Buying your first car is huge. It’s not just a vehicle that gets you from A to B, but a symbol of freedom when a world full of options opens up to you. It is also pretty daunting. You’ve heard all of the stories of inexperienced car buyers being sold a dud and then left to pour thousands of dollars into a piece of machinery that really isn’t worth it.

To help you avoid this pain we have compiled a 10-point checklist for you to follow so you can confidently take over ownership of your first car.

  1. Set a budget.

You can’t let emotions dictate how much you will pay, no matter how amazing you look in that cherry-red convertible the salesperson insists you look like a movie star in. This decision has to be a purely financial one.  Set a price and vehemently stick to it. If you don’t think you can do this, take a friend with you that won’t mind strong-arming you out of the car lot if necessary.

  1. Know what you are paying for.

Whether you are going new or used both have extra costs that you need to be aware of.  For a used car you aren’t just getting what you see, you are buying its whole history warts-and-all, so ask lots of questions.

Has it ever been in an accident? What is its service history? Who drove it previously?

Two identical looking cars could be very different under the bonnet based on whether it was driven by a hoon that treated it like a junker or a little old lady that had it serviced religiously.

When you are buying new make sure you are aware of the safety rating, added features and additional costs like dealer delivery charges, stamp duty and registration.

  1. Make a wish list

Decide on deal breakers before you start looking, but be realistic and understand that the budget you have set will dictate certain restrictions.  However, things like 2 door vs 4 door, trusted brand, models with easy to replace parts and fuel efficiency, are all reasonable things to be picky about for your new car.

  1. Research. Research.

In the day and age of Google the answer to every one of your questions is at your fingertips, so take the time to find out everything you need/want to know about the make and model you are interested in. The best place to find this info is in customer reviews.  The manufacturers and sales sites will tell you all the good bits, but customers will tell you what they really think.  However, also keep in mind that some keyboard warriors can go a bit overboard, so use your common sense when deciphering what they have to say.

  1. The sale price isn’t where it ends

Let’s say you have saved $3,000.  This doesn’t mean you have $3,000 to spend on the purchase of the car.  Make sure you are aware of the extra costs you will need to pay after buying the car or you will find yourself with a very expensive paperweight taking up your driveway. You need to also budget for registration, insurance, petrol and half-yearly services to name a few, not to mention being in the position to be able to afford to replace a tyre if you get a puncture or the hundreds of other little things you will need to be aware of that might crop up between servicing. Then there are the milestone replacements like timing belts that you can’t ignore but will hit your back pocket hard.  Being aware of all of this will put you in a better position to budget for a car you can actually afford.

  1. Shop around

Don’t feel like you have to select a car from the first car yard you visit. Be prepared to pound the footpath for a few days to make comparisons.

  1. Take back-up

It’s ok if you don’t know a lot about cars, you can’t be an expert on everything, so ask for the guidance of someone that is in-the-know.  Take them with you to look at cars and listen to what they have to say.  Get them involved in negotiations with the seller too. They will soon let you know if an ‘added extra’ is worth it or if a brushed over detail is something you need to circle back around to and discuss further.  Also, let them know your maximum price so that they can help reel you in if you are tempted to exceed it.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions

Buying a car is a big step and a huge commitment. You are entitled to ask as many questions as you need to make a confident purchase. There is no such thing as a silly question so don’t let someone intimidate you into thinking otherwise. If you think you will blank if your salesperson rolls their eyes, write a long list beforehand so you can stay on track and once again use your back up person to help you stay strong.

  1. Test drive

This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people buy a car without first test driving it.  Test EVERYTHING. If you are buying used, make sure everything works the way it should and if you are buying new, make sure the features suit your needs.  Also make sure that you feel safe in the car. What are the blind spots like? How does it handle corners and speed bumps? Are the brakes sharp or mushy? Your safety is more important than anything else when selecting a car.

  1. Don’t rush

Just because you want a car now doesn’t mean you should rush out and buy the first one you see.  Take your time, do your research and look at a wide range of options.  Once you buy the car there is no going back, so a little time spent now making sure you get the right car for you will save you any potential regret later.

Good luck and happy shopping.