When you are planning to buy a car, deciding which make and model fit both your budget and driving needs can be tricky, and choosing the wrong car can really cost you.
According to Edmunds.com, a leading online resource for car information, a car can lose nearly 10 percent of its value as soon as you drive it off the lot. Depreciation is just one thing to consider, even as you are buying a car.
With thousands of different types of cars on the market and thousands of different features—how do you narrow down your choices? Here are a few simple steps to help you navigate the world of auto buying so you can drive off the lot with the perfect ride.
1. Will the car meet your transportation needs now—and into the future?
“This sounds like a no-brainer, but lots of people buy cars that just aren’t suited to their lifestyle, only to end up right back at the car dealership in a few years trading it in,” says Claes Bell, a senior banking reporter for Bankrate.com, who specializes in car buying.
Remember that you’re not just buying a car for now, but for the years to come. Think about the next decade of your life: Will you have kids in that time? Will you live in the city, suburbs or a rural area? Will you need the car for work or for play? You don’t have to predict the future, but buying a two-door coupe if you and your spouse plan to have children soon probably isn’t the best choice for your future lifestyle.
2. Can you afford it?
At the end of the day, a car is a way for you to get from point A to point B—so is it really worth straining your monthly budget? While deciding what you can afford can include a lot of different factors—insurance, maintenance costs, gas, mileage—there’s a simple formula to help guide you.
“A good rule of thumb is that your car payment should not exceed 20 percent of your monthly take-home pay,” Bell says. “If you have to extend your loan term beyond 60 months to hit that target, the car is too expensive.”
3. How important is safety to you?
While every driver wants a safe car, it is especially important if you’re driving with children or buying a car for your teenager. Check out the safety ratings while you are shopping around to see how your favorite cars measure up. Both the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offer detailed safety analyses.
4. Do you know how reliable the car is?
Your new car will need to get you everywhere you need to go, day in and day out, for years to come. You don’t want to wind up spending a lot of money on repairs, or a lot of time stuck waiting for a tow truck when your car clunks out on the highway.
Do your homework on the reliability of the particular model you’re interested in, not just the brand, Bell says. Consumer Reports, J.D. Power and Associates and Edmunds, among others, have plenty of data on reliability to leaf through before you make a purchase.
5. Will you resell the car when you’re done with it?
“The single biggest cost of car ownership is depreciation, and some cars hold their value better and depreciate more slowly than others,” Bell says.
You can check the Kelley Blue Book or IntelliChoice to see how certain models have depreciated over time. If you’re going to drive the car until the wheels fall off, this kind of information might not mean much to you, but if you plan to sell it in a few years, a car with a higher resale value could be a better choice.
6. Do you have your preference, and then a few back-up choices?
After you’ve found the car that’s right for you, look for others with a similar make, similar driving and crash survival statistics and similar pricing. For example, there’s really not much of a difference between a Honda Accord, Toyota Camry or Ford Taurus.
Having options will also give you an advantage when going to a dealer because you won’t be locking yourself into one specific vehicle.