What Should Be My First Car? [Including 10 Cars You May Like]

What Should Be My First Car? [Including 10 Cars You May Like]Chances are you won't be rolling out in a Lambo for your first ride. But you've saved your money, you've considered other factors like insurance, maintenance, and fuel costs, and you're ready to plunk down some bank on your first set of wheels. Now it's time to shop. But which cars make great first cars?
We've found ten cars that will make great first-time vehicles. These ten great first cars are:
  • Subaru Outback
  • Toyota Camry
  • Subaru Forester
  • Honda Civic
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Ford Fiesta
  • Jeep Wrangler
  • Kia Rio
  • Nissan Sentra
  • Hyundai Elantra

We'll go into a bit more detail on each car below and answer a few more of your questions in regards to how much to spend on a first car, how you can afford a vehicle, and the safety of first cars.


What should be your first car?

There are several considerations when shopping for your very first vehicle, or for any car for that matter. Other than the price of the vehicle itself, you should also keep in mind the following additional costs -

  • Monthly car payments
  • Maintenance costs
  • Gas mileage
  • Insurance fees

Going beyond costs, make sure that your first car is one that you will enjoy driving and using. A lot will depend on your lifestyle and needs. Do you need the car to get around town and run errands? Or maybe you're planning on taking off-road trips on weekends?

Should you buy used or new?

First-time car buyers often wonder whether to splurge on a brand new vehicle or save some money and opt for a used car instead. There are pros and cons to each option.

Buying a new car often means you'll be getting the best new technologies available on the market. Safety tech can save your life, especially if you happen to be a new driver. New cars also come with robust warranties, taking the worry out of at least some of the maintenance costs. On the other hand, not only will a new vehicle be expensive, but you will also suffer a significant financial hit in terms of depreciation. A new car loses up to 30% of its value over the first year, but only 5-10% in the following years.

Buying a used car will cost you less, and the car won't lose value as quickly, so you stand to lose less if you decide to sell later on. However, buying used could mean all kinds of things. Some older cars may be less safe and have poor mileage. Your maintenance costs on an older vehicle could offset the money you save on monthly payments.

For first-time car buyers, a compromise is usually a good idea. Buy a car that's 2-4 years old, and you're likely to get up-to-date safety systems yet save money when buying and selling the vehicle.

10 Great choices for first-time car buyers

Moving on to our list of cars! Here are some great suggestions for those purchasing a vehicle for the first time. We tried to create a varied list here, to match the needs of various drivers, from teenagers looking for a vehicle to get them to school and back, to those seeking the thrill of driving an SUV off-road. Let's take a quick look.

Subaru Outback

Blue Subaru Outback parked by the beach

Subarus typically make all the lists for great, reliable cars. They hold their value for many years, are super reliable, and as a bonus are all-wheel drive and very safe. Depending on the year and trim model, you can expect to spend anywhere from $5k for a 2010 model up to $35k for a new model. As for fuel efficiency, they get gas mileage averaging in the mid-20s, making it a reasonably fuel-efficient vehicle. The average yearly cost for full insurance is about $1400.

Toyota Camry

White Toyota Camry on the street road

Just like Subarus, Toyotas are one of the most reliable, longest-lasting cars out there. Though not AWD like the Subarus, they are well-made and will not let you down. Also, like the Subaru, insurance rates are around $1400 for full coverage for the year. Gas mileage is slightly better in the high 20s on average. The cost of a Camry will run you anywhere from about $6-7k used for a 2010 model up to $25k for a new model.

Subaru Forester

A Subaru Forester on a rocky stretch of the Oregon coast

The Subaru Forester, like the Outback, features AWD safety. It's a slightly smaller vehicle than the Outback. Insurance costs are somewhat less as well, with the average for full coverage being about $1350. Surprisingly though, the 2010 Forester holds its value quite well, and the average seems to run in the $7k range. New Foresters cost from $24k and up depending on trim.

Honda Civic

Red Honda Civic on the parking lot

Honda is another manufacturer that's been doing it right for a long time now. The Honda Civic has been many people's first car. It's small and can be sporty, depending on the features you want. It gets great gas mileage with an average of over 40mpg on the highway. It also comes in a Hybrid version that gets almost 50mpg on the highway. New Civics start at $19k, and a used 2010 model averages $6k.

Read more: Honda Civic: What are the common problems?


Toyota Corolla

Gray Toyota Corolla parked by the road

Like the Forester is to the Outback, so is the Corolla to the Camry. It's the smaller version of the larger sedan. Cost-wise, a new Corolla starts at just under $20k, and used models from 2010 will average around $4800. Insurance costs for full coverage are about $1400 per year. As for gas mileage, the Corolla averages in the mid-30s. Not bad at all!

Read more: How much does a Toyota Corolla really cost?

Ford Fiesta

Blue Ford Fiesta parked outside the building

The great reviews for this little car speak volumes for its inclusion on this list. Fun to drive, great on gas, great value, and comfortable seats are just a few of the shout-outs it receives. The cost of a new Ford Fiesta starts around $15k, and a 2010 model averages around $4k. It gets excellent gas mileage, averaging in the low 30s, and insurance costs average about $1200 for full coverage.

Jeep Wrangler

Black Jeep Wrangler parked outside

Maybe you want something a bit more fun for the first car than a typical four-door sedan. If so, consider the Jeep Wrangler. This classic American car has all the style and fun, as it can take you off-road with ease and give you top-down appeal. A new Jeep Wrangler will set you back, starting from just under $30k. 2010 models average about $10k. As for gas mileage, they aren't as efficient, with averages being around 24mpg. Insurance costs average about $1300k/year for full coverage.

Read more: How Much Can a Jeep Wrangler Tow?

Kia Rio

New Red Kia Rio car on display at the Motor Show

People love their Kia Rios. It's a great little car for zipping in and out of traffic. It's comfortable, reliable, and great on gas. Besides being a fun car to drive, it's also very affordable. A new Kia will start at just under $16k, and you can pick up a 2010 model for under $3k. Gas mileage for a newer model hovers around the high 30s on average and over 40mpg on the highway. Insurance is also reasonable, with full coverage averaging about $1300 per year.

Nissan Sentra

Red Nissan Sentra on the streets

Do you want a comfortable driving car with a little bit of attitude? Then the sporty Nissan Sentra might be for you. People love the excellent handling of it, roomy interior, and great exterior design. It has top-notch safety features and is easy on gas, coming in at an average of 35mpg. A new Sentra will start in the $19k range, and you can find 2010 models used for averages around $4k. Full insurance costs will be somewhere in the $1400 range.

Hyundai Elantra

Red Hyundai Elantra parked on the street

Here's another sporty small sedan that will make you feel on top of the world as you drive into school or work. The Elantra is reliable and even has an Eco mode for gas-savings. With a 100k mile warranty on the engine, you know it's got to be good. A new Elantra will start at about $19k, and you can find 2010 models averaging at about $4k depending on features and mileage.

As far as MPG, the new Hyundai averages in the mid-30s but gets about 41mpg on the highway. Insurance costs will hover around $1300 for full coverage depending on your age and driving history.

How Much Should I Spend On My First Car?

Before you decide what to spend on your car, you need to look at a couple of things:

  • Your overall financial situation
  • How much you might have saved for a car

If you're looking for a general rule, some financial gurus say to spend no more than 35% of your annual income on a car. Which, if you're making $15k a year, is about $5250. As we listed above, there are some great used cars available in this price range.

Other financial advisors say to spend as little as possible and keep it closer to the 10% range. But remember to factor in all the variables. If you buy a car with an excellent reliability record, low miles, and great gas mileage, your costs will be more economical overall, so you might be able to spend a smidge more to get the best car for you.

How Much Should I Earn To Afford A Car?

If you're penny-wise, you should aim to spend less than 10% of your salary on a car payment and no more than 15-20% overall on your car expenses. And it also depends on your other costs. Maybe you're still living at home with your parents. You'll want to earn enough to pay for car insurance (you can't drive a car without it), gas, car payment, and to be able to put a little away each month to save for repairs and consumables like tires and wiper blades. At a minimum, you need to have around $400 to put toward your car expenses.

Should I Get A Manual Transmission For My First Car?

Things to consider when purchasing a manual transmission. Do you drive in a lot of stop-and-go traffic? If you do, you may find driving a manual tiresome.  But if you drove longer routes with few stoplights, you may love the precision of handling a manual transmission can give you.

Manual transmissions used to be the majority of transmissions out there, but they are becoming harder and harder to find. So when it comes to the type of transmission in your first car, that's your first consideration. Can you even find it in the vehicle you've picked out?

Manual transmissions are also much cheaper to repair than automatic transmissions. The cost of replacing a clutch is roughly $2000, whereas an automatic transmission will be about double that cost.

So really, it's all about what you want for your first car. Both are easy to drive once you've learned how.

What Is The Best First Car For A Teenager?

Some of the considerations when shopping for a car for your teenager are safety, reliability, and insurance rates. As young drivers have higher premiums, buying a car with high insurance rates is going to work against your budget. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety uses four guiding principles when looking for teens:

  • Stay away from high horsepower
  • Bigger and heavier vehicles are safer
  • Electronic Stability Control is a must
  • The best safety ratings possible

What's The Safest Car For A Teenager?

With those principles in mind, here are some of the top cars in each category for teen drivers. Just keep in mind that nothing replaces safe driving habits. Don't drink and drive, don't text and drive and stay alert on the road.

Midsize Cars

  • 2013 or newer, VW Passat
  • 2011 or newer Volvo s60
  • 2013 or newer Ford Fusion

Large Cars

  • 2007 or newer Volvo S80
  • 2013 or newer Ford Taurus
  • 2015 or newer Chevrolet Impala

Small SUVs

  • 2013 or newer Mazda CX-5
  • 2016 or newer Fiat 500X
  • 2014 or newer Nissan Rogue
Hopefully, you're armed with helpful information as you start shopping for that first car. Count your savings, calculate how much monthly income you have to put toward a car, and start from there.
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