Financial Literacy for Everyone

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Ready to hit the road? Not so fast. A car can be more than just your personal transportation. Your set of wheels can improve your quality of life with more ease and convenience, but it's also a major purchase that requires regular maintenance. Because of this, you'll want to choose a car that won't send your budget into overdrive. There are many routes you can take along the way to buying a car. Before you begin shopping, it's helpful to look at your budget and determine how much you can afford to spend on a vehicle.

Buying a Car

Remember to complete extensive research online before you enter a car dealership. As you plan how much you'll spend on your future car, there are a few expenses that you can expect beyond buying the car itself: auto insurance, registration, emission fees, maintenance and fuel.

Auto Insurance
While insurance rates vary from state to state, almost every state requires vehicle owners to purchase auto insurance in case of damage to your car or another car and any injuries that may occur. You can find your state's minimum coverage requirements by checking your state's vehicle registry website. Every state requires drivers to purchase some form of liability coverage, which is intended to protect damage caused to other insured drivers and their property in the event of an accident. Beyond liability coverage, there are several other types of coverage that protect against damages incurred from fire, theft, natural disaster, bodily injury and more. Purchasing more types of coverage will increase your premium, but they also protect against potentially costly incidents. Consider which types of coverage you're most likely to need. Learn more about auto insurance.

Vehicle Registration and Title
A title is proof of ownership that allows you to get vehicle registration, which permits you to drive on public roads. You'll need both the title and registration in order to get a vehicle registration plate, or what's more commonly called a license plate. Vehicle registration is managed by each state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or other agency that handles vehicle regulations. Some states provide official vehicle registration fee calculators online. If you purchase a car from a dealership, the dealer will handle title and registration paperwork.

Maintenance
The best way to avoid high costs of major repairs is with general vehicle maintenance. Catching a problem early on is better than waiting to fix it, as car issues can become more expensive to repair the longer they're ignored. Overall, car care helps your car retain more of its value over time. You can follow these guidelines for basic car maintenance:

  • Keep a record of all your car's maintenance and repairs, including date, mileage and amount paid. Having a history of consistent maintenance will be beneficial later if you decide to sell the car.
  • If a repair is covered under your car's warranty agreement, have it done at the dealership where you bought your vehicle rather than an independent repair shop.
  • Avoid over-maintaining your car with extra or frequent repairs that you don't need by following the maintenance guide in your car owner's manual.
  • For repairs not covered by your car's warranty, find an auto repair shop that you trust. Typically, dealerships charge higher prices than an independent auto repair business when the necessary repair isn't covered under your warranty.
  • On every repair job, get a second or even third opinion. Price and repair suggestions may vary.

Emission Fees and Gas
Emissions and gas come with financial and environmental costs. To minimize air pollution, many states require emissions testing and smog checks. Alternative fuel engine cars, such as hybrid, fully electric and diesel-powered vehicles, are exempt from emissions testing in some states. Be aware that some makes and models of cars are more high maintenance than others and vary in type of fuel that they require — regular, mid-grade or supreme. Cars also vary widely in their gas mileage — how many miles you can drive for each gallon of gas, which is also called a car's "fuel economy." Mileage can be an important factor to consider, as cars with poor mileage that require more frequent fueling can prove costlier in the long run than cars that can be refueled less often.

Before you begin shopping around for a car, it's helpful to narrow down your search according to how much you can afford to spend. You can use the calculator below to figure out a price range that is within your budget.

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