What to Look for when Shopping for that First CarMay 19th, 2021
Buying a first car can be one of life’s most exciting experiences for a young driver. But for the parents that often help with that first-time shopping process, it can be one of life’s scariest experiences. Here are some tips to ensure that your—or your child's—first car is affordable, enjoyable, and safe.
1. Decide whose going to pay
In many cases, parents will buy their kid’s first vehicle. But even in these cases, when mom and dad choose to foot the initial bill, it doesn’t mean they will continue to pay for the vehicle after purchase. It’s reasonable to ask young drivers to help with ownership costs like gas, insurance, and maintenance. If your child has managed to save enough money to help buy the car, then maybe you’ll want to talk about splitting ownership costs—paying for every other oil change or the costly (but important) manufacturer-scheduled maintenance appointments.
Talking about and sharing car expenses with your young driver will give them practical experience managing the weighty responsibilities of both car ownership and big-picture finances in the future. Plus, by splitting costs with your kid, you can help them afford a safer, more modern car.
2. Create a budget
To better understand what’s affordable, parents and teens should establish a budget. Decide how much money is available for a down payment and how much is available for monthly payments. Co-signing for a loan with your young driver and having them make the monthly payments in their name (even if a parent is helping with those payments) is a smart way for young people to establish good credit. Remember to include post-purchase ownership costs like gas, repairs, regular maintenance, cleaning, and insurance in your budget. Insurance can be expensive for teen drivers, but there are a few ways to help lower your insurance costs.
In general, new cars will cost more to purchase than used cars, but new vehicles also come with warranties that are a good safeguard against unexpected expenses. If you want some peace of mind but don’t want to spend the money on a new vehicle, certified pre-owned cars offer a nice middle ground between new and used.
3. Prioritize Safety
There’s no way around it: Young drivers are inexperienced and more likely to have accidents, which means their first car needs to be safe. Newer cars are safer than older ones, thanks to advances in technology and manufacturers prioritizing increased safety standards. Avoid the trap of buying very old cars because they are inexpensive and because they are big—just because an older car is huge doesn’t mean it’s safe. If you’re not sure whether the car you’re looking at is safe or not, check out its crash-test ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). If you do buy a used car, even if it’s only a few years old, make sure to check its Vehicle History Report to see if it has any accidents or major repairs in its past.
Start by looking for cars with basic safety features, such as antilock brakes (available on most cars, they allow the driver to retain steering control even when braking on slippery surfaces), electronic stability control (available on most new cars, it prevents the vehicle from spinning when the driver turns too quickly), and driver, passenger, and side-curtain airbags (readily available on most vehicles to help protect occupants in a crash). Once those essentials are covered, you can look for more advanced technology like these 12 electronic safety systems. Some brands offer features specifically designed for teen drivers like Ford’s MyKey, which allows parents to set a top speed, limit audio volume, block explicit radio stations, and keep driving aids activated, among other things. Similarly, GM’s Family Link and Teen Driver technologies allow parents to find their child’s car on an online map, and Hyundai’s Blue Link keeps track of the vehicle, alerts parents when speed or curfew limits are passed, and lets parents set location boundaries on the car.
4. Shop Based on the Driver’s Needs
If safety is your top priority for a first car, practicality comes second. Think about how the car will be used, and shop accordingly. If it’s going to be driven on long commutes to and from school or part-time jobs, great fuel efficiency will be a necessity. If the car will be lugging hockey equipment, a soccer team, or construction tools, look for something with extra cargo space. If you live in a snowy region or off a series of dirt roads, all-wheel drive (AWD) should be a priority. With safety and need-based features in mind, you can use CarGurus tools to find the right vehicle. If that happens to also have the killer stereo system your young driver wants, great. But if you have to decide between spending an extra $500 on a sound system or an advanced safety feature like blind-spot monitoring, go with the safer car, not the cooler one.
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The Bottom Line
A first car means freedom for young drivers, but they should also understand it means taking on responsibilities. This give-and-take process can begin with creating a budget and carry over through the entire research, shopping, and buying process. Whether you buy used or new, be sure to prioritize safety and practicality when creating your budget.
Plus, with the free vehicle pick-up and drop-off available at Finch locations across London, getting your vehicle serviced has never been this convenient.