Driver's Guide

Questions to Ask When Buying a Car for the First Time

how to buy a car for the first time

Last Updated on February 27, 2023 by Bernard Juchli

What questions to ask when buying a car for the first time? When buying a car, you want to ask questions. Otherwise, you end up with a lemon or something really terrible.

There are lots of questions to ask when buying a car for the first time, including the title status, general vehicle condition, recent repairs, theft status, registrations/paperwork availability, and odometer mileage.

how to buy a car for the first time

Before you proceed with this guide for buying your first used car from a seller – private party or dealership, read about the things to check in the car before paying for it.

Also, you want to know the trick to talk down a dealer or private seller, depending on your case.

Questions to Ask When Buying a Car for the First Time

People will want to take you for granted. However, you would have yourself to blame if you tell the seller “it is my first time”.

Below are the questions to ask when buying a car for the first time:

  1. Why and what car I need

The first question begins with yourself and the car you want to buy. If you know the reason you need a car, then you know the car that you need.

If you ask someone to advise you, they would say, “tell me what you need a car for and I will tell you the car that you need”.

While planning to buy a car for the first time, figure out why you need the car. People need cars for various reasons, if your reason is not because of ‘something’, you might not make the best decision.

For example, a student buying a car does not need a truck. You need a city car with good gas mileage and less expensive maintenance.

Also, if you are getting a car but have no job, you do not need those V8s. A simple car to help you look for a job is perfect *winks*.

Reports show that buying a car is not a big deal—the big deal is maintenance. The average maintenance cost of a car is estimated between $500 and $700 yearly.

Moreover, depending on the sort of situation the car finds itself in, this could add up. An extra cost of about $55 could add up as your annual budget on maintenance. Remember that you would be paying for the insurance too.

You would renew your paperwork and see off additional charges such as impound storage fees, parking fees, etc.

The idea is for you to know why you need the car by considering your likely monthly expenses and if you can afford it.

  1. What do I like in a car

Another question to ask when buying a car for the first time is what you like in a car. You have to get yourself to like a feature or two. If you have no choice, get an expert to advise you.

When you have no good knowledge of a car, your best bet is to get in touch with an expert. An auto technician will also be able to advise you.

You want to know if to buy a vehicle with front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive. Of course, this affects the vehicle’s performance. Some people prefer SUVs, some hatchbacks, and so on. You could use your occupation to determine what car you prefer in this regard.

You also want to consider the type of transmission. There is the manual and the automatic transmission. While some drivers prefer the automatic, others prefer the manual transmissions. You can research the differences between both to decide what transmission to buy.

  1. What is your budget

Experts recommend that your car budget stays at 40% of your annual income. If you exceed this range, it is not financially healthy.

Also, if you finance the car, it can affect your credit history. The rule of thumb is to set a budget that you can cover within the first half of the year.

If your income is $60,000 annually, your budget can be $24,000 for a car. Apart from the value of the car, you will go through additional steps to register and put the car in your name. Of course, you will pay sales tax, though you can avoid the sales tax legally.

Now, you want to research the cars that come in within this budget. Filter your search terms to cars below or at your budget. Suppose you have $17,000 to spend on a car. You want to research used or new cars between $15,000 and $17,000. To filter your search, simply include the amount at the end of your search term. For example “Passat $15,000“.

You can go on Craigslist, eBay, or any platform you can get a car if you need a used car from a private seller.

Make sure to review your budget so that you do not exceed 40% annual income.

The two ways you could research cars and pick the best within your budget is either you go online, or you contact an expert for advice.

Even if you learn from a mechanic, you still have to visit car forums to read about the negatives of such a car and confirm whether there are cases of recalls. Look at the common problems with the car and see if there is a solution. Otherwise, do not buy it. Some cars are not worth buying, so keep away from those as a first-time buyer.

Forums/online communities are a good place to make your findings because you will get sincere reviews from consumers with experiences of the car. On some occasions, consumers exaggerate a problem, so you have to lookout.

A problem is a problem if multiple people are saying the same thing. Otherwise, it is not a problem peculiar to the vehicle.

For instance, while researching the older Nissan Pathfinder (2006 model) the consumer reviews indicated problems with the handling. Depending on the car you research, you will receive helpful reviews to help decide on the car to buy.

Below are some platforms to look up the vehicle you plan to buy:

  1. Who is the seller

Getting to know the kind of seller you are dealing with is a good starting point. If you meet the seller online, ask yourself if this seller is trustworthy. You can tell a sincere seller from their description of the car for sale.

If you are referred to a seller, ask the referrer about their relationship with the person. If they met the seller at random, you want to deal with them like they are strangers.

Meanwhile, before you contact the seller, see the checklist for buying a car. During the meeting, the seller must not be in control of the transaction.

You do not want a seller to know that you are a first-time buyer. Do not ask them questions that make you look too new. Unfortunately, you are new to buying a car, and it is a bit difficult to hide the fact. Get an expert or someone with a good knowledge of cars with you.

If you are capable, you can partake in online car auctions. It is, however, advisable to get to know the online auction platform very well before you join in the bidding. Most websites have laid down instructions you can follow to get to them better, and how to use the platform.

A good number of the cars you find online are either legalized stolen cars, rebranded salvaged cars, or VIN-cloned cars, so be careful.

how to buy a car for the first time

Also, before you pay for a car, be careful not to deal with a Curbstoner. A curbstoner can sell you an open title car or a title washed car, typically at a cheap cost.

  1. Does the deal look too good to be true

The first red flag that you should withdraw from a deal is if it looks too good to be true. In as much as you need a car for your budget, you cannot get a particular vehicle for a particular budget. If you find such deals, there could be something fishy. As mentioned earlier, some vehicles could have been stolen or salvaged, etc.

Suppose you are buying a car from an online market like Craigslist and the seller has something fishy about them. Typically, they will pressure you to buy. Some will send unnecessary links to you (do not click them). A fake seller will also not want you to have a voice or video call with them.

On the other hand, some buyers have a thing about the car they do not want you to know. It could be that the title is salvage, the car has a theft history, or the odometer is rolled back, etc. In the case of the odometer, you can tell an odometer rollback with these tips.

  1. Can you beat the salesperson

In our case, let the salesperson be anybody, including a dealer, or a private party. Before then, here is a comprehensive guide to outsmarting a car salesperson.

Sellers already know the questions you will ask them before buying the car. They also know that their response will determine how much money you are willing to pay. However, they do not know whether it is your first time buying a car, and you must keep it from them.

Some dealers typically have fixed value for their vehicles. A private seller is always open to negotiations, but smarter private sellers may keep the negotiation difference at just $1,000 to $2,000 to avoid lowballing. For example, if a seller values a Ford at $14,000, they can begin with $16,000.

Note that a car dealer prefers when you lease a car. As a first time buyer, it might not be a great idea starting off with a lease. But if you must finance a car, it must be within your initial budget.

You do not have to buy a new car if it exceeds your budget. The condition of a used car is the difference between it and a new one. You will always find a fairly used car to buy for the money. However, do not buy a rebuilt or rebranded vehicle. Such a car was declared a total loss by the insurance and issued a salvage title by the motor agency – might not be roadw0rthy.

  1. Can the car be inspected

You are a new-timer, so it is likely that you have no good knowledge of cars. Therefore, get an expert to do the inspection. Yes, the seller will permit an inspection. Otherwise, do not buy the car.

Do not use an inspection agent proposed by the dealer. They can only be a tool to manipulate you, and of course, they will not tell you when something is wrong.

Note that a rusty car can be filled and made to look so new. It is through a thorough inspection that such damages are revealed.

how to buy a car for the first time

Car inspection services vary between the region of $80.99 to $150. It depends on the agency and how sophisticated they’ll be while inspecting the vehicle.

Meanwhile, you can test drive a car without buying. After test driving a car, if you do not like it, do not pay for it. Tell the seller why you do not like the car and walk away.

Mistakes to Avoid when Buying a Car as a First Timer

Avoid the  following as a first time car buyer:

  • Exceeding budget. Situations can be tempting. However, it is not recommendable to spend beyond your budget. Getting the car is not a problem, but the cost of maintenance. Unless your financial strength is healthy enough, keep things low and within.
  • Not test driving a car. Wondering what is test drive? This practice lets you determine the drivability of the car to be purchased. You may not be excellent at this and we thus recommend letting the inspection agent do such while you are in the car as well. Once in a while, switch seats and have a feel of the vehicle. Whatever it is you feel should not be, communicate it to the agent, and get explanations from the dealer.
  • Buying because of vehicle appearance. It is not a great idea to buy looks. Some of the good-looking cars are salvage title cars and are not worth a thought. This mistake is rampant in online car purchases where people go for looks. If a car’s look attracts you, do not fail to run a history check. All of these are well stated in our buying first car checklist which the link has been embedded above. As mentioned earlier, a rusty car can be filled and made to look brand new.
  • No Vehicle Inspection. It is ideal to pay a few bucks for professional inspection than get yourself a car that becomes faulty weekly. With about $80 or thereabout, depending on the agency, this should be sorted.

Final Thoughts

These are the questions you ask a seller as a first-timer. It does not mean you can buy the car alone but only helps you to increase the chance of securing a good deal alongside the expert with you.

A seller wants to get the most from their car, and you want the best deal for your money. This means you have to bargain and must try to outsmart the seller.

Again, never let the seller know you are a first time buyer. They will attempt to manipulate you, especially when you meet them in person. Just get a knowledgeable expert alongside and find yourself the perfect car for your money.


Bernard Juchli
Latest posts by Bernard Juchli (see all)
Written by
Bernard Juchli

Bernard Juchli is an experienced racer, mechanic and team owner who trusts Avon Tyres.Bernard is the lead driver and force behind his Big Dog Garage Race Team. He is the General Manager and Chief Mechanic of Jay Leno’s Garage. Bernard and his crew of seven are responsible for all repairs, restoration and fabrication of Jay’s incredible automobile and motorcycle collection.

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