It’s a monumental moment in every twenty-something’s life: buying your first “real” car. It can seem overwhelming at first. Where do you start?

First, don’t panic! You’re not alone. I recently made my own decision to buy a car and have since been sifting through the dusty corners of the internet to compile this invaluable list of “The Twenty-Something’s Guide to Buying a Car.”

  1. Determine wants versus needs – You can save a significant amount of money by being honest with yourself about what you must have in a vehicle versus what you really want. This doesn’t mean that you have to stick with the bare minimum, either. You have more flexibility than you might think. For example, “auxiliary input” was technically not on my “need” list, but I didn’t want to fast from music for the rest of my first car’s life. After researching I discovered that I could save thousands of dollars by purchasing a slightly older model without an input, and then have an aux input installed for only a few hundred dollars.
    1. Certified Pre-Owned: Practically a new car but costs thousands less. If the car is certified by the company who produced it you’ll have significant peace of mind and will not need your mechanic to inspect it.
    2. New: You’re the first owner, performance is flawless, there’s no need to worry about dealing with previous issues or maintenance records, and many companies offer rebates.
    3. Used: The price is almost always negotiable, it’s the most cost-efficient option, there’s no middle-man involved, and there are no restrictions or limitations placed by a company or dealer.
  2. Research – Now that you know what you want and need in a car and where you want to buy it, it’s time to research! A few well-known and helpful websites to look at are,, and You can use specialized calculators to get an idea of what you’ll be paying per month, read reviews from other drivers discussing pros and cons of the model you’re eyeing, compare the vehicle you’re interested in to similar ones, and pretty much anything else you could possibly need to make an informed decision.When researching, don’t forget to include talking to friends, family, and that one co-worker who always has a copy of Car and Driver on her desk. Not only will you feel better knowing that you’re fully educated on your dream car, but research is also the key to not falling for every car salesman’s well-practiced speech.
  3. Be prepared (to buy) – Car insurance in place? Loan approved? Great! You’re almost ready to buy. Know what to expect before you sign the dotted line:A used non-certified car will need to be inspected by your mechanic before you buy. If the dealer or private party refuses to let the car be examined, run in the other direction – you’re dealing with a shifty deal.

    Be sure to understand what will be expected of you in regard to costs and forms. This chart is incredibly helpful for getting an idea of miscellaneous costs exclusive to your state.

Happy shopping!


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