How do you find the car that will exactly suit your needs for years to come? It just takes a little research and planning. Use the steps below to help you select, price, locate and test-drive the vehicle that is best for you.
Assess Your Needs
As much as you might like to dream about what you want in a car, it’s best to think more practically about your needs — not just at present, but in the future, too. Functionality should trump flash. Here are some practical considerations to keep in mind:
- How many passengers do you need to carry?
- What type of driving do you do: highway, surface streets, off-road?
- Will you drive in ice and snow?
- Do you have a long commute and, because of that, is fuel economy important to you?
- Do you need all-wheel drive?
- What safety features are important to you?
- Do you need a lot of cargo capacity?
- Will you be using children’s car seats?
- Will you be doing any towing?
- How much garage or parking space do you have?
Set Your Budget
Unless you’re paying cash for your car, you’ll need to think about financing your purchase or lease. How much can you really afford to allocate toward a car payment each month? The general rule is no more than 20 percent of your monthly take-home pay..
Consider Other Cars in the Class
Have your mind — or heart — set on a specific car? Many shoppers do. But in today’s ever-changing marketplace, there are always new cars hitting the showroom, and one that you’ve never even considered could be right for you. Research and compare similar cars to find the one that truly fits you best.
If you already have a car in mind, you should still review other comparable vehicles in the same class to make sure you haven’t overlooked an even better choice.
Consider All the Costs of Ownership
Something shoppers often overlook when considering their next car is that one may be cheaper to buy but more expensive to own. Why? Even if two cars cost about the same to buy, one might depreciate faster or cost more to insure and maintain.
Before you commit to a car, you should estimate its long-term ownership costs. These include depreciation, insurance, maintenance and fuel costs.
Set Up a Test Drive
Now that you’ve found a car that seems like it might be a good fit for you, call or visit the dealership to schedule a day and time for a test-drive. By making a test-drive appointment, you ensure that the car will be waiting for you when you arrive.
Taking the Test Drive
A car might seem to have all the features you want, but the true test takes place in the driver seat. You should test-drive the car the way you would drive it during your everyday life.
If you commute, drive the car in both stop-and-go traffic and at highway speeds. If you trek to the mountains, find some steep hills to climb. Drive over bumps, take tight corners and test the brakes in a safe location. Get in and out of the car several times and be sure to sit in the backseat, especially if you plan on carrying passengers. Check out the cargo space. If you plan on using children’s car seats, bring those along to test for fit and ease of installation.
While you are evaluating the car, don’t be distracted. Take your time looking everything over. A good salesperson will respect your need to experience the car and will let you focus on the driving experience. Turn off music so you can listen to the sound of the engine. You can evaluate the sound system when you return to the dealership. If the conversation does turn to questions about whether you’d like to talk about purchasing or leasing, you can say that you’re still in the test-drive stage.
Pick Your Next Car
After test-driving several cars, the choice should be clear. If it isn’t, sleep on it. In the morning, you might have your answer. If not, you might need to take a few steps back and drive more cars.
While making the right decision is important, it’s also good to realize that there isn’t one perfect answer. Today’s cars are safer than ever before. They get better gas mileage. They have amenities at lower costs than in the past. In short, there could be several good vehicle choices and the final decision is really a matter of individual taste.
- Assess your needs — not your wants — to determine the right car for you.
- Set your budget. Estimate your monthly payments using an online “payment calculator”
- Consider all vehicles in the class of cars you’re considering.
- Consider the costs of ownership.
- Set up a test-drive.
- Test-drive the car as if it were yours. Try city streets, hills and highways. See if car seats fit. Check cargo space.
- Decide on your new car. Sleep on the decision if you need to.
- Move on to your purchase with confidence.