If you’re in the market for a car, you’re probably wondering “what car is right for me?” It’s a big financial and personal decision, which will likely result in some debt. Plus, you’ll have the car for years to come, so you want to make sure you’re buying something that will fit your lifestyle for the next three to eight years. In other words, this is a decision that is worth thinking through.
What do you need in a car?
You’re the expert on your lifestyle, so the only person who can determine what size and type of car will serve you best is you! If you’re thinking that this is a no-brainer—you’re a single person so of course you’ll get a sedan, or you’re a family person so you’ll get a minivan—think again. There’s a lot more to your lifestyle than you might think.
If you're buying a car, read this: Car Buying 101: Finding, Pricing, and Financing Your Next Vehicle
Here are a few of the big things to consider:
Size: This is usually the first thing people think about when getting a car, but it still bears repeating. If you’re a one-man or woman show, or a two-person family, a sedan may be the best choice for you. But it you’ve got a large family, you’re going to need some space. Make sure your next car allows all of the members of your family (be they human or canine) to ride comfortably.
Use: If you enjoy taking long Sunday drives in the countryside, you might want to buy a smaller, more efficient vehicle. If you do a lot of hauling, you’ll want to get a truck. If you do a little of both, you may compromise and get an efficient model with an adequate trunk.
Terrain: What types of roads do you drive on? If you live on a back road in Vermont and have to make it through half a foot of mud each spring, you’ll want plenty of clearance between your undercarriage and the road. If you live on a steep hill that tends to get a lot of snow in the winter, four wheel drive will be your best friend. Consider all of the possibilities for a full year’s cycle before you purchase a car and, if you’ll be moving soon, make sure you know what challenges your new stomping grounds are likely to bring.
Gas: If you drive long miles, finding a car that allows you to cover more miles on less gas will save you a lot of money. If you tend to keep close to home, you may not need the lower gas mileage. But if you simply like to conserve resources when you can, choosing a green vehicle is a good choice.
Age: The new car smell is nice, but you may not be able to afford it (or you simply may not want to pay for it). Decide, before you go out looking, whether you want to go new or used.
Where will you need to compromise?
Even if you know what you need, you may not find it all in one car. If you’ve got the money, two cars could be the answer; but if you can only afford one car, get ready to compromise. As noted above, you may need something that allows you the joy of weekend rides but still allows you to get the trash to the recycling center on Saturdays. You may want a more efficient car but can’t find one on the used car lot. Or you may need a rugged car to get you to your mountainside home but would really prefer a compact car to suit your single lifestyle. These are situations where you’ll have to compromise, which means you’ll have to decide what is most important to you—what you can’t live without—and what you just really, really want.
How will you finance the car?
You may choose to lease your vehicle or pay for it outright; but if you choose to take out a loan to buy your car, don't forget to prepare for financing before you sit down at the dealership to sign papers. In fact, your first step in car buying should be to go online and get pre-approved for financing. You can also visit your financial institution, but most credit unions and banks offer quick and easy financing options online.
Getting pre-approved will help you out in a few ways. First, it will tell you how much you can spend, so you’re less likely to look at vehicles that are over your limit. It will also simplify the financing process because you won’t have to worry while you wait to find out if you’ve got financing for a car you’ve already fallen in love with.
How will you find your new car?
There are many ways to search for a new car these days. You can go old school and visit your local dealerships, hoping to find your dream vehicle on the lot. Or you may opt to go online and find a few vehicles you like before visiting the dealership for a test drive or two. The best way is often to use the tools offered by your credit union or bank. Most financial institutions offer a tool that connects you with dealerships they work with directly. The tools are usually easy to use and, when you find the car you want, financing will be quick and painless if you have been pre-approved, because the financing is essentially taken care of before you even choose the car.
If you're serious about buying a car, read our eBook:
Car Buying 101: Finding, Pricing, and Financing Your Next Vehicle