by Carrie Lowrance
My first car was a white Mazda 323 that I paid cash for. Six hundred dollars to be exact. It was totally stripped down, no radio or A/C but it got me where I wanted to go. Unfortunately, I ran into a telephone pole when the sun got in my eyes, causing my car to be done for. The next car I got was a red Ford Aspire, this time with radio and A/C, that I also paid cash for. This time I paid $800. I loved my Aspire, it was small and had some good get up and go.
It lasted me a good two years, but then it started having problems and slowing down. It was time to start looking for a new car. Unfortunately, the guy I bought the previous cars from no longer had his car lot anymore. It was time to go car shopping. Car dealerships are an exciting place to be when you are young. It can be overwhelming and sometimes there can be a lot of pressure.
However, you don’t have to cave under it. It can also be hard not to have shiny object syndrome. When you are surrounded by beautiful cars, it can be easy to get caught up in a car you can’t afford. Before you even go to the dealership, there are some things to keep in mind, but we’ll get to those a little bit later. After going to several different dealerships, I settled on a cute, silver Cavalier. It kind of looked like a European sports car.
This was the start of my first experience with having a car payment, and it really wasn’t too bad. I loved this car also, although I didn’t have it very long. I let my boyfriend drive it, and he totaled it. Let this be a lesson, don’t ever let anyone else drive your car. After receiving a check from my insurance company and then having to find a new insurance company, it was time to go car shopping again.
Luckily, one of the ladies in our church sold cars at a local dealership, so we went to see her. Once again, after looking at various vehicles, I chose a 2001 Alero. This was my second experience of having a car payment, and it was a nightmare. Why? This car was the worst car I have ever had. There was always something wrong with it. Within a few months of buying it, I had to replace the fuel pump, and that was just the beginning.
Besides paying for routine maintenance like oil changes, tires, alignments and such, I also had to pay for more costly repairs as well. Things like a windshield wiper motor, traction sensor, water pump, etc. On top of all this, I had a $100+ car payment on top of it every month. This is why I don’t recommend having a car payment when you’re young. Eventually, I got rid of that hunk of junk. It got to the point where it would stop in the middle of the road.
Lesson number two, if you’re looking for a used car, don’t get a 2001 Alero. My next car was a maroon Impala. This car is the best car I have ever owned. Other than routine maintenance, I haven’t had to do anything significant to it. I still wasn’t thrilled about having a car payment, but this time it was a necessity. I paid my car off within two years of buying it and being without a car payment is liberating.
How to Avoid a Car Payment
So, how can you keep from having a car payment in the first place? Here are a few ways you can help avoid this.
Have an open conversation with your parents and discuss how you are going to get a car eventually.
They may be willing to pay for half of it if you save the rest. You may even have to set a strict budget for how much you want to spend and save that much. Don’t forget to add in sales tax, registration, and tags. Look in the newspaper and online for cars that are for sale from a private owner.
You can usually find all kinds of vehicles at all sorts of different price points. The gentleman I bought my first two cars from had a used car dealership, but also kept a few cars on his property to sell as well. If your parents buy a new car and offer you their old one (paid off of course), take it. Sure, it may not be your dream car. Most first cars never are.
However, you will only have to worry about repairs, gas, and registration every year. Buy a “bare bones” car and then save for a better car. If you can, do some research on what the payment was on your older car when it was new and try and save that much money a month towards a new car. If you have paid your car off, keep saving that payment for 3-4 years and then buy a better car.
For example, say your car payment is $250. $250 x 12=$3,000. If you save $3,000 for four years, you will have $12,000 to put towards your next car. It still may not be your dream car, but it will be a far cry from the “bare bones” car that you’re driving now.
If You Have to Go to a Dealership
There are several things you need to keep in mind when you go car shopping at a dealership. Know how much you want to spend on a car in total.
Stand your ground and don’t feel pressured into anything you are not comfortable with. Understand everything in your buyer’s contract before you sign.
If you buy a used car (which is a much better option) and they try to talk you into an extended warranty, don’t do it. We fell for this with my husband’s first car, and when he had to have about $1500 done in repairs, it hardly covered anything. Only look at vehicles within your budget, this will deter shiny object syndrome and keep you from falling for a car you can’t afford.
If you are a young adult without any credit, your parents should be prepared to sign for your car loan. This is an excellent discussion to have before you go to the dealership as to whether or not they are willing to do this. There are a lot of things to think about and consider when it comes to cars and car payments, but it doesn’t have to be brain numbing and dull.
Shopping for a car is a fun experience so enjoy yourself and have fun when you go out on test drives. It’s always exciting driving a vehicle that’s a few steps above what you already own. Still, by keeping these tips in mind, you are bound to find the perfect car for your budget.
Carrie Lowrance is a writer and author. Her work has been featured on Huffington Post, The Penny Hoarder, Crosswalk, and Same Journey. She is also the author of two children’s books, Don’t Eat Your Boogers (You’ll Turn Green) and Brock’s Bad Temper (And The Time Machine). You can find out more about Carrie and her writing at carrielowrance.com