The Essential First-Time Vehicle Buyer’s Guide

Few things in life come close to the excitement and anticipation of turning the key of your new car for the first time and hearing that engine come to life – but there’s work to do before that can happen.

You’ve spent months saving all of your hard earned cash, taken a Driver’s Education course, and now it’s time to begin researching which type of vehicle will best suit you and your needs as a new driver.

Do Your Research

Researching vehicle details online has never been easier. And good thing, this is by far the most critical part of buying a car for the first time. This is when you’ll narrow down the field of near infinite possibilities into a few segments that you’ll seriously consider. Right off the bat, you should consider which vehicle type suits your lifestyle; if you live in an urban center, a big V8 SUV with four-wheel-drive likely won’t serve your interests well. Likewise, if you live in a snowy rural environment, a sporty subcompact may not fare well for you year round.

Doing your research will enable you to realistically sort and gauge what’s going to work best for you. For example, you may find that sporty subcompact comes with an all-wheel-drive option, and that big SUV may come with a more fuel efficient V6 and two-wheel-drive. Maybe a turbodiesel is an applicable choice for your lifestyle, or even a Hybrid vehicle.

Consult the trusty internet for video reviews, blogs, statistics on average insurance rates, reliability, etc. There’s no limit to the available information you can get your hands on, so carefully narrow your search into a few key segments that appear like they’d be a good fit for your particular lifestyle.

Establish a Realistic Budget

Vehicles and driving have long been timeless metaphors for freedom, and as such, shouldn’t end up financially crippling you if you do your budgeting correctly. Establishing what you’re comfortably and realistically able to spend on your first vehicle should be next on your list. If you have a part-time job, a brand new car likely won’t be what you’re able to afford. And buying within your means will enable you to enjoy your purchase that much more.

There are countless used vehicles available online via private sellers for under $10,000 and many dealerships focus and specialize on used, certified vehicles that meet a rigorous set of safety and emissions testing, helping to make your purchase even more enjoyable and stress free. You may have to incur safety certification and emissions testing on top of your initial vehicle purchase, and licensing costs as well. Make sure that you budget for these essential costs as part of the sticker price of your new vehicle. On the other hand, if you purchase a brand new car, your salesperson will help you to navigate these costs, guiding you through the entire process, unveiling sometimes hidden and forgotten costs.

Don’t forget about the experience and guidance of your parents, and friends who have purchased a new or used vehicle themselves. They can help you to budget for your purchase easily, and can offer financial advice that can prove beneficial to an inexperienced buyer.

Fuel Economy/Maintenance Costs

In addition to the sticker price of your vehicle, there will inherently be ongoing, constant costs associated with running and operating your vehicle.

Consider fuel costs (maybe you want to rethink that V8 again). A 4-cylinder engine uses considerably less fuel than a V8 or V6, and the advent of electric and hybrid vehicles may also interest the environmentally conscious buyer. In Canada, fuel economies are generally illustrated in a L/1-00 km basis, meaning the smaller the number, the less you’ll spend on fuel in a given year. Look for an average rating, based on a combination of highway, and start-and-stop styles of driving.

Consider costs of different insurance coverage policies, and regular maintenance costs, like oil changes, tire balancing, transmission work, etc. – as well the potential for unforeseen serious repairs like engine replacements, collisions, new winter tires, etc. These costs can quickly add up to become comparable to the cost of your vehicle itself, should you not be careful in choosing a reliable vehicle that can offer good reviews and affordable replacement parts.

As a general rule, domestic vehicle parts tend to be cheaper than their imported counterparts, and vehicle with two-wheel-drive and manual transmissions have fewer moving parts than all-wheel-drive and automatic transmission vehicles, resulting in fewer parts that could need replacing. Smaller, lighter cars require smaller tires that are significantly cheaper than large vehicle tires.

If you choose a vehicle with a high-tech motor, your oil changes can inflate in cost, required synthetic oil rather than conventional oil in less tech-savvy motors. Vehicles used for towing and hauling have different, and sometimes more frequent maintenance schedules as well, that could impact your ongoing vehicle finances

Engage the internet to look up average annual maintenance costs for the specific vehicles you’re interested in and make an informed decision based on available re-call information and repair blogs.

Needs vs Wants

Chances are, everyone would like the high end model package with the available Napa leather, premium audio, and turbo-charged engine – but not all of us truly need those things.

The option lists on newer vehicles can be vast, and cater to everything from Bluetooth connectivity, to heated steering wheels and oscillating headlights that compensate for turns in the road. Will you need all of those extra options? Knowing and gauging which options and extras you’ll willing to part with, or pay for, will help you to further narrow your vehicle choices.

If you’re operating on a tight budget, ask yourself if more common options like leather seats, 7-passenger seating, or a larger engine will benefit your lifestyle and make your decisions accordingly.

Vehicle brands also come into play here. Many domestic vehicle brands compare directly to the foreign German, or Japanese brands you may have had your eye on.

Locate a Trustworthy Dealer

You should feel confident that the seller of the vehicle you’re interested in, whether it be a private sale, or a dealership deal, has your best interests at heart. A reputable dealership should help to educate you on your pending purchase, not push you towards the finish line before you’re ready, or willing. Avoid pushy salespeople or dealerships that make you question their motives.

A trustworthy dealership will provide you with background information on the vehicle you’re interested in – especially a used one – and allow you to take the vehicle for a good long test drive to familiarize yourself with the vehicle. Further, a reputable dealer should happily answer all of your questions.

Ask your dealer to allow you to take the vehicle to a trusted mechanic for a pre-purchase vehicle inspection. If they decline, walk away – a trustworthy dealer should have nothing to hide. The pre-purchase inspection will tell you further information about the cosmetic, mechanical and safety conditions of the vehicle.

Finding Your Car

When you finally decide on the make and model of vehicle you’re after, search numerous dealerships for the best deal – at first in terms of sticker price and available financing/leasing rates – then in terms of specific options you had hoped for, aesthetics like colour and cosmetic defects.

Take your vehicle for a test drive to acclimatize to your new wheels, and if you’re so inclined bring along that paddleboard, dog crate, or canoe to test the fit of your equipment that will soon be adorning the roof or truck bed of your new vehicle. Ensuring that your choice is perfect before you begin to finalize your deal will help you anticipate that free feeling of driving into the sunset.

When finalizing your deal with your salesperson, they will help guide you through the last steps before you take ownership of the vehicle, but if you’re purchasing from a private seller, make sure that you follow the rules and regulations of your province or territory,

At long last, you’ve managed to narrow your search down to one vehicle – your vehicle. Happy cruising!