First Car Shopping 101

Sooner or later, a seemingly endless litany of graduations, certifications, and newly minted degrees of all types occur.
While this particular rite of passage affects people from age three to 93, people in their late teens and early 20s account for many recent graduates. And often, along with the graduation comes plans for what to do next. Work? Graduate school? Both? Peace Corps? Military? Something else?

For those not traveling abroad, the purchase of that first car is a part of the next chapter in life. And that means (for most of us whose name doesn’t end in “Trump”) purchasing a used car.

Yet, nothing can derail a bright future faster than the wrong car. All it takes is a payment that is too high or a vehicle that looks great but doesn’t carry the requisite artist’s easel or high-powered amplifiers.

Starting with dealers Mom and Dad know isn’t a bad idea. “Most of the family members who have bought from us bring their kids here,” says Monte Cangiamilla of Hertz Car Sales. Parents who know that they can purchase a good, used car that is also free of major defects will return to Cangiamilla’s lot for their children’s first set of wheels.

Dave Heston is eager to sell to younger buyers, too, but he also wants to be sure they get what they actually will use in their day to day lives. “You want to make sure [younger buyers] determine what your needs are. If they’re buying something that doesn’t meet their needs, it just doesn’t work.”

Heston draws an analogy to a purchase many teens and young adults can easily relate to — clothing. “It’s like going into a clothing store that has a sale where everything is 75 per cent off, so you buy all kinds of stuff. But if the clothes don’t fit, it’s not worth it, and you’ve wasted your money,” he explains.

Heston also encourages buyers to be aware of their budget. “You should be certain that you can pay for it. If you can’t, it can really hurt your credit rating for years to come,” he explains.

Bob Mann of Sunnyvale Chrysler Jeep Dodge notes that younger buyers particularly should be aware of discounts provided to special groups of people. “There are first time car buyer programs, college grad programs, military rebates,” he explains, geared toward helping the younger buyer afford a car.

Like Heston, however, he cautions younger buyers against going for bling and bang over serious, sound transportation. “If they’re going to college or just starting to work and always spending money on the car, it’s not worth it, even if they have a $50,000 Mustang as a result.”

If you can afford the car of your dreams, however, Inder Jaisingh encourages younger buyers to go for it. “It’s your first car, so if you can afford it, get something you like.” But even he offers a caveat: “You need to get a car that’s good on insurance. You need to be sure you can afford the insurance as well.”

And that’s no small potatoes, either, considering most insurance companies charge very high premiums for drivers under 26 years of age.

Andy Russell encourages young car buyers to consider certified used cars, too, as boring as that may sound. “Certified pre-owned cars start at around $10,000. And with any car, you want to think of the long-term cost,” he concludes, noting that certified cars allow buyers to avoid hidden repairs that drive up a car’s actual cost.

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