Be Smart When Buying Your First Car

I always imagined that when buying my first car, I would stumble into a car lot, find the perfect car at the perfect price, sign a few papers, and drive off into the sunset. Boy, was I wrong.
My first car-buying experience was frustrating and, at times, maddening. In the end, I did drive off into the sunset with the perfect car at the perfect price, but it took a lot more out of me than I thought it would.

Let’s start at the beginning

My mom and I set aside four hours one day to go to some used car lots, and we managed to make it to three. Our first salesperson didn’t know a thing about the vehicles in his lot – or the prices. Ugh! As you may have guessed, I didn’t walk into this experience without a budget. I had looked through my finances carefully and saved up a comfortable amount. When I told the second salesperson that I was going to stick to $10,000, I meant it. Unfortunately, budgets don’t matter to pushy salespeople. Double ugh! We went to the third dealer with heavy hearts – but a smidgen of hope – and left more creeped out than ever. When your mom is weirded out by someone, you listen, and you get out of there! I am so thankful I didn’t shop alone!

Thinking outside the big box dealers

After all that, you’d think I’d give up and just bike it everywhere, but I knew there had to be a solution out there for me! We ended up going unconventional. Our first try was at a CARMAX lot. CARMAX specializes in used cars and works with people like me who want lots of budget-friendly options, a solid reputation for dependable vehicles, and excellent customer service. I was so happy with the experience that I would still recommend any new car buyer to try out a CARMAX (even though I waited way too long to buy).

The second non-dealership option was the exact opposite. In fact, I still have nightmares. After being frustrated by all the in-person shopping I was doing, my mom and I agreed to give Craigslist a go. Just like my budget, I knew what I wanted when searching the listings. One of the best parts of doing all that shopping at lots and test driving cars was that I already knew what would work for me. For example, I could narrow my search to a few brands, limit it at under 50,000 miles, and cross off any with clear accidents. I bit when I saw that one of my car choices, a Honda Accord with less than 30,000 miles, was listed. After communicating with “Bud” via email and then seeing the super cute car in person, I thought I had found a winner. My mom, who had become an expert at car shopping, wasn’t. She wanted our mechanic to look at the car, and I reluctantly agreed.

Our mechanic was the one who burst the bubble. The car had been in an accident, and “Bud” wasn’t even the owner! Red flags were popping up everywhere. It only got worse when he lied to try to get us to pay extra for the title! No way, “Bud!”

Lessons learned (but still car-less)

I didn’t buy a car at this point, but I did walk away from the experience a smarter customer. I learned that the car buying experience was much, much more time consuming than just walking onto a lot. I also learned to never go alone; a second opinion is a must. If you want to try your luck at Craigslist or a person-to-person deal, be sure you ask for a complete CARFAX report so you can see the car’s history. Looks can be deceiving, so be sure not to make a decision on looks alone. And finally, while having faith is important, trusting just any stranger is not, especially when a significant amount of money is involved. Most of all, don’t worry! A happy ending is always on the horizon. You’ll see how I got mine in Part Two!