Most people's appreciation for cars comes when they buy their first one. That didn't happen for me until I was 27 as, up until then, I was driving a car my parents gave to me when I got my Ls.
That first car was a 2003 Toyota Echo — it had two previous owners and was a little banged up. But I didn't care. All I was excited about was not having to catch the stinky school bus anymore and being able to drive to my high school boyfriend's house without awkwardly having to ask my parents for a lift.
However, being gifted my first car meant that I never had to do research on the make and model, learn about insurance or registration, and never had to save and spend my own money. So, like any teenager, I didn't really appreciate what was in front of me.
When I finally upgraded from my little, beat-up Toyota after 13 years, I had no idea where to start. All I knew was that I wanted a four-wheel drive, and it had to fall within my budget.
And so my three-month-long journey to buying my first car began. Here's everything I learnt along the way.
Find the right car for your lifestyle
First, you need to figure out the kind of car that is going to suit your lifestyle. I live in QLD, I surf, dive and wakeboard regularly, and I love to go camping. So, it made sense to look for a four-wheel drive with enough space to fit all my gear and that would be reliable when I go beach camping or travel across the country.
However, if you live in a big city like Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne, where parking is a nightmare, rentals with a carport are typically non-existent and driving a manual when you're stuck in traffic is hell, you'll probably want a smaller, zippier car.
Once you know what kind of car you're looking for, it's time to narrow down what makes and models are reliable, what your budget is, and whether you want to buy a new or used car.
Saving your money
This one will really depend on your lifestyle and your budget. If you're someone who already has the savings and has found a car that's within your budget, you're golden. However, if you're like me, you might have some savings but still need a loan to cover the rest — and that's okay. That's why car financing exists.
Just make sure you do your research to make sure that your interest rate is reasonable, the repayments are manageable and that the car you want isn't going to blow your budget. It's better to opt for a car within your budget than a dream car with unmanageable loan repayments. You still want to be able to enjoy life while you pay off your car.
I'd also recommend saving that bit extra before you buy your car to make sure you can cover insurance, registration and any additional customisations or modifications that might pop up. Those few things quickly add up, so do your research beforehand, get quotes and find the best options, and add them to your existing budget.
I also recommend doing all of the above earlier in the year; the end of the year is typically harder on the purse strings, and having your rego and insurance pop up right before Christmas, every single year, sucks — trust me.
Do your research
Whether you're buying second-hand or brand-new, you want to be savvy about your purchase. Go deep when researching the make and models of the cars you're considering to find out if there are any common defects or issues you might need to be wary of. Take note of the kinds of features and modifications that exist, and most importantly, the safety features and how the car drives.
If you're buying from a dealership, take the car for a test drive, see if you like the way it feels when you drive it, and see if you like the size and the comfort. Ask about fuel efficiency, ask about service deals and warranty, and ask any and all questions you might have before deciding to buy it because once you buy the car, you can't really take it back.
When it comes to buying a second-hand car, it's a little trickier. You'll still want to test-drive the car, but you should also have a mechanic look over it before you commit to buying, to make sure it runs smoothly and there aren't any issues.
Also, be sure to check the service logs and ask the seller about the previous owners' experience and the car's history (you can also check that online). If something feels off, don't invest. Keep looking. The right car and price will find you.
Also, if you don't feel comfortable checking out cars on your own, take someone with you.
Be prepared to look after your car
Once you bring home your new baby, it's time to look after it. Aside from a good insurance policy pre-purchase, invest in things like cleaning supplies, a little handheld vacuum cleaner, a cute air fresher, and a car bin — all the little things that will help you maintain that new-car feeling.
As someone who is now a converted car girlie, I can tell you that the minute you buy your first car, this weird sense of pride washes over you, and you want to look after your investment. I'm obsessed with my little Jimny. I get excited to drive it every time I get in. I send my dad photos of it when I wash it, and long gone are the days of stashing a million water bottles on the passenger side floor.