10 Easy + Proven Tips for Buying a New Car Teens Need to Know

Shopping for your first car can seem a daunting endeavor, but you can equip yourself with our tools of the car-buying trade. Follow these steps for car-buying finesse, and cut out the stress to make car ownership simple.

The best part of having your own car is the pure, undiluted freedom that comes with it

No more getting up an hour early just to avoid missing the bus. No more begging and bartering with your parents or siblings to borrow their car. You get the freedom of driving where you want, when you want. Meet up with friends. Catch a concert. Heck, even just to get out of the house and get some fresh air for a bit.

What’s stopping you? Probably the price tag! Buying your first car is easier than you think, though, with these 10 easy and proven car-buying tips.

1. Cash or Credit? Determine how to pay for your new car.

2. What’s Your Budget? Determine your max purchase price and payment.

3. Crunch the Numbers. Compare auto loans for the best deal.

4. Secure the Bag. Get a preapproval for your loan.

5. Know Your Worth. Determine your trade-in value.

6. Pick and Choose. Determine which features you want.

7. Research and Compare. Shop around for the best deals.

8. Wheels and Deals. Negotiate and review the deal before signing.

9. Walk Away. Do not sign that contract until you’re ready.

10. Know Your Rights. Be in control of the deal, before and after.

1. Cash or Credit? Determine how to pay for your new car

Are you going to buy a car with cash, or do you need a loan? If you have the money already saved up, you’re golden. You’ll avoid the dreaded monthly payment and will save hundreds - if not thousands - on loan interest.

No shame if you don’t happen to have thousands saved up for your first car. Like many, many people who’ve traveled this road before you, a car loan may be the right choice. If you haven’t already built your credit, find a responsible cosigner such as a parent, who can help you qualify for a loan.

2. What’s Your Budget? Determine your max purchase price and payment

Get out your calculator, because it’s time to do some math. Knowing your car budget is crucial to getting the right car and deal for you. You don’t want to waste your time looking at a $50,000 souped-up BMW 3 Series when a $15,000 Honda Civic would be stretching your wallet, and you don’t want a loan for $600 each month when your paychecks don’t even cash for that.

Remember to factor in any trade-in or down payment to your total budget and insurance to your monthly budget.

3. Crunch the Numbers. Compare auto loans for the best deal

Not all loans are alike, and not all lenders have good intentions. Loans can be intimidating when you don’t know the lingo, but the most important factors to compare are going to be the interest rate (the percentage you’ll pay in addition to the price tag), the loan term (how many months you’ll be paying), and the monthly payment amount.

Check out first time car buyer programs that usually require lower down payments, online auto loans, and credit union car loans for low interest rates.

4. Secure the Bag. Put a loan pre-approval to work for you

Once you know which loan fits your needs the best, ask your lender for a preapproval letter. This tells the dealer you already have a loan lined up and saves you from getting stuck in their finance office for hours and walking out with a raw deal.

The car-buying process with a preapproval looks like this: You shop for a car and make your decision. You get the final price and a purchase order from the dealer. You sign documents with your lender. Easy and painless.

5. Know Your Worth. Determine your trade-in value

If you have a car that you plan to trade in and use toward your down payment, you’re gonna want to know how much you should expect to get out of it so you can factor it into your total car-buying budget.

Try KBB’s Instant Cash Offer tool which provides you an offer that you can take to participating dealers, or other sites like,,, or to estimate your trade-in value.

6. Pick and Choose. Determine which features you want

Your first car is often your ride or die for a while, so you should not only feel like it’s safe and reliable, but also like a friend you enjoy hanging out with. Make a list of features that are important to you - from safety features like blind spot monitoring and tire pressure sensors, to tech features you’ll lust for like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and remote start.

Rank them from must-haves to nice-but-not-necessary, and ALWAYS take the car and its features for a test drive.

7. Research and Compare. Shop around for the best car deals

With online access you have all the knowledge of the universe at your fingers to find the right car and price for you. Prices are not the same at Target versus Walmart. H&M versus Zara. Nike versus Jordans. While you can find similar models across makes, and similar deals across dealerships, it takes a little time to find the best price for the car you want.

Use sites like to research and compare vehicle prices in your area, and include online retailers as well as private sellers in your comparisons.

8. Wheel and Deal. Negotiate and review the deal before signing

Don’t go alone, and don’t allow yourself to be rushed. Taking someone with you that’s purchased a car before gives you the space and support to take a close look at the deal.

You get another trusted set of eyes to look over the purchase order for hidden fees or add-ons you don’t want, or to ride in the test drive as a passenger to test out the features, and to ask questions you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

9. Walk Away. Do not sign that contract until you’re ready

If you do have to go it alone, do not feel rushed to sign until you have read through every line and fully understand the deal you’re getting into. Ask the dealer for a signed purchase order to look over and walk away.

The hardest part for any new car parent is to leave it there, but this gives you the power to review the numbers, and the seller might even sweeten the deal just to get you back quicker.

10. Know Your Rights. Be in control of the deal, before and after

While Arizona lemon laws can protect you from being stuck with an unreliable new car, used vehicles are only covered in the case of a major component breaking down within 15 days (or 500 miles) of your purchase.

Your warranty package and the return policy may not be as compelling as the latest BookTok novel, but reading through to make sure you understand and are satisfied with them can save you a lot of money and hassle in the future.

Buying a car for the first time can be intimidating, but it can also be so, so liberating. Use these tips for buying a car and other resources you have available to do your research and plan it all out before even talking to a seller.

Ask questions of people who’ve been through it before like an older sibling, a parent, a friend, your credit union employees who love talking about how to beat the system and keep you from being taken advantage of. The more informed you are about how to buy a car, the more confident you’ll feel. That confidence is gonna look good behind the wheel.

Wherever you want to go, get there on your own terms with an auto loan from SunWest Credit Union.

July 10, 2023

Published by SunWest Credit Union

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