12 Steps to Buying a New Car for Teen Drivers

To help navigate the new terrain of safe driving and vehicle ownership, Christian Brothers Automotive has created a series of 10 important lessons for teen and first-time drivers. We've already covered safe driving, driving practice and obtaining the coveted drivers' license. Today we'll focus on the main event – buying a car. Whether you're buying a new car or a new used car, these tips can help you make an informed decision.

Here are 12 steps to buying a car the right way:

1. Do your research

Before you even leave the house and head to the dealership, do your homework. Look at user reviews, safety reviews and awards given for the car you have in mind. Find a car that is safe, dependable, and will last you for the remainder of high school and on through college.

Make sure to check the make, year and model of your desired vehicle. It's also helpful to look in the blue books to determine what your car is worth and what other buyers have paid for the same model.

2. Inspect for damage

Any signs of damage, rust spots, dents or scratches are cause for concern. Signs of welding and tape residue could indicate a part has been broken and replaced.

Places to check:

  • Under the hood
  • Under the car
  • In the trunk
  • The outside paint
  • Seats
  • The saddle (the part that connects the front fenders and holds the top of the radiator)

3. Check for leaks

If the car is leaking fluid, you can be sure it will lead to an eventual repair. Before the test drive, turn on the car and let it idle for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Move the car and look to see if any fluid has dripped below the car.

If there is black, green or pink fluid, this is a sign of trouble. Black fluid might be oil, green fluid is typically anti-freeze and pink or red fluid may indicate a transmission leak.

4. Examine the engine

The engine is the vehicle's heart and energy source. If there is a problem with the engine, you can be sure a repair will be needed in the not-too-distant future. Inspect for any corrosion or signs of leakage. Dark brown stains or dried fluid could mean a leak in the gasket or one of the hoses.

Check around the brake fluid reservoir, the oil filler cap and the transmission. Pull out the transmission dipstick and check the coolant in the overflow jar. If the transmission fluid is not pink or red, or the coolant is dirty brown, it means the fluids have not been recently changed. If the fluid levels are low, the car has not been properly maintained.

While looking in the engine, be sure to check all hoses and belts. Squeeze the hoses to check for rigidity. They should be firm but flexible and not show any signs of leaks or swelling. The belts should not have any cracks, tears or frays.

5. Check the AC

Turn on the air conditioning to make sure it works and cools off in a timely manner. While a broken AC system might not seem like a big deal, it could lead to further damage down the road.

A broken AC system may be leaking refrigerant, which could wear away at other parts of the engine. The AC system is also a vital part of defogging widows during the rainy and snowy seasons.

6. Check all lights

Turn on all lights to make sure there are no burnt-out bulbs or electrical issues. If more than one light does not turn on, it could signal a problem with the car's electrical system. Verify all lights are working, including:

  • Sensors
  • Headlights
  • Taillights
  • Brake lights
  • Dome lights

7. Pay attention to the mileage

The mileage is an indication of the car's age and how much it's been through. A normal driver will put an average of 10,000 to 15,000 miles of wear on a car each year. If the car has fewer than 100,000 miles on it, many of the original manufacturer warranties may still apply.

While the mileage is an important factor, you also need to be mindful of the amount of maintenance and service put on the car. A car that has a lot of mileage but was properly maintained will serve you better in the long run than a car with a few miles that was not regularly serviced.

8. Check the Tires

The tires will be your indicator of the previous owner's driving habits. Check that the tires all match each other and show even wear along the tire's sides. It's a good idea to check the spare too, just to ensure the tire pressure is accurate and the car has not been driving on a spare in place of the original wheel.

Check the tire tread as well to determine whether the tires will need replacing any time soon. An easy way to check for proper tread is to place a penny between the tire tracks, upside-down. If you can see Abe's head, the tread is worn.

9. Take the car for a test drive

The test drive will give you a good idea of how the car handles, as well as any potential maintenance problems. Pay attention to any sounds or noises the engine or brakes make during acceleration and stopping. Bring the car up to about 30 miles per hour (MPH) and then come to a steady stop.

Check for any grinding, squealing, pulsing or trepidation. If the car pulls off to one side or clunks during a slow turn, there may be an issue.

10. Check the service history

Most used car dealerships and reputable sellers will have a record of the vehicle's history. Check for any service or needed repairs, as well as routine maintenance. If the car has been through any accidents, it's important to be aware of how the car was repaired and maintained afterwards.

11. Bring the car in for a Pre-Purchase Inspection

While most impending maintenance and repair issues can be caught with a test drive and a visual inspection, some cannot be seen without a thorough examination. Bringing your car into Christian Brothers Automotive for a pre-purchase inspection will catch any small issues so they can be handled up-front or by the previous owner.

When buying from a dealership, a pre-purchase inspection could lower the asking price by making the dealer aware of any maintenance issues neglected by the previous owner.

12. Do not pay sticker price

Car price is always negotiable. Used car dealers often acquire cars through trade-ins and by offering far below the car's value. Doing your research before meeting with the dealer ensures you pay a fair price for your new vehicle. It's also important to look at more than one vehicle from more than one seller before committing to a purchase.

Buying your first car can be incredibly exciting. However, it's vital to enter into this new purchase responsibly. Do your homework and thoroughly inspect the vehicle before buying. By following Christian Brothers Automotive's 12 steps to buying a used car, you could be driving off in a vehicle that will last years. Drive responsibly!

Other posts in the series

1. 8 Driving Safety Tips for Teen and First-Time Drivers

2. 5 Important Driving Practice Conditions For Teen and First-Time Drivers

3. Teen and First-Time Drivers’ 6 Steps to Obtaining Your License

4. 12 Steps to Buying a New Car for Teen Drivers

5. 6 Steps to New Vehicle Registration for Teen and First-Time Drivers

6. What Parents Need to Know About Teen Driver Insurance

7. Guidelines to Buying Your Teen the Best Car Possible

8. More Than Texting and Driving: The Top 10 Driving Distractions Teen and First-Time Drivers Need to Eliminate

9. The 3 Most Common Reasons Cars Breakdown (And What Teen Drivers Need to Do When it Happens)

10. The 8 Most Important Car Maintenance Services Teen Drivers and First-Time Drivers Need To Know