keep the warranty valid. Parents will appreciate too, how much a used car can teach their kids about responsibility with a lower-stakes vehicle.

Going Through the Motions

Once the right car has been decided upon, then comes the typical car-buying rigamarole one must go through before they can drive off the lot. It’s important to remember a few things during this process:

  • If You’re Not Using a Dealership: If you decide to purchase from a family member, friend, or stranger unaffiliated with a dealership, you will have to remind the seller that you need some specific documentation, including:
      • A bill of sale
      • Title transfer
      • Insurance
      • Registration
      • Sales Tax
  • Make sure to schedule a trip to Master Muffler after purchase: You love the new car and it fits your needs﹘you may have even felt like nothing was wrong with it on your test drive﹘but you should still schedule an appointment with an auto repair expert to give it a once-over before you put the new car through its paces.
  • Make sure you are insured to drive: Driving without insurance is an all-too-common occurrence out on the road. Remember that it is illegal to operate a vehicle without insurance and﹘be honest﹘why would you want to? There are too many variables out on the road to think that you won’t need some.

Buying your first car is a special occasion, one that will live on in your memory for years to come. Being honest about your needs, your abilities, and your wants, will make the process of buying your first car not only a positive one but will affect your driving experience for good for the rest of the time you own that car.