The Downtime Guide to: Buying a Car

The Downtime Guide to: Buying a Car

Larry Fitzmaurice

Buying a car is really weird right now. Here's some ideas to make it much less weird.

There are more reasons than ever why you might be thinking about buying your first car right now. Maybe you’re moving out of the city to a place in which having a car is literally necessary to get around every day. It’s possible that, if you are living in a city right now, you might just want to be able to leave said city whenever you want without having to worry about the safety of public transit (waves hand in the air) in these times. Maybe you’ve just never owned a car before, and you quite simply just want to own a car now. That’s okay too!

There’s no wrong (legal) reason to want to buy your first car right now, and before we go any further about some tips and tricks that could help your quest in buying your first car, here is something that is absolutely essential to keep in mind: it is very, very hard to mess up the act of buying a car. People do it all the time. Just look at how many cars there are on the road! Everyone in those cars bought them some way or another, and you will too.

That said — as someone who bought their first car recently, it’s important to at least have a shred of knowing what you’re doing as you’re making what is a momentous and (hopefully) long-term purchase. Here’s some things you should keep in mind when buying your first car:

Know Your Options

And, no, not just “What kind of car do I want?” — we’re not there yet. There are a lot of different methods through which you can go about buying a car: you could go straight to a dealership, hit up a used car lot, spend time scrolling through apps like CarMax and Autolist, dig through Craigslist listings, or buy a used car through a car rental company’s used sales division (Hertz, which is currently liquidating its entire fleet of cars for direct sale, is where I purchased mine). All of these approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, which it’s why you also need to…

Know What You Want

What size car is the most practical for you? How much trunk space are you looking for? Are modern safety features a must, or are you satisfied with a seatbelt, a few airbags, and a great steering wheel that doesn’t fly off while you’re driving? Do you even know where you’re gonna park this thing? All of these questions are essential to answer for yourself when beginning your search. Otherwise, you’re just gonna end up looking at countless cars and getting overwhelmed quickly, instead of being able to narrow down your options early and make informed choices as a result.

Try Not to Drag Your Feet

If you’re taking the digital approach to finding a car — which, let’s face it, who isn’t these days — you should always keep in mind that even the most minor of listings could be “here today, car tomorrow.” Haha. Sorry, bad attempt at a joke. What I meant by that is, while it’s important not to rush into anything, you should also keep in mind that if you’re interested in a car you see, there’s a good chance that someone else is too. Don’t hesitate to reach out as soon as you’ve decided you want to pursue the purchase, or else you might find yourself simply frustrated in the end.

Figure Out Your Budget

Do you want to make financed monthly payments? Do you want to do a down payment in addition to monthly payments? Do you want to buy the car entirely with cash on hand? How much money do you even have, anyway? These are all important questions that, and I know this is obvious, will greatly affect your search for a car and are zero fun to think about. But once you’re done thinking about them, you’re done—that is, until the next big purchase you’ve decided to make. But hey, then you’ll have a car, too.

Ask Questions

This tip goes a few ways. It’s essential that, when you’re in the early process of fact-finding —whether it be talking to a random guy who’s selling a car, or the agent at the dealership — you inform yourself as much as possible about the essentials that makes a car run. (Mileage. Mileage. Mileage.) Now, I know what you might be thinking: I’m buying my first car, what do I even know about how cars to begin with?” Just ask someone who knows! That sounds simple, but I’m dead serious. You most likely know at least one person with experience in buying cars that you can trust. Pick their brain for five minutes, it’s not hard.

Get Insurance Before You Buy It

But why do need to buy insurance before you buy a car? Well, technically, you don’t: let’s just say you go to a dealership and purchase one. As you’re working out the purchase, at some point they’re going to ask you to purchase insurance on the spot before the purchase can proceed. Purchasing car insurance is — and I’m just putting this like it is — not fun. You gotta give all this information, wait a bunch, be on hold, give more information, blah blah blah. It’s a whole thing, and if you’re doing this correctly by comparing multiple insurance providers’ quotes in your state, it will likely take an entire afternoon. So here’s what you do: do the research at home, give the information you need to the provider when you’ve made your decision, and have them save the quote. That way, when you get to the dealership to complete your purchase, it’ll take far less time to complete the quote and give you a lot fewer headaches.

But Seriously, Don't Rush Into Anything

I know I said “don’t drag your feet,” but that’s specific to how much time you should take before reaching out about a car’s availability. When you see the car you’re purchasing for the first time in person, don’t be shy in getting as much of a feel for it as possible. Test drive it, if you can. Do whatever you need that makes you comfortable as possible with making a decision about this purchase, because before you’ve exchanged money you are still just a potential buyer and deserve to make any decision you wish.

Prepare for Disappointment

Maybe it doesn’t work out! Maybe you don’t like the car for whatever reason, or the seller reneges on an offer for whatever reason. Life’s like that sometimes. It could happen, and it could be frustrating for a while before you actually decide on a car and successfully purchase it. As Coldplay once said, “Nobody said it was easy.”

When Success Happens, Breathe Easy!

Hey, you have a car now! What are you gonna do with it? Why not take it to Wendy’s? Or, like, a waterfall or something? You might have bought a car because you need one, but owning a car is cool because you can go literally wherever you want. Take it to the beach. Take it to a drive-in theater. Take it for a drive for two hours, get coffee at a terrible gas station, and go home. Do whatever you want with it. Life’s a blast that way.

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