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How to Buy Your First Used Car

Michael Jones

Auto Loan Expert

Whether you’re a teenager, recent college grad, or adult just stepping into the world of used cars, purchasing your first used car can be a stressful process. Everyone has heard horror stories about people taking out an auto loan for used car and then finding out that the car needs major repairs or is worth far less than what they paid. People who are looking for used car loans for cars older than 10 years might be even more nervous, and justifiably so. This guide will help you buy your first used car and remove some of the stress and mystery from the process.

What Kind of Car Do You Need?

The first step to buying your first used car is to determine what type of car you need. People just driving to work and shopping probably don’t need a large SUV, and a family of seven is going to have problems fitting into a hatchback. One of the most difficult parts of buying a used car isn’t a lack of choice, but too many choices. Determining what kind of car you need will help narrow the range of cars you’re looking at and make it easier to make decisions.

How to Buy Your First Used Car

How Much Can You Spend on a Used Car?

The next thing you should do is determine your budget. Many people buying their first used car will need to take out a loan. Thankfully, it is easy to find a used car loan calculator, (like the Chase used car loan calculator) that can give them an idea of their budget. Keep in mind that banks will offer you better interest rates on newer cars than on older ones because they are less of a risk for the bank. Once you’ve established a budget, your range of cars will be narrowed even further. Many sites will even tell you their average APR for used car loan with bad credit, fair credit, or good credit, so you can get an even more accurate idea of how much you can afford. At this point, it’s time to get up close to your potential car.

Inspecting the Car

Even if someone has been driving for years, there are so many things to look for in a car that inspecting a used car before buying it can seem overwhelming. Breaking the inspection into categories makes it easier to manage. Specifically, you should inspect the car’s interior, exterior, and engine. In addition to looking for obvious issues, seeing what kind of condition the car is in will give you a better idea of how mechanically healthy it is. Cars that are clean and scratch free are more likely to be free of mechanical issues than cars with ripped and stained interiors or rust spots and scrapes on the door. Finally, stains or leaks in the engine, or worn and fraying belts, are a clear sign that the car will encounter trouble in the not-too-distant future.

Going for a Test Drive

After you’re satisfied that the car you’re interested in is in decent condition, it’s time for a test drive. Do your best to put the car through all the different situations it is likely to face, including surface streets, parking lots, and freeways. This will let you conduct a complete mechanical check of the car. Listen for odd noises and check for unusual smells, as these are good indicators that there is something wrong with the car. While used car loan rates 72 months are often cheaper than other lengths, it does mean you’ll be stuck with the car for 5 years, so any indication that the car is at risk of mechanical issues is a good reason to move on to the next choice.


When financing your car, one of the best things to do is pre-qualify with your bank of choice. This will tell you about how much you can afford to spend. Next, take the cost of comprehensive insurance into account, as your loan provider will want to be insured against loss. Finally, consider making a larger down payment in order to reduce the amount you’ll have to pay each month.


Buying your first used car can be an intimidating process, but breaking it down into smaller and smaller steps shows that it isn’t anything to be afraid of, so get out there and get the used car of your dreams!