So, you’re fresh out of college, getting ready to start a new job and need a car to help you get to that job. Or maybe you’ve already been working for a while and finally have some money to plunk down on a new ride. Either way, buying a first car can be a daunting process. There are many brands, models, features and repair costs to consider.
One of the most important factors in selecting a car is knowing how much you can afford. A good rule of thumb for figuring that out is to not spend more than 20 percent of your monthly income on auto expenses, said Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer.
So, if you’re like the average young millennial (those in their early 20s) who makes about $28,000 a year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, you probably don’t want to spend more than $450 a month over a five-year loan. That includes the monthly loan payments, gas, parking, taxes and insurance. Depending on driving history, car insurance costsbetween $2,000 and $4,000 a year for this age group, according to finance research site ValuePenguin.
To help give you an idea of what’s out there in the market, we talked to auto analysts who identified seven car models — some new, some used — that could work for young millennials. This list contains vehicles that experts say are affordable, reliable, fuel efficient, safe and big enough to move stuff — furniture or those clothes you had always planned on donating — around.
Of course, there are other cars not on this list that could fit millennial drivers, too. And while this list may not meet all of your requirements, just think of it as a start to researching your first adult car.
The new Honda Civic is like an entry-level luxury car, some experts say, because it’s reliable, gets great mileage, has enough room to throw stuff in the back seat and just got a total redesign in 2016.
And it starts at $18,640.
Its price tag is relatively high for a first car, but it could be a worthy investment, according to experts. It gets up to 42 miles per gallon on the highway and received a “superior” crash-test rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
and five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Brauer said. Plus Civics can last forever, he said.
The redesign upgraded the interior and exterior styling and made the car feel a bit more powerful, said Cars.com editor-in-chief Joe Wiesenfelder. And it’s a decent size for a compact car, with four doors and a full-size trunk.
Some cars are great candidates to purchase used or certified preowned, which is a used-car option that comes with an extended factory warranty. The Civic, because of its recent redesign, is not one of those, analysts say. Older Civics are great, reliable cars, but aren’t cheap enough to make the extra mileage worth it.
And if anything happens, the Civic can be easy and cheap to fix because the cars have been so popular for so long.
The Kia Soul is an itsy bitsy crossover starting at $15,900.
It’s great for storage space — that boxy shape and hatchback make it prime for moving — and its metric of 31 miles per gallon on the highway is pretty good for something that shape.
While its IIHS safety rating is “basic,” it received five stars from NHTSA.
In recent years, Wiesenfelder said, Kia has worked to improve the car’s interior features to make it more comfortable, quieter and fun to drive. If he has to rent a car while traveling, Wiesenfelder said he’ll often ask for a Soul.
This is a good car to consider buying used or certified preowned, Brauer said. The car was redesigned in 2014, so anything made between now and then has the same basic features, Brauer said, which could also make it relatively inexpensive to fix. And in exchange for a few extra miles, you might be able to get one for $10,000 or less.
The Subaru Impreza, starting at $18,295, is a Swiss Army Knife of capability because of its built-in varied features.
Its crash-test ratings are phenomenal: five stars from NHTSA and “superior” from IIHS. It also comes with a standard collision-avoidance system and, in advanced models, autonomous braking.
It gets 37 miles per gallon on the highway with standard all-wheel drive. It also comes with a standard transmission — which allows drivers to manually change gears and can save mileage by not gunning the engine during low-intensity driving periods (which could raise the mileage even more).
It’s cheap to repair, and Subarus are known throughout the auto industry for holding their value.
For a first new car, it’s a steal, Wiesenfelder said. It topped Cars.com’s list of “best cars for first-time drivers” in 2016.
Honda makes the list a second time with the Fit, a sporty little hatchback starting at $15,890.
It’s a car with a lot of advantages, from its crash test ratings (five stars from NHTSA), to its large storage space, to its standard technology (Bluetooth, backup camera, steering wheel-mounted audio controls).
And for its shape, the Fit gets even better mileage than the Soul: 38 miles per gallon on the highway.
It’s also another great candidate to buy used or certified preowned. Honda redesigned the car in 2015. Models from the past two years are almost identical, but older ones — oftentimes used as showroom models or dealer rental cars — could be much cheaper with a few extra light miles.
The Chevy Cruze is another sleek, compact sedan, and it starts at $16,620.
It was redesigned for 2016 models to make the car a bit sportier so it can live up to its name. But the redesign also gave it a bunch of new technology features, such as Apple Carplay or Android Auto, which allow you to sync up your phone’s interface with your car’s entertainment system. Advanced models also come with two years of satellite radio and OnStar.
The Cruze has a five-star NHTSA safety rating and gets up to 42 miles per gallon on the highway. In years past, it’s also been an IIHS top safety pick.
For all that car, it’s a great deal, but it’s probably best to buy new because of the redesign. Newer models might be more expensive to service at first because not as many parts are out there, but give the redesigns a little while to catch on, and the cost for parts should come back down, experts say.
Ford’s take on the sleek, four-door sedan starts at $17,225.
It gets five stars for safety from NHTSA, and the 2015 model was an IIHS top safety pick. And it gets up to 38 miles per gallon on the highway.
It’s a solid, reliable car that covers all the bases of what folks ages 20 to 24 are looking for, analysts say. It looks good, it’s fun to drive, has pretty decent standard technology features, and the cost of ownership is in a millennial’s price range.
But the Focus can really be a steal if you buy used or certified preowned, Brauer said. Ford hasn’t redesigned the model since 2010, so there’s great consistency over the past six years. And parts are relatively easy to come by, so repairs could be cheaper than other models.
Beware of going back too far when looking for a deal, though, Brauer said. Go back more than five years, and USB ports don’t always come standard anymore, and there might be too many miles on the car to make it worth the deal.
Anything with more than 50,000 miles on it probably shouldn’t be an option for young buyers, especially if they want to make the car last.
The Mazda3, starting at $17,845, is the sportiest of the compact sedans. It’s low to the ground, aerodynamic and built for highway driving. It gets up to 41 miles per gallon on the highway and has a five-star safety rating from NHTSA and an “advanced” rating (not quite as good as “superior”) from IIHS.
Mazda3, with its fun handling — a low suspension makes it easy to zoom around corners — and manual-transmission option, is built for road trips. A hatchback model is also available, so you can pack a little more in the trunk if needed. On new models, backup cameras come standard and so does front-end crash prevention.
Used or certified preowned could be a good option here, but older Mazdas don’t have the same gadgets, especially the safety ones, that new ones do. If you’re okay with the extra miles and without a backup camera, you could knock a cool $7,000 off what you would pay for a new model. And the Mazda3 has been around for a while, meaning parts are in abundance and the car is cheaper to service.