This post is sponsored by Everywhere Agency on behalf of Autotrader; however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
If I had stuck with my original family plan, I would have college sophomore by now. My goal was to get married at 24 and start having kids by 26. As you probably know, the best laid plans don’t always work out.
I didn’t meet and marry my husband until I was 29 and we didn’t have our son until I was 36. By the time he graduates college, or even high school, we’ll hopefully have the means to help him with his first car.
Not everyone is so lucky and neither was I. I had a family car to use while I was in high school but didn’t even own my first car until two years after I graduated college. At that point, I had to buy a car. I had exhausted my employment options as far as public transportation could carry me. I had secured my first teaching job and I needed a car.
Unfortunately for me, I had no clue as to what the car buying process was all about. My family had always bought used cars, often from private owners, and we once traded a vehicle for wood (hey – we needed to heat our house that winter!). I didn’t know about car dealerships and car financing and new vs. used cars. And if I was considering a used car, what should I be looking for?
Finding My First Car
Remember that back in 1994 (when I bought my first car), we didn’t have the internet. We couldn’t do online research and find out what cars were clunkers or even what they were worth. We didn’t have expert advice telling us what to look for and what to avoid.
Instead, I ended up with a very reasonably priced, used sedan with great gas mileage and a low monthly payment. And I also got a car with a questionable clutch, a leaky windshield, and a body that was rusting from the inside out.
Whether or not you’re in the position to help your recent grad with a car purchase, your job as parents is to make sure they know how to find the right car. In other words, make sure they don’t buy a rusty old car that’s seen too many Cleveland winters (aka Car Shopping 101).
So how do you help them without being all Mom and Dad know best. We can’t possibly entrust you to make your own reasonable decision?
Easy. Empower them with the right tools to not only find but buy the best car for this stage in their life. Here some of the best tips and resources to send your college grad in the right direction.
Tips and Resources for Helping Your College Grad with Car Shopping
1. Figure out a budget.
If they have the cash to buy outright, that’s fantastic! If they’re looking at financing, that’s a whole different story. When I got my first real job paying $26,000 per year, I thought I’d be bathing in money. I forgot about taxes (the government do take a bite, don’t she?), FICA, rent, insurance, food, etc. So I had to step back in looking at what I could afford each month.
And it’s wasn’t just about the monthly payment. It was understanding incentives and interest rates and down payments and trade in values (if any). Have them check out an Auto Payment Calculator so they can understand how all these variables can affect the bottom line.
2. Get educated on the benefits of buying new vs. used.
This is the first place to start. There’s value (literally) in buying used. They can learn about depreciation and save a bundle. But a new car also offers them the latest in safety and technology, a warranty (many now include service), and great financing options. Check out articles like New Cars vs. Used Cars. There no wrong choice – only an educated one.
3. Research, research, research!
It’s important to know the must-haves and the wants… and the difference between the two. As someone well beyond the college grad years, I won’t compromise when it comes to things like a back-up camera, built-in nav, and heated seats. But that’s probably not as important to college grad as connectivity and the “coolness” factor. (Although that, admittedly, matters to me too).
Have them put their overused spreadsheet skills to work and figure out the features and functions that matter to them. And then find cars that might make it to their short list.
4. Start with a short list.
In 2015, there were 265 different makes of cars available. And that doesn’t even include the hundreds still available for all the previous years. That’s totally overwhelming. Start someplace like Autotrader.com’s list of best cars for college grads.
Truth be told, I love many of the cars on this list from my own personal experience. I did a week long test drive with the Mazda3 and spent a few days drive the Fiat 500X all over Southern California (rough life, I know).
Also on the list? A Honda Civic. The exact same model that I called my very first, real car. This time, rust not included.