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How to Buy Your First Used Car

Last weekend, I made the decision to invest in my future, so, I decided to, ironically, commit myself to six years of debt in order to buy a used car. Rationalizations aside, buying a car constitutes a first “adult” purchase for many young women, and I was no exception. Now I won’t lie to you, the task of finding the car that is perfect for you can be quite daunting. For me, I was labored with an infinite amount of questions: what kind of make and model should I look for? Do I need all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, or two-wheel drive? How many miles are too many miles? Where can I buy this car from? And, arguably most importantly, can I afford to make this purchase responsibly? Never fear, all the answers to these questions (and more) lie below.

Finding the right car for your lifestyle.

I’m a Colorado girl through and through, and although the snowy conditions of the Rocky Mountains may differ from the plains of the midwest or the congestion of New York City there is still information to be wrought from the experience of yours truly. 

One of my favorite hobbies is hiking. In fact, I think it’s pretty safe to say my general obsession with the outdoors is something I will never grow out of (hopefully). So, I started my search by looking for a make and model of a car known for reliability, safety, and durability. I also prioritized finding an all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive car to ensure I didn’t have any difficulty on the often rough roads of the Colorado mountains. 

For me, the perfect car ended up being a Toyota Rav4 with all-wheel drive. If you’ve ever been to Colorado, or literally anywhere else in the U.S., you’ve seen these cars everywhere. Toyotas are known for their reliability and easy handling in either inclimate or winding setting, making these cars perfect for any adventure lover. To sweeten the deal, they also have rave customer reviews. 

Where to find your dream car.

Okay, this is the hard part, well one of them. Fortunately, there are now so many helpful resources to help you not only locate your car but also ensure that it is in great condition as well. I luckily had the support of my parents, and while this was their first rodeo with buying a used car, they had navigated dealerships before, so, it became important that the used car came from a certified dealer of Toyotas. Using this criterion, I narrowed down my search online using the platform Carfax. I found this website incredibly helpful. All I had to do was enter my location, the car I was looking for, and how much I wanted to spend and Carfax spit out over a hundred results of Rav4s near me. This website is such a great tool because it also alerts you to the prior conditions of the car, such as any accidents it may have been in as well as past service history. They also provided me with the dealership’s phone number so it was super easy to call and set up a test drive from there!

Taking the car for a test drive.
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Molly Peach / Her Campus

Don’t sleep on this step, taking a used car for a test drive is useful for so much more than just seeing if the seats are cozy (which, yes, I totally thought that’s what test drives were for). I recommend either bringing an experienced parent or friend in the car with you to listen to any funky noises, feel how the breaks are working, and see how the car drives overall. I found it helpful to have my parents drive the car first to get a general idea of all of this and then drove the car myself to see if it was a good fit. You should also take a moment to assess the interior and exterior of the car for any scratches or other damage before you take the car off the lot; this will help you have a more informed idea about the condition of the car.

Taking the financial leap (responsibly, of course).

This step is also super important. Okay so basically every step is important. In all seriousness, buying any car, used or not, is a huge financial decision. In fact, I shouldn’t even be calling it a “leap.” It should be a calculated move in which you consider your financial situation and capabilities further into the future than most college students have to think. But, don’t be afraid, there are so many support mechanisms out there to help you make this decision. For me, once again, I was able to confide in my parents, who were, fortunately, also able to cosign my car loan from the bank. I also found that the credit I started building my freshman year of college came in handy when seeing which rates I could qualify for. Finally, I recommend saving up some money for a down payment when you initially buy the car as this will make your monthly payments cheaper for the duration of paying off the loan. 

Making any sort of big financial decision in college when your future, or at least your career, is unclear at best can be daunting. But, when you utilize the right resources and support systems, it can turn out that the experience overall is very rewarding.

Chloe is a sophomore at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She has double majors in English Literature and Sociology with a Leadership Studies Minor. In her free time, she enjoys reading, working out, spending time with friends, and eating good food.
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