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Buying your first car, like many other life firsts, isn't always perfect. But if you take a little extra time to figure out exactly what you're looking for, you can make sure you find something you love.

Establish Your Budget

Before you even hit the car lots, you'll want to establish your budget. What can you afford as a down payment and what can you afford monthly? Use an auto loan calculator, and don't forget to factor in costs like insurance, gas, and maintenance. If you need a loan, you'll also want to consider the different types of auto loans available.

Do Your Research

With an idea of what you can afford, you can look at cars that fit your budget. As you look for the right first car, you'll want to pay close attention to safety ratings. No one wants to think about getting into an accident, but it can happen and it's three times more likely to happen to drivers ages 16 to 19 than drivers 20 and older.

Other things to consider are gas mileage (the better a car is on gas, the less you have to spend day-to-day), horsepower (how much is necessary?), and size (will it fit where you need to park it?).

Look into Specific Cars

If you're buying a used car, you'll want to do an additional layer of research. Know the laws including the ones in your state around used car sales. Armed with an idea of the type of car you want, you can start looking at specific used cars on the market.

As you do, use a resource like Kelley Blue Book Kelley Blue Book to determine what you should pay for the specific car, based on the model, year, condition, and other factors, such as if the car has any extras like a sunroof or power seating. You'll want to know the condition of every part of the car to determine what additional costs you'll incur after the purchase.

Get answers to all of your questions: Are the brakes in good condition? Are the dents and scratches cosmetic, or do they affect performance? What maintenance was done on the car and when was it performed? Are the tires all the same and equally worn or will you need to purchase new ones? How much mileage is on the vehicle? Look to sites like CARFAX to get a vehicle's history. The more documents supporting the history of the car, the better you can determine the condition.

Of course, test drive several cars so you can see the difference in how they feel. It may be tempting to go with the first car you find that fits your budget and checks all of your wish list boxes. However, stay in control of the car-buying situation and be sure to compare prices.

Buy with Caution

Don't let your guard down when you're ready to purchase. Even if you've negotiated the price you want and the car checks out, make sure you understand everything you're signing before you sign it. Does the car come with a warranty? Are there any caveats?

While you may want to tackle buying your first car on your own, it's always helpful to bring someone who has experience buying a car. This person can help you stick to your goals, identify any problems with the car's look or feel, pinpoint any oddities in the car dealer's practice, and explain any industry jargon. And remember as bad as you may want a car, there's no reason to rush your purchase.

This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

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