The Big Story When I Bought My First Car

Whether you’re a young adult entering college or a city dweller finally giving up on public transit, buying your first car represents a new chapter in life. But being a newbie to the car-owning world can lead to some costly maintenance mistakes if you don’t do your homework.

When I bought my first car at, a 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt, I had no idea what I was doing, but I’ve learned a lot over the past few years about how to maintain a vehicle. Now, as my beloved first car approaches its 10th birthday, I wonder if it would be aging more … gracefully had I been prepared to maintain it when I first bought it.

Below are six maintenance truths that I wish I’d known when I bought my first car:

  1. It seems like everything has a healthier alternative these days. Do you like white rice? Well, brown rice is better for you. Yogurt? Greek is better. With all the healthy-alternative-facts out there, it’s easy to assume there’s a better version of gasoline that will make your Car Lease run better for longer.
    Many young drivers like me have experienced the pull toward premium, but in reality, using premium gasoline in an engine that recommends regular does not provide any significant boost in acceleration or fuel economy.
    Some high-performance vehicles require or recommend premium gas, but unless that’s the case with yours, you’re better off saving the money and reaching for good old regular unleaded.
  2. Recalls Are to be Taken Seriously
    Upon hearing that I drive a Chevy Cobalt, someone recently responded with, “Wait, isn’t that the car where the key falls out of the ignition?”
    Yes, yes it is.
    The Cobalt has had several recalls over the years — some for a faulty ignition — that I was unaware of until recently. Luckily, my car is in the clear, but I should have done my due diligence.
    While deciding on your first car, you’re probably looking for affordability and fuel economy — but failing to research recalls could lead to big regrets down the line. Once you buy your first car, be sure to keep an eye out for new recalls, and take them seriously.
  3. Driving on Empty Can Damage Your Engine
    The day I splurged and treated myself to a full tank of gas was a special day. During the first few years of owning my car, I tended to put $10 worth in and hope it lasted all week, which meant spending a lot of time testing the limits of “empty.”

What I didn’t know then was that, according to Consumer Reports, gas acts as a coolant for the electric motor of the fuel pump that moves fuel from the gas tank to the engine. If you’re running on fumes, especially on a hot day, the pump’s motor can overheat. If your fuel pump burns out, replacement costs could hurt you.

Replacing a fried fuel pump costs a whole lot more than a tank of gas, so nowadays I fill up instead of questioning the authority of the “low fuel” warning light.