Caring for a car

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I’m going to graduate this year, and I have a job offer in a suburban area. That means it will be time for me to buy my first car. I’m a little nervous about that.

I’ve never really been a “car guy,” and I’m concerned that I won’t know how to take care of my car (and that I’ll have a hard time telling when things are going wrong or when the car is behaving in a way that it shouldn’t). I also don’t really know anything about buying cars, like whether I should buy a new or a used vehicle, what to look for in a quality car, and so on. Experts, can you give me a crash course and make me a little more knowledgeable about buying and (especially) maintaining a car?

Not to worry! While it’s certainly possible to become a car expert and obsess about the intricacies of car performance and care, it’s not necessary to do extensive study to care for your car. The basics of buying and caring for a vehicle are actually quite simple.

Let’s start with the buying. Whether to buy a new or a used car is a classic debate. A new car depreciates the moment you drive it off the lot, so buying used could be more cost-effective in that it allows you to avoid paying that “new car” premium. But when you buy new, you can ensure that your car gets all the care it needs from the start–potentially prolonging the life of the car and evening out the financial equation. So which is right? The reality is that either can work. As someone just embarking on a career, you’ll probably want to avoid the priciest brand-new cars (you shouldn’t take on much, if any, debt when buying a car), and you’ll also want to avoid extremely cheap “junk” vehicles (which can costs you a ton in maintenance while disrupting your life with breakdowns). But there will be a wealth of options for you in between, from lightly used cars (look for “certified” vehicles, and buy from reputable dealers) to affordable new cars (don’t forget to think about gas mileage and gas costs when considering the economics of your purchase).

Once in your possession, you car is yours to care for. The good news is that you don’t need to know a whole lot about cars to care for yours. That’s your mechanic’s job. Look for an ASE certified mechanic, say educators at a technical school that issues ASE automotive degrees. Check reviews online, solicit advice from friends, and speak to a couple of mechanics. Once you’ve settled on a trustworthy option, you can count on your mechanic to help you know when and how to care for your car. (Note: if you buy a new car or a certified used car, you may be required to get certain maintenance done at the dealership or at certain dealer-approved mechanics in order to maintain your warranty coverage. If this is the case, abide by the rules–you don’t want to lose that warranty!)

As for trouble on the road, there’s a good chance that you’ll be better at identifying problems with your car than you think. Funny noises and strange sensations are good indicators that something’s up. If you do think something’s wrong, trust your instincts: mechanics at auto repair shop Main Auto Body told us that neglectful owners often end up allowing problems to worsen–which means bigger and pricier repairs at best, and safety issues at worst. It’s also a good idea to get a AAA membership, which includes perks like car towing and even basic help like changing out flat tires. While it never hurts to learn the basics of car maintenance for yourself–learning how to change a tire is a great idea–getting a support system that includes a AAA membership and a reliable mechanic is a great way to live stress-free on the road without having to become, as you put it, a “car guy.” Good luck!

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

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