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.
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.
With so many resources available, there is no excuse for neglecting the information-gathering stage of the buying process. Read trade magazines and newspaper 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 finding not only the right vehicle for you, but which dealership you feel most comfortable dealing with.
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.
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 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.
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.
Buyers 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.
Most buyers recognize the importance of test driving any vehicle they are considering. I highly recommend you 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.
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.
Columns Everything you need to know about purchasing, maintaining and driving your car.
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