A car is a major purchase, so you need to be sure the car you’re buying is the right one for you. It needs to fit your life today and in the future, which makes picking the perfect vehicle tricky.
There are lots of options out there from compact sports cars to eight-passenger SUVs. Somewhere in the mix is the perfect car for you. Here is what to consider as you narrow down what kind of car to buy.
Number of passengers
Think about how many passengers you need to carry. This seems like an easy question, but there’s more to it than just how many people are in your family.
You may be single, but if you go out with your friends and want to ride together, then a two-seater is a bad call. The same goes for couples. Even if two is all you need most of the time, not having a backseat can hamper your ability to head out with friends.
Families might think they only need a sedan or crossover with two rows of seating, but that kills your chances of participating in carpools. As kids get older, it’s nice to be able to share the work of getting them to afterschool activities. If you can only carry your own kids, then you’re going to be doing all the driving, all the time.
Larger vehicles have more room for people and for cargo. If you expect to be hauling things around, then make sure your vehicle does double duty.
This doesn’t mean you have to buy a crossover or SUV. Many sedans have rear seats that fold down so you can load larger items into the trunk if it’s only an occasional concern.
If carrying cargo is a priority, then do check out larger vehicles and thoroughly investigate how the seats adjust to accommodate that cargo. Look for fold-flat seats so you have a nice even load floor for sliding large objects into the car.
Also, look at how the seats stow. Seats that fold into the floor of a vehicle are much easier than seats that need to be removed altogether.
The easier the process of switching from cargo to people, the better. Take a test drive and experiment with the seats in the vehicle you’re considering. Make sure it’s simple and not a process that will drive you nuts.
If you plan to tow a trailer, then make sure the vehicle you buy is rated for the load you have in mind. Many cars can safely tow a trailer, but they can’t tow as much as SUVs or trucks. Pick a vehicle that meets your needs. Exceeding recommended load limits can damage your vehicle, and it’s dangerous.
There are lots of features designed to make it easier to tow, but they vary from company to company. One feature becoming increasingly popular is a guidance system that uses the rearview camera to help line up your vehicle with the trailer.
These systems display the rearview on the in-dash infotainment screen so you can line up your vehicle with your trailer more easily. Some include guidelines and even tones to help you know how close you’re coming to your target.
It may be tempting to buy the biggest vehicle you can afford, but that’s not always a good call. You’ll be paying for capability you don’t need and likely paying more to fuel your vehicle. Consider what you’ll realistically be towing and act accordingly.
Those who plan to do off-road driving should pay special attention to their vehicle’s capability. Something with four-wheel-drive makes perfect sense if you plan to tackle dirt trails, but that’s not the only time capability matters.
Weather happens no matter where you live, and it’s not something you can ignore. A more capable vehicle can help make sure you don’t get stuck when the plows are slow to clear the roads.
Vehicles with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive are better able to power your vehicle through snowy roads and maintain better traction on roads slick with water. One thing they don’t do is improve your stopping power, so don’t think they’re a cure-all for bad road conditions.
The type of vehicle you’re driving matters, too. A good pair of snow tires and all-wheel drive will help a family sedan, but it won’t stop it from getting stuck in a too-deep snowbank.
If you’re often faced with snowy roads, an SUV or crossover with higher clearance is a good choice. A car that only works for your needs when the sun is shining and the roads are clear is an iffy choice if you get lots of bad weather.
Gas prices are notoriously unstable. This makes fuel economy something you should carefully consider even if prices are low at the pump the day you head to the dealership.
If prices suddenly go up, and you’re driving a gas guzzler, it’s going to hurt. This could mean staying close to home and having to give up attending events that are far away.
Factor in how far you drive daily for commuting and errands, but don’t forget road trips. Whether you drive only a few hours in the summer to get to the beach or go hiking, or you drive for days on vacation, the cost adds up if your vehicle has lousy gas mileage.
Also, pay attention to the fuel grade your car requires. Even if a car gets good fuel economy, if you have to use premium fuel, then you’re adding a lot your costs.
Companies are constantly adding new safety features to their vehicles. This is a good thing, but it can also be confusing.
Many autonomous features, things like emergency braking and lane keep assist, are only available on the top trim levels or as part of expensive options packages. Other features, like rearview cameras, are now standard on most vehicles.
Once you narrow down the type of car you want, make a list of the safety features that are most important to you and then compare. The feature one company offers only on their most expensive trim might be available as an option on a lower trim in a different car.
It’s tempting to buy a car that pushes your budget, but this is a bad idea in the long run. There are insurance costs, maintenance costs, fuel costs, and registration fees to consider.
Make sure you budget for all of these costs when you’re looking for a car. Call your insurance agent to see how much your insurance rate will change, and check with your town hall to see what it will cost to keep your car legally on the road.
Make sure you leave enough room in your budget for the unexpected, too. Even a new car can suffer from a flat tire, so make sure you don’t spend so much on your car that you have nothing left over to fix it when something goes wrong.
Tell us in the comments – what are your top priorities when shopping for a new or used vehicle?