13 tips for first-time car buyers

Buying your first car is an important milestone that should be approached with careful consideration.

While it can almost instantly provide you with more autonomy and freedom, a car is one of the bigger purchases you’ll make in life. Follow these 13 tips to help you find a suitable and safe car that fits your wants, needs, and your budget.

1. Consider your lifestyle

Consider your daily activities when choosing your first car. Do you need a fuel-efficient car for your commute to work? Or would it be best to have lots of backseat space to hold the kids?

2. Make a budget

The price of the car isn’t the only cost you need to consider. Think about fuel, insurance, parking, and maintenance. Determine a monthly and/or annual vehicle budget and consider payment options that work for you. For instance, are you paying cash, leasing, or financing?

3. New or used?

A used car may be the cheaper option in the beginning, but it may cost you more time and money in the long run to maintain and repair. A new car will probably cost more upfront, but it may require less maintenance over time since all the parts are new.

4. Dealer or private seller?

There are pros and cons to both options. A dealership may be more expensive, but will likely offer warranties, more detailed reports, add-ons, and payment plans.

A private seller may sell the vehicle to you for cheaper but won’t give you any warranty or guarantee.

5. Do some research

When purchasing a vehicle, do a search of online reviews from people who’ve bought it. For an unbiased expert opinion, Consumer Reports tests vehicles to ensure they are safe, effective, reliable, and fairly priced. You can also check Transport Canada for any recall or defect notices.

6. Shop around for car insurance

The cost of insurance can make or break the decision to buy one car over another. Details like where you live, your insurance history, your driving record, and the car you choose all factor into calculating your insurance rate.

On average, InsuranceHotline.com shoppers in Ontario save $744 per year* after comparing car insurance rates. Before you commit to a specific vehicle and insurance company, make sure you’re getting the best car insurance rate deal out there by shopping the market first.

7. Consider the car’s present and future value

Research what the car currently sells for, on average, so you don’t overpay. The Canadian Black Book (CBB) can provide you with the average asking price of the vehicle, as well as its current trade-in value and future value. The valuation tool shows you how much your car could depreciate over a one- to five-year period.

8. Beware of curbsiders

Curbsiders are unlicensed dealers who pose as private sellers, offering substandard vehicles for a deal usually "too good to be true." These vehicles are usually in dire need of repair or have odometers that have been tampered with.

Curbsiders will usually avoid meeting you at a fixed home or business address and try to sell in a hurry. Watch out for multiple ads with the same phone number, verify that the name on the driver’s ID matches the name on the ownership, and always ask for a Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP).

9. Learn the history of the vehicle

Request details and documents that outline the history of the vehicle, like the UVIP and the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). A CarProof or Carfax report will also provide accident history, lien details, as well as past registration and branding.

10. Prepare other questions

Prepare a list of any additional questions to ask the seller, like:

  • What kind of gasoline does the car use?
  • Do the stereo and climate controls work?
  • Is there a warranty, and if so, what is covered under it?

11. Test drive

Inspect the car yourself. Open all the doors, adjust all the seats, wind all the windows, and check if the lights, signals, and wipers work. Take a thorough test drive on various roads at different speeds to get a real feel of how the car drives.

12. Get a second opinion

Take it for a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. This can save you money down the road.

13. Make a paper trail

Ensure all conditions, terms of payment, disclosures, and promises are in writing. Read all contracts carefully and remember contracts are final once signed.

* The average savings represents the difference between the shoppers’ average lowest quoted premium and the average of the second and third lowest quoted premiums generated by InsuranceHotline.com.

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