Car Buying Tips in the USA

Car Buying Tips in the USA

Unless you live in a densely populated city like New York, having a car is a necessity in the U.S. It is not considered a luxury item. While there are many luxury cars available for those who can afford them, buying at least a basic car is required. Having a car gives you the freedom to move around easily. At the same time, you are also responsible for car payments, insurance, registration, gas, and any required repairs.

Lack of Credit History

Unless you brought a lot of money with you when you moved to the U.S., you will have to finance the car (take a loan). It is very difficult to get a loan without having any credit history. Credit history is a way of determining the risk in giving you a loan by seeing whether you’ve repaid loans or bills timely in the past. Therefore, you may have to provide other means of proving yourself. You can show an employment letter with salary mentioned, pay stubs, and whatever money you already have for a down payment. Some employers offer new employees loans to help with large purchases like this. If your employer is very large, they may have a credit union or access to one. Ask your employer if they offer these services. 

It may still be possible to get a car loan without credit history, but your interest rate will be higher. Keep in mind that the interest rate for dealer financing is generally higher than other third party banks or financial institutions.  

Be sure to take a loan with no more than 48 installments (4 years). Otherwise, you may be buying something you can’t afford. If possible, pay at least 20% of the purchase price as a down payment.

Choosing a Car

There are many varieties of cars available in the U.S. and prices vary widely. Prioritize what you would like in a car and take your budget into account. With this information, you should make a short list of cars you both want and can afford.

Many people prefer Japanese cars over American cars because they require less maintenance and have a higher resell value. The most popular Japanese car manufacturers are Honda and Toyota. Among them, the Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, and Toyota Corolla are very popular among Indians.

Most cars generally have four doors. However, some cars have only two doors, one on each side. Even though two-door cars are cheaper, it is harder to seat many people in them. Moreover, if you have children and they need a car seat, it is very inconvenient to use a car seat with two-door cars. Some two-door cars have higher insurance rates, as they’re considered “sportier.”  

Cars can either be automatic transmission (gear) or manual (stick shift). Most people drive automatic cars, and it is recommended that you buy an automatic car as well. In a stick shift car, there are three pedals – the accelerator, clutch, and brake – and you have to use both feet. In an automatic car, there are only two pedals – the accelerator and brake. You use only one foot and you don’t have to manually change gears. You may save a little on gas with a stick shift car, and you may be able to occasionally accelerate faster after stopping. However, taking into account all of the conveniences and benefits, an automatic car is much better.  

Be sure to make a list of items that you would and wouldn’t like in the car. Some items to look for are power steering, power doors, power windows, power mirrors, air conditioning, child safety locks, airbags, side airbags, the color of the car, seat material (leather or fabric), etc. Also keep in mind that it is very necessary to have at least the minimum features of air conditioning, etc., for an easier resale of the car.

Buying New or Used

You can either buy a new car or a used car. Both have pros and cons. If you have a stable job with a good company, you may want to buy a new car. It is generally preferable to buy a new car if you can afford and manage to get a loan.

New cars have to be purchased from the car dealer. Used cars can either be purchased from a car dealer or a private party. Regardless of which type of car you buy, be prepared to negotiate with car dealers and their salesmen. Unlike most other purchases, car prices are not fixed, and it is very important to negotiate and find the right deal. 

New Car Buying Tips
Used Car Buying Tips

Car Insurance

After purchasing the car, you must have car insurance before you can drive the car.

Car Insurance Tips

Safety and Emission Inspections

Before you can register your car, you will have to have safety and emissions inspections performed. They can be done at any state authorized locations. Many gas stations and repair facilities have such authorized locations. If you are buying a new car, these will automatically be done for you. 

Safety Inspection:
The safety inspection includes checking the essential safety features of the brakes, horn, tires, turn indicators, headlights, wipers, etc. When you pass your safety inspection, the inspector will put a sticker on your car windshield with the expiration date on it (usually one year). (Some states like Texas don’t have a sticker anymore, as they will electronically transmit the report to the state.) If it fails, you will get a slip indicating which portions failed. You will have to repair them and take the inspection again. If you go back to the same place, they will usually re-inspect for a dollar, rather than full charge. You can have your repairs done anywhere you choose. 

Emissions Inspection:
An emissions inspection checks whether your car is more harmful to the environment than the allowed level. If your inspection passes, you will be given a “passed test” document, and they may also electronically transmit the data to the DMV. Additionally, the inspector may put a sticker on the windshield of the car (Sticker is not applicable in some states like Texas.) Bring all of your related papers when you register your car. The emissions test is usually valid for two years.


You will have to register the car in your name before you can drive it. Many dealers take care of this for you when you buy a new car. Some dealers might even have a stock of authorized license plates that they can fix for you right away.

To register your car at the DMV, take the title of the vehicle (that you received from the seller), proof of insurance, and safety/emissions inspection papers along with the fee. Depending on your state, it may be the same place where you get your driver’s license, or it may be at a different location. 

If you bought the car from a private party, you will have to pay sales tax (most states) to the DMV before they can register your vehicle. 

In addition to the state registration, you may also have to register your car with your county or city. Procedures for that really vary. 

Many states also allow you to choose “vanity” license plates, on which you can have printed a special word or name. This costs extra money and delays your receipt of the license plate, as they will have to make special plates for you. 

After checking all the papers, the DMV will issue a temporary registration that is usually valid for one month. If this is the case, you will be mailed the proper license plates. In some states, permanent license plates are issued right away. License plates already have the numbers and letters printed on them; you can’t paint them yourself. 

You can drive your car after you have mounted your license plates on it. In some states, like Pennsylvania and Florida, you hang the license plate only on the rear of the car. In most states, though, both the front and rear of the car must have a license plate.

Safety Tips

  • Always wear seat belts. As the driver, you should make sure everyone sitting in the car wears a seat belt, even though they may not legally be required for back seats. (This varies by state. For example, California requires everyone, including the ones in the back seat, wear a seatbelt.) Do not drive until everyone complies with this rule. 

  • Don’t drive at excessive speed. 

  • Don’t use a cell phone while driving. If you must, get a headphone (or use the speaker phone mode) and keep both hands on the steering wheel. Many cars also have the bluetooth setting where you can use the speakers and microphone of the car to talk and that is the best option if you must talk while driving. 

  • Always use the indicator lights when changing lanes. 

  • Do not race with other drivers. 

  • Leave a little early for your destination, so you are not rushed and tempted to speed or drive recklessly. 

  • Never drink and drive. 

  • Know all the blind spots on your car. You can find more details in the driver’s license manual provided by the DMV. 

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