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How To Pick a Good First Car

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Buying your first car can be an incredibly exciting experience.  After all, regardless of how much you spend, how long it lasts, or if you crash it, everyone in the world remembers that first vehicle they bought--it's just impossible to forget.

However, this can also be a stressful or difficult time.  After all, most people who are new to the world of buying cars are making this purchase as a teenager.  With that usually comes a tight budget.  If you don't know a lot about repairing and maintenance a complex machine like this, that could lead to even more complications

First Car

Luckily this guide is here to help you narrow down some of the choices available to you, as well as make some suggestions on what to buy.  Many of this advice will also apply to anyone, not just first-time buyers!

Consider What You Want

The absolute first thing that you need to do is figure out what you want out of this car.  What do you value in a vehicle?

Do you like sportiness?  Or at least "zippy", a word the parents may be more approving of.

The ability to modify?  Your first car gives you a rare opportunity to truly make it your own.

What about the interior--are you looking for luxury?

What kinds of features?

Safety ratings?  Generally speaking, the newer the vehicle the safer it is.

How much driving do you do--will gas mileage become an issue?

Answer all of the above questions, and then write down a stack-ranked list of what attributes you want your ride to have.  Now comes the hard part...

Consider What You Actually Need... Both Now and Long Term

If you are purchasing this car at age 16 or so, your life is about to change a lot really soon.  Think about where you plan to be within the next five years.  Chances are this purchase is going to stick with you all throughout that time.

Are you planning to attend college after graduating high school?  If so, you probably want to look into something with more storage space.  Practicality may sound boring and dull now, but when you are trying to cram your life into the tiny trunk of a coupe, you may find yourself wishing for something bigger.

What about if you are looking into starting a job or apprenticeship upon finishing school?  In this case, you may want to start looking into vehicles with AWD, or at least budget for a nice set of winter tires (which can easily cost $600+.)  Also, depending on how far away this job or apprenticeship is, you may want something more economical to avoid spending a fortune on gas.

Look Into Insurance Rates

Car insurance rates are insane among teenagers.  It almost always is best to go under your parents' insurance for the first few years of having your license, as the rates can easily reach more than $200 per month if you create your own plan.

Insurance companies will do anything they can to jack up your rate.  If you are a 16 year old male, you will automatically be assigned a higher rate right off the bat!  Going after sports cars, muscle cars, and anything with a tendency to accelerate quickly, are going to increase your monthly payment even more.

Before making any decisions on your purchase, you may want to call up your insurance company and compare rates between different cars.  These prices can add up quickly and may play a larger part in your decision than you might think.  As an added little bonus, see if you qualify for any "good student" discounts when talking to your insurance company.  Make those grades worth something!

A Few Suggestions...

Below are just a few cars I have selected as starting points of what to look into.  To keep things relevant to most young drivers, I have made sure that these are all cars which can be generally be found for under $5000, which is a pretty reasonable price point for most first time buyers.

Ford Focus (1st generation)- The Gen1 Focus' (Focii?) are at an all-time low in price.  These are common cars that are cheap to buy, cheap to put gas in, and cheap to maintain.  To get one in decent, running condition, you should be looking to spend $2000-3000.  Personal preference: the ZX3 hatchback models, for being practical and pretty nimble as well.

Mazda Protege5- The standard Mazda Protege is a good car, and very reliable.  Unfortunately it's also a bit bland and isn't likely to excite and persuade any teenager into handing over thousands of dollars.  Luckily the Protege5 exists.  It boasts hatchback practicality, very good and modern looks, but still retains all of the reliability of the standard Protege.  If you were interested in a Volkswagen GTI but were concerned about running costs, these may be worth considering.  They aren't quite as fast as a GTI, but the handling still has that Mazda lightweight charm that makes them a blast to drive.

Protege5

Subaru Impreza (1st generation)- These Gen1 Imprezas are becoming cheaper and cheaper.  They offer AWD, which despite being largely overrated, is still a nice thing to have for inexperienced drivers, who tend to be more skittish in sketch conditions.  Reliability is usually pretty solid across the entire Subaru lineup, and the Impreza is no exception.  Watch out for head gaskets however, cars of this era often had issues with them, and they can easily cost $1500+ to replace on a boxer engine.

Honda Civic (any)- You can't have a list of best first cars like this and not include the Honda Civic.  In many ways it has started to become synonymous with the words "first car".  It isn't flashy, it's not a sports car, and it won't turn any heads.  What it does bring to the table is tried and true Honda reliability, a massive amount of community support for the DIYer (or someone looking to get into working on vehicles), cheap and interchangeable parts, and great fuel economy.  The manual transmissions are more reliable than their automatic counterparts, and will achieve better fuel economy too.

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