Your first car: A thorough guide to avoiding headaches

Published by Imani Benjamin on

Your first car: A thorough guide to avoiding headaches

Imani Benjamin-Wharton | Avant-Youth

Cars are a big deal. They’re status symbols, heirlooms and investments. But no car is more important than your first car. Whether it’s getting you to and from high school or your first “big kid” job, it’s a major milestone. 

Buying your car feels like a major accomplishment after long walks through dealership parks, fending off pushy salesmen and scouring the internet for the perfect vehicle. 

But for first-time owners, the headache isn’t over. Signing your name and handing over cash is only the first hurdle of owning your first vehicle. Your journey to car ownership is just beginning. 

Constant maintenance, regular visits to the mechanic and frequent surprises are all part of ownership. Hopefully, Avant-Youth can help smooth the process of owning your first car.

The Basics

The easiest way to take care of your car is to do general maintenance. The simplest way to do basic upkeep is to read the owner’s manual. The tome that comes with your car is good for more than figuring out how to change the time on your clock and taking up space in your glove box.

The manual contains basic information like how to decode the lights on the dashboard, how to check and change oils or how to change tires. You’ll be sure to find diagrams related to your airbags, engine and electrical components as well. 

The more you know about your car the closer you are to being an informed vehicle owner. Reading the owner’s manual will help you out in a pinch but it’s better to be familiar with your car before disaster strikes. 

Learn about your car now, so you’ll be more equipped to handle any problems that might arise in the future. 

DIY versus the dealership or car shop

Cars are expensive. There’s the price you pay at the dealership, and the price you pay to keep the thing running. There are ways to keep some costs down though!

When something happens to your car, the dealership or your mechanic may be the first place you look for help. The problem with going to the professionals is how much you pay. You’re paying for parts, labor and experience. But there is a possibility you can DIY out of those fees. 

Auto parts stores and YouTube will be your best friends. Stores like AutoZone, O’Reilly’s and Advance Auto Parts are just a few of many stores that carry almost everything car-related. Their vast inventories range from parts specific to your make and model, to accessories for your vehicle. They also provide a variety of free services and tool loaning programs. Be sure to ask for help if you aren’t sure what to do next for your DIY repair. The employees can prevent you from turning a minor problem into a major, mechanical issue. 

If you can’t find a part at an auto parts shop, you might be able to find them at a salvage yard. 

Pull-a-Part is one of many salvage yards across the state that lets you pull a part you need. If you have the tools and the salvage yard has a car similar to yours, you might be able to get the piece you need. 

There are loads of repairs you can do without having a technical bone in your body. As long as you can hold a wrench and follow directions, you can fix an interior light or change the brake pads all by yourself.

DIY can help you save a buck or two and give you some practical experience with cars that will help you in any unplanned emergency. 

But as a first-time car owner, DIY may not always be the best option. If your problem is serious or beyond your abilities, seek out professional help. A visit to the dealership or your preferred mechanic may be better in the long run.

Never put metal to metal! Imani Benjamin-Wharton | Avant-Youth

Knowing Your Mechanic

Just like it’s important to have a good relationship with your doctor, it’s important to have a good relationship with your mechanic. Just like your body, you want to leave your car in capable hands.

Whether they own their own shop or work for a dealership, mechanics generally have a bad rep for overcharging and not doing a good job. This is due to the average driver’s lack of familiarity with his or her vehicle. But that’s not to say there aren’t shady mechanics out there. 

Check their credentials

There are plenty of ways to figure out if your mechanic is professional and certified. Check with the Better Business Bureau, search for AAA-approved mechanics or determine which mechanics in your area are Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified. This way you can filter through customer reviews and have a wide list of manufacturer-certified professionals at your fingertips.

Communicate with them

Communication is big. Besides ensuring your mechanic is licensed to do the job, you should find one that communicates well. A good mechanic should be upfront with you. They’ll talk you through what parts are necessary for the repair, how much it will cost, the process and why it needs to be done.

Be informed

There’s a lot of confusion that comes with your new car. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know the basics about your vehicle. The owner’s manual has a wealth of information including a maintenance service schedule and log. Record service that’s been done to your car and set reminders for future visits to the mechanic here (or in a planner!). Keeping a record makes it less likely for you to get slapped with a bill for unnecessary repairs due to a lack of  maintenance.  

Be wary of mechanics that don’t want to quote you or get pushy when it comes to costs or unnecessary repairs. It can be a sign of shady business and you may not want to leave your vehicle in their hands.

Be prepared, and test them out

Find a mechanic before something goes wrong. When you go in for regular maintenance, you can get an idea of future costs, how the shop works and get to know the people who are taking care of your car.  

It can also do you good in the long run: The person regularly changing your oil can notify you about  upcoming repairs and how much it’ll cost you in the future. If they’re doing something you don’t like, you can go somewhere else. 

Owning a car can be a stressful experience. It’s especially stressful when it’s your first car. You’re bound to make mistakes at some point, but you can take a load off your shoulders if you take care of business before disaster strikes. 

There’s a lot of trial and error that goes into figuring out how to care for your vehicle. Your first car is a learning experience, a very expensive one at that. Whether it’s figuring out how to keep up with payments or learning how to change oil yourself, you’re learning important life skills that will help you in the future. Use these tools and resources to make having your first car a (mostly pleasant) memorable experience.

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Imani Benjamin

Imani Benjamin-Wharton is a graduate from Georgia State University with a degree in English. She’s an aspiring novelist hoping to write the next great American novel. In her free time, she learns the secrets of survival from her favorite horror movies.

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