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A High Schooler's Guide to Buying a Car

Finance | 08/07/2023 18:16

Getting your license and buying your first car is one of the most exciting moments in a teenager’s life. After all, a car means freedom, independence, and adulthood. And for parents, it marks the end of playing chauffeur for your kids. But buying a car can be overwhelming for kids and parents alike. From choosing the right car to managing how you will pay for it, there’s a lot that needs to be taken into consideration. 

Here’s your ultimate guide to buying your first car.

What should I think about when choosing a car?



Statistically speaking teenagers are three times more likely to crash than drivers that are over the age of 20. And with over 2500 teen fatalities and 200,000 teen injuries that result from car accidents, safety should be a top priority when selecting the right car. While many teenagers will want a fun, small, fast car as their first set of wheels, this is not the most pragmatic choice for a new driver. You want a car that can protect the driver and passengers in case there is an accident. Newer cars tend to have the best safety features and tech that can help reduce the risk of an accident. Newer cars come with higher price tags, so try to find a balance of safety and affordability. Safety rankings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) can help you determine which cars might be the best for a young driver. 



The budget you select is important for a few reasons. Not only do you need to make sure that you can afford the car you are buying, but you also need to make sure you can afford the additional financial factors. Insurance, gas, and maintenance are other things you will need to consider. If the car you are considering has terrible gas mileage, you will have to keep that in mind for your monthly budget. If you are purchasing an older car that does not have a warranty, you should budget for repairs and emergencies. Consider all of the factors that go into car ownership when determining what your car buying budget is.

New or Used

It can be hard to decide whether buying a new car is better than buying a used car. As we said before, new cars have much better safety features and will be more dependable than a used car. But they come with high price tags that might not make sense for young drivers (especially given the higher likelihood of getting into an accident). For most people it will make more sense to get a used car that is still in good shape and only a few years old. It will likely still be under warranty and will have many of the safety features that you want, but it will come with a much lower price tag. A used car will also come with a lower cost of insurance, which can help your budget a great deal.

How much should a high schooler pay for a car?

Of all of the factors that will affect your decision, your budget is likely the factor that has the least amount of wiggle room. So how can you determine the right amount of money you should spend on a car? 

A lot of this will depend on who is footing the bill for the car. If you are a high schooler that has saved their money and is looking to buy a car without any help, you will need to carefully examine your budget. Are you looking to buy a used car with cash you have saved and no financing? You will need to make sure not only that you have enough money saved to buy the car, but that you can afford the registration and tax that will be required. You will also need to make sure you can afford the gas, insurance, and maintenance that you will have to pay for every month.

If a family member or loved one is helping you out, be sure to have an honest conversation about the budget. If you are buying a new car and they are cosigning, make sure you are both on the same page as to who is making the down payment and how much you can afford in monthly payments.

There is no hard and fast rule on how much a high schooler should spend on their first car, but you will most likely want to find something in the middle. Finding a used car in the $10,000 to $20,000 range should give you some safe options while still being affordable for many families.

How to buy your first car.

Set your budget.

Setting your budget is the first step in car ownership. If you plan on financing you will need to find a consignor so that you can get a good rate for your car loan. Talk to a loved one to find out if they are willing to cosign. If you are planning on making the payments, be absolutely sure you can make the payments, otherwise your loved one will be on the hook.


List your wants and needs.

Determine what is most important to you when it comes to getting your first car. Safety should absolutely be on the list, but additionally you should think about the following:

  • The type of vehicle. Do you want a car, truck, or SUV? 

  • The make and model: Do you have preference on the make or are you flexible? It’s good to have a few different options in mind as you start looking around.

  • The gas mileage. Do you drive a lot and require good gas mileage, or is that not as much of a concern?

  • The add on features. Is an entertainment system important? Sunroof? All weather mats? 

  • The resale value. It’s always good to take the resale value of a car into consideration. Certain brands retain their value so that when it’s time to sell it you still have some cash in your pocket.

  • The color and appearance. Is there a certain look you want your car to have? 


Decide on new or used.

There are pros and cons to each, so you will need to decide what makes sense to you.


Look at dealerships and private sellers.

Start to look around at your different options. If you need to finance, a dealership will make the most sense for you. But if you are buying used you can look more broadly. Look on sites like Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds to find out what a fair price is for the cars you are interested in and don’t just take the dealer’s word for it. The more prepared you are the better you will fare when it comes to negotiating. 


Look at the car’s history.

When you find a car that you love, be sure to do a background check on it. CARFAX and AutoCheck can alert you if the car has ever been involved in an accident. You should also check to see if there are any recalls on the car and whether or not they have been fixed. Having the car checked over by a mechanic is also a great idea if you aren’t especially car savvy yourself.


Take a test drive.

It’s incredibly important to take the car for a test drive. You want to make sure that you are comfortable and aware of any issues that the car may have. As a new driver, a lot will feel new and foreign to you, but if you are comfortable with how the car drives and how you are positioned it will make you a safer driver. 


Whether or not you are buying a new car or a used car you should definitely try to negotiate. Private sellers and dealerships alike are usually open to negotiating, so prepare ahead of time. Bringing a parent or loved one is best when you are a first time car buyer. Dealers may try to take advantage of a new driver’s naivete, but an older authority figure can help ensure you don’t get swept up in a bad deal. At the very least try to get them to waive any dealer fees. 


Make sure your paperwork is in order.

When you buy a new car you will need to make sure that it is registered and insured before you drive it. Be sure to have proof of registration and proof of insurance on you when you head out for your first drive.

That’s everything you need to know about buying your first car.

A little research and preparation can help ensure that you get a car that you love that doesn’t blow your budget out of the water. And if your car payments are too high, contact Auto Approve! Car loan refinancing can help you save a lot of money every month, and who couldn't use some extra cash in their pockets?


So what are you waiting for?


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