teenager in car with parents

There's a first time for everything—and plenty of excitement comes with these firsts. Buying your first car is an exhilarating process, but there are some important things to take care of along the way. With the internet playing a prominent role in auto purchases, there are new elements of the shopping process that weren't around in the past. Making sure you’re fully prepared and have all the necessary paperwork in order is the best way to make the process go smoothly and quickly.

These tips will help you proceed as a first-time car buyer.

1. Think about what you need

Yes, you may want that sporty two-door, but is that going to meet your needs? For example, you’ll want to think about where you’re going to drive and who’s going to be riding with you. What kind of weather will you be driving in? Would a four-door or an SUV be better suited to what you’ll use it for? Getting the car you need—one that suits your day-to-day driving habits—is crucial to getting the most out of your vehicle.

2. Go surfing.

These days, much of the preliminary work of buying a car can be done online. You can find prices and available cars by searching online, and you can choose how far you want to extend your search. This gives you the opportunity to do additional research on cars you might come across during your search and lets you check them out through Consumer Reports or other online reviews.

3. Do your research.

It’s easy to get caught up in such things as color and body style, but it’s important to look beneath all of that and do your research. Check out safety ratings, reliability and gas mileage—all of the things that will have a big effect on you while you own the car. Consumer Reports is a good place to look for this information as well.

4. Know your score.

Your credit score will play an important role in determining the interest rate on your car loan, and a better score can help you land a lower rate. Knowing your credit score will help you calculate your interest rate, which can then help you plan your overall budget. If you don’t know your current score, get a free credit report. You can do this once per year.

5. Research loans

Before you head to the dealership, look in to what kind of loan options are available to you. You already know your credit score will affect your interest rate, but you don’t know what financing the dealership will be able to offer you. Securing financing with a lender before you go shopping for a car will let you know exactly how much you can afford to spend on the car itself.

6. Get pre-approved.

Pre-approval is the process of securing financing for a specific loan amount from your lender before you shop for a car. Knowing what your car could cost before you purchase can help you negotiate a lower price. You don't have to use the full loan amount.

7. Get an insurance quote.

Just as cars have different prices, the cost to insure them can vary greatly. Talk with your insurance agent about the type of car you’re interested in to find out what kind of insurance you’ll need to carry on it. Get insurance quotes for the level of coverage required by your state and lender. This can help you budget effectively and better anticipate car ownership costs.

8. Make a budget.

Once you’ve factored in the costs of maintenance and insurance and have a good idea of what your interest rate will be, you can set a true budget. Make sure you look at the gas mileage and number of miles you drive on average, so you can calculate your fuel costs. Also, remember to include scheduled maintenance costs in your budget.

9. Go for a drive.

Test driving is the best way to discover if the car you’ve been dreaming of is the right one for you. As good as it may look online, nothing can tell you if it’s “the one” like a good test drive. Be critical, and don’t ignore any red flags that pop up. Whether it’s a new car or a used one, this is a sizeable financial commitment, and it’s important that you be happy with your choice.

Your first car may not always be the car of your dreams, but it’s one you’ll always remember. Taking your time to make sure you’re getting the car that’s right for you as well as protecting your investment with car insurance is key to making sure that you’ll be happy with your choice in the future.

Need protection for the beginning of your journey?
Read our resources for starting out.