I live in Long Island NY, a relatively sparsely populated area without a subway, so a car is a necessity for me to be able to get to school or to go shopping. When I moved out of campus, I really considered buying a car.
Buying a pre-owned car is always a good choice for a college student for two reasons. First, it’s much cheaper. Second, it offers stable performance. If you decide to buy a used car, like I did, I strongly recommend that you determine a definite budget. After talking with more than a dozen of my friends who already owned cars, I had a rough idea of what kind of car I wanted to buy – the price ranged from $13K to $14k. I wanted a small car, anything after 2010, and anything with less than 50k mileage. (Usually, cars less than 5 years with less than 50k mileage are in good condition, so there is nothing serious that will push you to the garage frequently; I don’t really know much about cars and I prefer to drive safely, so that’s why I have those requirements.) I don’t mean an old car is not reliable, yet after my friend told me about their 2006 car breaking down on the highway, I was fearful of older cars.
The next thing to buying a car is determining the brand and model. Most students welcome Japanese cars because they have relatively high performances and parts are usually common and cheap. They are also much more reliable. I made a list of Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Mazda 3 and listed them only in accordance to my planned budget. All these cars are 1.8 small-engine cars – really good choices if you want to save gasoline.
Usually there are three ways to buy a used car: a full-service dealership, a private dealer, or a car auction. Although the latter two are great choices for saving money, I prefer the reliable dealership option- it just saves time. I used two websites to do my research on different dealerships: Cars.com and Cargurus.com. (You could easily type in your zip code and find all the used cars that meet your requirements as well as cars dealer nearby.) A good feature of Cars.com is that you could get free CarFax report online, which is really important information because that allows you to avoid cars that have had major accidents.
Although the deals online may seem pretty easy, the reality can be another thing completely. When you see the real cars and meet the dealers, difficulties can arise. For example, I had visited almost all Toyota, Honda and Mazda dealerships within a 10 mile radius. I had some in-stock choices and had to constantly keep in touch with dealers in case they had other cars that met my requirements.
Generally, cars sold by full-service dealerships are certified. Regardless, you should check the car both inside and outside to see if the car is in good condition- always ask for CarFax reports to check as well.
Of course, for used cars, small problems such as scratches and painting peel-off could not be avoided, and these were my bargain chips. Usually I’d focus on my budget and tried to ask for a one-thousand-more car, which means I’ll try to bargain for one thousand discount. My 2010 Corolla asked for $14.8k including tax and I finally got it for $14k.
The story is not over even after you pay, because insurance is an important thing. I was recommended by my friends to a Chinese insurance agency in Flushing. They helped me do a lot of paperwork and determine the cheapest car insurance company.
Then came the happy ending – I finally got my own car.