Getting Into Cars: How to Buy a Car (Without Your Parents’ Help)

There’s no symbol of freedom quite like the first car you ever buy.

As a young adult, a new ride can open a lot of doors – even if it’s not always the gleaming sports car of your dreams. Almost a third of Americans got their first car as a hand-me-down from another family member, with little choice on the make or model.

If you’re just getting into cars for the first time, you might be hoping to avoid an older ride dumped on you by your parents – or, worse, their input into your buying decision. As an independent driver, shouldn’t you choose your first vehicle on your own?

Doing so offers a ton of rewards, but it’s easier said than done. If you’re researching for your first car, here are some things to keep in mind.

Figure Out Your Finances

Before you start researching high-end vehicle models for your new ride, figure out how much you can afford.

Calculate Your Budget

For most young adults, the budget for a car will be on the low end of the spectrum. Calculate any savings you have and factor in your monthly income to see how much you can put toward the car.

As you crunch the numbers, don’t forget to calculate the recurring costs of a car, including things like gas and auto insurance. There are other hidden costs to prepare for as well, like sales tax and warranties.

Start Saving for a Down Payment

If you’re not in a hurry, take extra time to save for your car. You’ll have to put down an initial lump sum called a down payment, which is often at least 20% of the total price tag.

The larger the down payment you make, the better your rates will be when you’re taking out a loan. If you opt for an affordable ride whose total cost you can pay up front, you’ll save a large amount on interest.

Check Your Credit Score

If you’re planning to take out a loan, you’ll also need to consider your credit score. This can be tricky for young adults, who often have little to no credit history. However, your credit score is the main factor lenders will use to figure out the size of your loan and your interest rates.

If you’re not happy with your credit score or the rates you’d get from a loan, take to build your score. Waiting a few months to improve your credit score can save you hundreds over the lifetime of your loan!

Decide on the Car

Next, it’s time for the fun part. Weigh your options to find a ride that works for your needs. Here are some factors to consider early on:

  • Vehicle reliability
  • Safety features
  • Gas mileage
  • How many passengers you might have
  • The weather conditions where you live
  • The amount of driving you’ll do on average
  • Any features or technology you need
  • The need for luggage space
  • Resale value

While you research, be sure to check out sites like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and Consumer Reports for helpful stats and specs for different models.

As you whittle down your options, you should start getting a sense of the vehicle types you prefer as well as whether you’d like a new or used car.

While new rides can be fun and exciting, they have a reputation for being hard on your wallet. However, this isn’t always the case: buying or leasing a new Honda, for example, can be more affordable than you’d think.

If you prefer a used car, you’ll still get your hands on great vehicle features without the high price tag. Recent models will often have the same low initial maintenance costs as a new car as well as high-end safety features. Certified pre-owned cars are an even better option, as they’ll still come with warranties from the vehicle manufacturers.

Get Prequalified for a Loan

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, getting prequalified for financing is a smart move.

Though it’s possible to get a loan via local car dealerships, loan prequalification gives you a little more control over the outcome. This can be crucial for first-time car buyers.

Through the prequalification process, you’ll get an idea of the rates and terms you’ll get from the loan. This isn’t full approval, but it gives you a better estimation of how much car you can afford. When you head to the dealership, this knowledge can be powerful during negotiations.

Check Out the Car

Though you’ll have done your research online by this point, now is a good time to check out the car in person. Head to a local dealership and ask to get behind the wheel. During your test drive, you’ll be able to check for vital features like the car’s comfort, steering, and more.

If you’re choosing a used car and prefer not to use a dealership, you can opt to buy through a private seller. This can sometimes get you a great deal, but you’ll have to be extra cautious: private sellers may minimize signs of damage to make the sale. Always have an independent mechanic inspect a used car before you buy it, no matter who you’re purchasing it from.


Last, but not least, seal the deal! This is where all of your research and loan prequalification come in handy.

Make sure the dealer knows you’re aware of the value of comparable cars, ask questions about the warranties and fees, and be cautious. One common mistake first-time car buyers make is revealing their enthusiasm or blurting out the maximum price they can afford. Instead, start low and see if you can get a better deal.

Don’t hesitate to walk away if you feel like you aren’t getting what you need. There are always other deals out there.

Use These Tips for Getting Into Cars

Buying a car can feel intimidating, no matter your age. As a young driver, the deck may feel stacked against you, but the tips above can help! From being smart about your loan options to taking a test drive, getting into cars without your parents’ help won’t be as hard as you expect.

If you found this article helpful, be sure to check out the other guides on our blog!

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