Published November 24, 2012
Buying your first car is an experience that thousands of Canadians look forward to each year with great anticipation, and it’s a special moment that people remember for the rest of their lives.
Whether you’re 18, 25 or older, there is something thrilling about buying your first car that speaks to life’s broader themes of freedom, maturity, financial responsibility and, of course, pride of ownership.
If you (or someone you know) are about to purchase your first automobile, here is some advice that I’ve learned from 35-plus years of working in the retail car business.
1) Focus on needs, not wants. This can be a challenge, especially with the incredible assortment of automobile brands, styles and features available. If you buy a vehicle that is tailored to your driving habits, lifestyle and budget, your ownership experience will be more enjoyable than if you choose a ‘dream car.’
2) Do your research. With so many resources available today, there is no excuse for neglecting the information-gathering stage of the buying process. Read trade magazines and newspaper (Wheels Section) reviews. Visit manufacturers’ and dealerships’ websites, YouTube channels and other social media sites. Finally, visit dealerships in your area and talk to several salespeople – this will help you in deciding not only the right vehicle for you, but which dealership you feel most comfortable dealing with.
3) Understand ownership costs. It’s easy to be attracted to low interest rates or high rebate figures. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story about ownership costs. There are several costs associated with buying and operating your first car, such as insurance, the cost of borrowing, fuel expense, vehicle maintenance and repairs. Know what you are spending and what you can afford.
4) Financing your purchase. Credit worthiness determines whether a bank or financial institution will extend you credit to purchase a vehicle, and on what terms. Having good credit history is paramount today to get financing approval. A cash down payment is very helpful, but sometimes a co-signer is required, depending on the situation. Car buyers should know their credit history before they initiate the sales process.
5) Choose a reputable dealership. Dealerships have a vested interest in providing an optimum buying experience, and offering vehicles that are in excellent condition and backed by warranty protection (new and pre-owned vehicles). They work with all categories of buyers, from first timers to repeat customers. Buying a vehicle from a private seller is certainly an option, but remember when you choose to buy privately, there are no protections and it’s always buyer beware.
6) Vehicle reports. Purchasers of pre-owned vehicles should request a CarProof report to determine a vehicle’s true condition and history. CarProof adds transparency and confidence to the buying process and is endorsed by The Trillium Automobile Dealers Association.
7) A vehicle should feel right. Most consumers recognize the importance of test driving any vehicle they are considering purchasing. I highly recommend that all car buyers (not just first timers) to test drive several vehicles before making a decision. Since you’ll be driving thousands of kilometers in the vehicle, comfort level should be an important consideration. If something doesn’t feel right at the outset (seating, instrumentation, leg room), don’t imagine that it will magically improve with time. Like buying a pair of pants that you hope to “fit into” over time, don’t make the mistake of buying a car hoping that a few irritants will go away.
8) Enjoy the experience. Part of the thrill in buying a first car should be the process. Don’t be intimidated by sales, technical or financial jargon. Proceed at your own pace, not according to someone else’s agenda. If there is something you don’t understand, ask a friend or family member for help.