Buying your first car will be one of the most important purchases of your early adult life. Whether you feel the car is going to establish who you are, or you simply consider the ongoing costs and logistics associated with your main form of transport, either way it’s going to have an impact.

In spite of the importance of this purchase there are no “How to Buy a Car” lessons in school. So if you don’t have that mate who knows all about cars, you’re pretty much on your own here. Which is why we’ve put together a beginner’s guide to buying your first car.

Research

Your first stage is the research stage. This is where you consider what you want from your car.

New or old. This really comes down to your personal preference and price. If you’re likely to trade in or change your car in the next few years then a new car is not for you. Cars depreciate the most in the first couple of years and a 1 or 2 year old car can be just as good as a new car with thousands knocked off the price. Those air fresheners can even make them smell new again.

Consider the model. If you do a lot of city commuting you’ll be after something small, but if you’re going to be carting a lot of equipment or people you may want a sedan, station wagon or even a utility.

Engine Size. Have you watched ‘The Fast & the Furious’ a few too many times and want something with a little power? That’s okay, just know this before you test drive a family car and wonder why it has no real pick up.

Auto or Manual. Manual cars are generally cheaper to buy, run and repair, but they’re not for everyone. There’s no point getting a manual and then grumbling every time you have to do a hill-start. If you do a lot of city driving you’d be better off with an auto so you’re not having to tap dance with the pedals during peak hour traffic jams.

Price. Look at the market value for the cars you’re thinking of. Car prices can be rather fluid, particularly in private sales, but if you’re paying more than the market value for a second hand car you know you’re being had.

Brand. Brands have reputations not just for how fast or flashy their cars are, but also for what goes wrong. Brands can be known for engine quality, safety features, parts that tend to wear out faster than they should, or being expensive to repair. Car reviews and online forums will have plenty of information on the pros and cons of whatever model you’re looking at.

Armed with this car research you should have some idea of what you want from your new car. Try to have a couple of models in mind as everything may change when you start test driving. You can now search for these models to find which dealerships and private sellers have what you’re after.

Though, now you have to decide whether you want to go for a private sale or through a car dealership…

Read Part 2: A Beginners Guide to Car Shopping: Dealership or Private Sale