13 Tips for First-Time Car Buyers

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Buying your first car is an important milestone that must be approached with careful preparation. Follow these 13 tips to help you find a suitable and safe car that fits your wants, needs… and your budget.

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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 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 budget and consider payment options that work for you: are you paying cash, leasing or financing?

3. New or Used?

There are many pros and cons to buying either a new or pre-owned vehicle. 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 up-front, but it will come with all the bells and whistles and may require less maintenance.

4. Dealer or Private Seller?

There are also pros and cons to both options. A dealership may be more expensive, but they will likely offer warranties, more detailed reports, add-ons and payment plans. A private seller may sell for cheaper, but won’t give you any warranty or guarantee.

5. Do Some Research

Search reviews from people who’ve used that vehicle. For an unbiased expert opinion, Consumer Reports tests vehicles to ensure they are safe, effective, reliable and fairly priced. 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. Compare insurers and find the coverage you need at a rate that suits you before you commit to a specific vehicle. Or better yet, save time and money by going to InsuranceHotline.com to compare 30+ providers to find the best rate for you.

7. Consider 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, the current trade-in value, and the future value. The valuation tool shows how much your car could approximately depreciate over a one to five-year period.

8. Beware of Curbsiders

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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 tampered odometers. 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 Information 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?
  • Does the stereo and climate control work?
  • Is there warranty, and if so, what is covered?

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.

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.

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