Narrow Your Search for the Perfect Car
Ask yourself these questions as you shop for your next vehicle.
There are dozens of variables to consider when buying a car. Ask yourself the following questions:
What can I afford?
Look at your budget to determine your price range. Aim for a monthly payment around 20 percent or less of your net income. Also, factor in the total cost of ownership, including insurance, maintenance and fuel.
Before you start shopping, check with your credit union or bank for loan pre-approval. Although dealer financing can be competitive, you might get a better rate if you leverage its offering with your own financing. Of course, you can’t beat the zero or near-zero percent financing or incentives some automakers may offer.
Leasing is another option. You may be able to get a car you couldn’t afford to buy and may even avoid a down payment. You also can get a new car every few years, and it will likely be under warranty for repairs.
How much space do I need?
If you have kids or grandkids, or if you need an easily accessible vehicle, minivans are a utilitarian option. SUVs are another alternative. They offer plenty of interior space, but often get lower gas mileage than cars. Another choice is a crossover utility vehicle (CUV), which has more interior room than a car.
Do I need four-wheel drive?
If you live in the snow belt—or you like to off-road—four-wheel drive may come in handy. However, you pay more up front for four-wheel drive and usually get lower fuel economy. Four-wheel-drive systems also can be costly to repair.
I want something fun to drive, but what?
Sporty cars come in all price ranges and sizes. They’re fun and stylish, but they aren’t always practical. That’s why sporty vehicles make excellent second cars. You also could consider a motorcycle, which is fuel-efficient and easy to park. Also, most HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes are open to motorcycles during rush hours.
What options do I need?
Comfort and convenience features make motoring more pleasurable. The list of options can be long, so determine which you need most. Extra storage and a DVD and audio entertainment system may be helpful if you haul kids; a GPS may be useful for travelers who tend to get lost.
What is the environmental impact?
In general, the lighter the vehicle and the smaller the engine, the less fuel it uses. To compare, use the EPA estimated mileage sticker on the window.
Hybrid vehicles, which combine gasoline and electric power, deliver their best fuel economy in stop-and-go situations, such as city driving, and are practical for daily commuters. Additionally, fully electric cars are entering the market, as well as vehicles offering “clean diesel” technology
How do I choose a safe car?
Reviewing vehicle crash ratings can help protect your personal safety and save you money on insurance. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s safecar.com and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offer information about vehicle safety ratings.
Where do I start?
Narrow your search from home first. Helpful resources include: