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Cars & Driving
Tips for a first car owner?
By reeldancer123 Comments: 663, member since Sun Mar 28, 2010
On Sun Jul 15, 2012 12:43 AM

I am 18, and am in the process of buying my first car.

What are some good tips for owning a first car? Experiences that you have had that you learned from?


7 Replies to Tips for a first car owner?

re: Tips for a first car owner?
By Krystalmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 8458, member since Tue Sep 02, 2003
On Sat Jul 14, 2012 07:05 PM
Edited by Krystal (73000) on 2012-07-14 19:06:05
The best thing I've learned (in buying new AND used cars) is don't be afraid to ask them to come down on price! We have been at a dealership and had papers in front of us that listed a price WAY over our budget even though we specifically told them what we could to pay. The ended up editing the papers four times so that we could afford the car. I mean, don't ask for anything ridiculous like $10,000 off the price, but when I say I want to pay $285/month for a car I don't want to see papers saying I need to pay almost double that, you know? (We saw the car on the dealership's website and when the salesman charged us too much, we HAD to bring it down)

Living in a military town there are a lot of sketchy car dealers here, so my husband and I have had to learn that most of the time what they're asking is outrageous (especially if it's a used car with no warranty) and if we speak to the right person they can work with us.

Also if they make any promises to you, no matter how simple they may seem, be sure to get it in writing with a signature so they can't scam you out of anything later.
re: Tips for a first car owner?
By SarahdncrPremium member Comments: 635, member since Wed Jul 29, 2009
On Sun Jul 15, 2012 01:08 PM
Buy something cheap, engergy efficient (e.g. - small), safe, and used.
re: Tips for a first car owner? (karma: 1)
By Chaconnemember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 6359, member since Thu Jul 12, 2007
On Sun Jul 15, 2012 03:00 PM
Make a list of what you really need. Do you need A/C? yeah, probably in most of the is really hard to find a car without it. Do you need Satellite radio? Probably not, there is a monthly charge for it. Can you do with a very small car? Essentially four wheels and an engine? Yes, at 18 you could, presumably you are not hauling much more than yourself and maybe one friend or just going to school or work by yourself.

Now I drive a larger car with a lot of bells and whistles on it (though with a 4 cylinder engine I get quite good milage (30-33 mpg). I can afford it and also because I can afford it, I buy new. Last week, I was on vacation in a foreign country and I had a tiny Suzuki rental. It got us where we wanted to go just fine, was comfortable and I even had four passengers for a short trip (I don't think my back seat passengers would care to travel from one end of the US to the other in it though.) Something like that may work for you as well.

If you can buy a used car from someone you know or your parents know, that may be better. People will not sell a lemon to a friend.

Do your homework...check consumer magazines for frequency of repair statistics. Toyotas, for example, are generally quite reliable (which is why I have had 14 of them.) Get a car that is popular. They are popular for a reason...they perform reliably and more importantly, repair parts, if needed are readily available and somewhat cheaper. Various blue books on-line will give you a price range for cars year by year, model by model. They will also show added value and subtractive value. For example, since A/C is so common nowadays, cars without it (and there are rather few of them now) take a steep hit on the used market. Automatic transmission is pretty much standard and a stick shift on a North American car is a negative unless it is a "performance car" e.g. Corvette (which I doubt you would 18 you'd never get insurance for it.) These guides will list trade-in price a dealer would pay for it and that is about the lowest price you would usually get. They will also list retail prices, that is the price a store-front used car lot associated with a new car dealer would sell it for with a limited warranty. You will probably strive for something in between those figures.
Krystal is right...negotiate, negotiate, and don't be afraid to walk away. I have NEVER paid list price for a car, new or used. (I usually by new now, I will assume you won't be able to do that now.) Car dealers usually work on a maximum of a 15% mark-up and often are willing to sell for closer to 3 to 5% mark-up from what they paid for the car. Private party sales will usually be lower because there would be no warranty. I've sold a few cars to private parties, but I would only do so if I was so confident it was a good car that they wouldn't hate me in three months.

Don't get a car because it was "trendy". The Chrysler PT Cruiser was trendy a number of years ago, but over the years has had a terrible maintenance record.

If my daughter were 18 and looking for a car, what would I steer her toward? (BTW she is 45 and buys her own cars now, but I did help her with her first cars.) Probably a Toyota Corolla that is 4-5 years old. They are fairly simple, usually well equipped, a decent size and there are a lot of them around. I owned one years ago but I have several younger friends who had them as their first or one of their first cars and got reliable performance from them. Fortunately, cars are much more reliable than they were 15-20 years ago so it isn't quite the gamble it once was. Competition has forced all car makers to improve the quality of their product.

re: Tips for a first car owner?
By Heartmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 15032, member since Thu Feb 14, 2002
On Sun Jul 15, 2012 05:19 PM
If the check engine light is on - take it in to get checked!

My father had the very first version of the Prius and one day the check engine light came on. He told me to drive it anyway. The car ran out of power and rolled back into another car on a hill! Turns out there was a glitch where if the battery was low the engine wouldn't switch over to gas in order to recharge. So yeah... lesson learned there! :P

Buddy up with your friends who know about cars. They can tell you what's worth worrying about and what can wait. My one friend had a device (I forget the name) that he plugged into my dash and was able to tell me why my check engine light was coming on. I'm clueless about cars, so I thought that was awesome and he was a freaking wizard.

Keep up-to-date on repairs. Best way to make your car last. Go easy on the transmission (don't accelerate too fast).

Change your windshield wipers every few months. As soon as they start streaking it's time for a new pair. (My parents don't change them this often and I've started doing it myself. Such a difference!)

Biggest thing - get a sensible car. I drive a 2005 Honda Civic. It's not at all trendy, but it's got good gas mileage (about 30 mpg), is sturdy, built to last, and is a freaking tank. The only thing I might change about it is that I really don't use the back seat that often. My next car would probably be a coupe. Hondas are great cars and I have absolutely no complaints about my Civic.

If I hadn't gotten that I would've gone for a Toyota Camry or Corolla. Sensible "starter cars."

Shop around and do your research. Have fun! Getting your first car is so exciting. <3
re: Tips for a first car owner?
By SaraTheGrouchmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 8600, member since Thu Apr 17, 2003
On Sun Jul 15, 2012 05:57 PM
If you want to make your car last, keep up with the maintenance. That means changing your oil every 3,000 miles if your car takes regular (non-synthetic) oil. Also, rotating your tires, flushing your fluids, having your breaks and rotors checked, are important. I'm super anal about my truck's servicing, but I've also never had a single problem with it, so you get what you give. Your car should come with a service manual that will tell you when to do all that jazz. Find a reputable mechanic, also.

Don't wait til your gas light turns on to get gas. All the dirt and gunk at the bottom of your tank is getting sucked into your engine at that point. No bueno.

Don't get a car you can't afford. Payments last a long time, and not being able to afford them each month will suck.

Get a car you will like for the long haul. I got a car that I didn't want due to the good gas mileage it got and my mothers bellowing. It sucked. I hated driving it. I couldnt wait to give it up and get the gas guzzling truck I wanted. I've had my truck for three years and still adore it.
re: Tips for a first car owner?
By Krystalmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 8458, member since Tue Sep 02, 2003
On Sun Jul 15, 2012 06:41 PM
Don't wait til your gas light turns on to get gas. All the dirt and gunk at the bottom of your tank is getting sucked into your engine at that point. No bueno.

Yessss. This is SUCH a bad habit of mine and my husband gets after me all the time. Instead of driving my cars around on empty now, I keep it filled up and if it starts to get below half on the fuel gauge, then I add some more.

There's so much great advice in this thread, I had to come back and see if there's anything I forgot to do at the dealership last weekend! So far so good haha.
re: Tips for a first car owner?
By Chaconnemember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 6359, member since Thu Jul 12, 2007
On Sun Jul 15, 2012 07:04 PM
The item about the check engine light is also good advice, but there is one common (and sorta dumb) thing that turns it on and car dealers rake in a lot of money from this. The check engine light will come on if you don't screw the gas cap back on tightly enough. This is an emissions control thing. Make sure you twist the cap until you hear a clicking sound. On my cars this is only one click but it was more on previous cars I had. If you are always careful about listening to the gas cap click, you are unlikely to ever have a problem, but it is something you should know about. Another light that comes on is a "maintenance needed" light. It is a nag, and probably reminds you to do maintenance more frequently than you really need. Factory specs are pretty conservative, just don't ignore the oil part. Most cars have a way you can reset this but you won't find it in the car manual. I found the formula for my cars on-line. [For the Camry I have, it involves turning off the car engine and holding the mileage or trip reset for a few seconds while turning the ignition switch on but not actually starting the car.

A dealer will charge you $50-75 to turn the light off and of course nothing is really wrong. If you are lucky they may do a routine check for trouble as indicated by the on-board computer systems virtually every car on the road now except the most ancient will have.

There is a way around that. There are some gas stations (the ones that still provide service) that will do the check for free. If you have a friend who is REALLY into cars, they may have a computer program that will check the removable computer chip that every car sold in the USA (and probably elsewhere) has had since about 1990. It connects to a USB port on your computer and one feature resets that light. If your check engine light does not come on again, it probably was just the gas cap error. For the average person, the $150 cost is probably not worth it, but if you know a "backyard" mechanic, they probably have one. Other people who may have them are parents who can use them to check if their kids have been excessively records that too!