Your first car isn’t just a vehicle; it is the manifestation of teen freedom. Sure, parking, gas, and traffic will cramp your style sometimes, but you will be able to go wherever you want, on your own schedule, with your friends. You’re going to want to be able to count on it and enjoy driving it, so whether it’s new or old, stylish or utilitarian, buying your car is going to be a special occasion and important decision. Getting the right car matters, and depending on what you want from your vehicle, there is a lot to consider. Here’s my story, and some pointers about what to look for.
I did not think I’d get a car in junior year. In fact, I figured I would be borrowing my mother’s Kia Optima or my dad’s Honda CR-V. Getting my license wasn’t as hyped as it could’ve been because I knew I wouldn’t be driving around the city all the time. I had no hopes when I ran into an old friend whose uncle happened to mention he had a car he wanted to get rid of. It was a Saab 95, mint green and in near perfect condition.
Some background is needed here: I grew up driving around in a Saab 95. My father drove me to school and back in that car; I had eaten and slept in those black leather seats. The car could fly when you mashed the throttle and would glide smoothly and quietly at 95 miles per hour on our road trips. When we sold it, I felt as though I were losing an old friend. Since then, Saab went bankrupt. Twice. The company dissolved its assets, and today the majority of the parts are supplied by Porsche or Volvo. When I saw the mint green Saab, I knew it would be mine. I wrote my name in the dust on the hood and went home to talk it over with the family.
Today it is mine (for $750, a heist), and to sit in the same black leather seats nearly five years later, this time in the front left, is an odd but right feeling. For me it is the perfect car. Saabs are infamously safe (their spending on safety is why they went bankrupt), thus the parents were satisfied. The car has a sport button and a quality sound system, so it ticked my boxes. The practical downside is real, though.
Since Saab doesn’t exist anymore, parts are expensive, and because the car is 16 years old, it’ll need some new parts soon. The air conditioning only works on one side of the car, and sometimes the engine gets pouty and doesn’t start. The final bit of the muffler seems to have rusted right off, and the brakes take some getting used to. It revs irregularly when parked and is quietest above 40 mph. Under the hood lies a 2.3 liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It produces around 230 horsepower, and that means it is a lot of fun to drive. However, that also means I average a measly 14.9 miles per gallon. My wallet cries about it.
Truth is, I love this car. I can drive my friends around in it or drive around with the sunroof open and just enjoy the breeze. I like to think that even if a police officer were to clock me speeding, he wouldn’t be able to catch me. It handles intuitively, and feels happy. My tips to you for finding the same happiness in your own first car are as follows.
First, find out the car’s history. Accidents and major repairs should be red flags. If the car you’re looking at has any of those, be aware of who made the repairs and if they were done well. Make sure to have a trusted mechanic look into it before you purchase it. If the vendor has a problem with that, make clear that this is non-negotiable. We did the same with the Saab and found that a windshield wiper motor was broken, which was luckily not a big deal.
Second, be sure to distinguish between what you need versus what you want. Good gas mileage, reliability, and safety should take priority over a cracking sound system and a sweet set of rims. Know what you’re spending money on. This will be important when you go on to insure the vehicle.
Third, do some research on the model year of the car to check for major recalls or common issues. Check prices online for the same car so that you know you’re not overpaying. Find your price, and stick to it.
Finally, test drive the car yourself. Get a feel for it. If you’re smiling by the end, you’re on the right path.