How to Find the Perfect First Car

It’s time to buy your first car. Where do you start? Fortunately, you’re not being thrown into an experimental industry. You have years upon years of good track records to rely on. Some of the most reliable and safe vehicles out there can be easily found on a used car lot or in your local paper (or on Craigslist). Here how to snag yourself a winner.

Hit Up Craigslist

One of the best places to look for a used car is Craigslist. Sure, everyone is checking eBay, but the big problem there is location. It’s super-easy to find a deal on eBay only to find out that the seller lives over 500 miles away. That’s fine when you’re shopping for something that can be boxed and dropped off at UPS.

Cars aren’t like that. Your local Craigslist is like a local classified section – except better. You can often find people who live near you and sometimes even dealers that are offering a creaming deal on a vehicle that’s only a few years old.


Hit Up a Used Car Dealer

Your next best bet is to hit up local car dealers. Used car dealers get a bad rap, but here’s how to walk in and drive off the lot with the car you want: research. Never set foot onto a used car lot without doing a lot of research. The Internet is a Godsend for this. Here’s what to look for:

  • 1999-2010 Volkswagon Jetts/Golf TDI: Starting at $4,000 and up isn’t not the cheapest car you can buy. It has good crash test ratings and the turbo diesel option is a champ. These cars run forever so don’t be afraid of seeing 100,000 miles on the odometer. The TDI has outrageously good fuel economy and lots of low-end torque thanks to the turbo.
  • Honda Civic 1990s to 2010: Civics will always be winners. During the 1990s, they were some of the most reliable cars being built in the world. Great gas mileage, and they will run for several hundred thousand miles if you take care of them.
  • The Mercedes Diesel: In the 1980s and 1990s, Mercedes made one of the most reliable and tough vehicles ever built. Its diesel automobiles can run for hundreds of thousands of miles without a single problem. Plus, the car itself is a tank. Getting into a wreck with this one will probably hurt the other guy more than you. If the car does ever break down, most repairs shouldn’t cost more than $1,000. The best part? They can be had for about $900.
  • The BMW 3-Series, 1982 to 1992: Prices start at $2,000 and up. The E30 generation is a classic. In fact, you can probably find a body shop to retrofit a bodykit that will modernize this one a bit though it’s not necessary. Most of these are rear-wheel drive and are equipped with a manual transmission. There are a few all-wheel drive ones out there too but these are more rare – excellent in the snow though.
  • Volvo S60 2001 to 2007: This car is synonymous with safety. You can buy them for $2,500 and up and they have really great crash test ratings. They do have a few mechanical gremlins to look out for, so make sure that you get full repair and maintenance records with them.

Bring Your Inspection Gear

When you go to look at a car, bring some safety goggles and dirty clothes. A few things to check would be the tires – if they’re showing uneven wear patters it could be a symptom of a bigger problem like alignment or a crooked frame (worst-case scenario). If you can, get under the vehicle and check for rust – rusted brake lines, gas lines, and anything other than surface rust is a bad sign.

Finally, ask to see all mechanical records and a Carfax (or similar) report. You want to have a good history of regular maintenance and repairs before buying anything.

Louise Hudson works for a multinational company in charge of fleet management. Her articles mainly appear on auto blogs. Visit the Dubizzle Egypt link for more ideas.

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