It’s an understatement to say that buying a car can be stressful. With so many options in today’s auto market, how do you find the perfect car for you?
“To get this right, it’s important to do a little self-examination,” says Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com. Here are 15 questions to ask yourself before making the big purchase:
1. How much can I spend? Here is a ballpark formula for determining your budget: "Take your preferred monthly payment, multiply that by the average term of 60 months, add whatever money you have to put down, and that’s your price range," says Thomas Taylor, owner of Inside Car Buying, LLC. To fine-tune that number, there are online calculators that can help you determine how much you can afford to spend on your monthly car payments.
2. What’s the status of my credit? If you have a low credit score, you may wind up paying a higher interest rate on your car loan. To see where your credit currently stands, order one of your annual free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. With a higher credit score, you can protect yourself from lenders pushing unreasonably high interest rates, Taylor says.
3. New or used? A new car depreciates the moment it rolls out of the lot, but a used car may cost more in repairs. Research the pros and cons of each before you make your final decision.
4. What about safety? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration created the 5-Star Safety Ratings Program to test crashworthiness and rollover safety by model, class and manufacturer. You can compare the safety ratings for different vehicles on your wish list.
5. Is fuel efficiency important? According to the U.S. Office of Transportation and Air Quality, the difference between a car that gets 20 mpg and one that gets 30 mpg amounts to about $900 per year. On fueleconomy.gov, you can search for fuel-efficient cars by features such as mpg, price, make and body style.
6. How much space do I need? Consider how many people will be in your car on a daily basis, but also keep in mind accommodating infrequent events, such as camping trips or furniture-buying excursions.
7. How will I use my car? Will you use your car mainly to get to and from work every day? Will you be towing recreational equipment? If you drive on the highway frequently, fuel efficiency and seat comfort may be a priority.
8. How long do I plan to own it? Considering that a well-maintained car could last around 200,000 miles (and potentially even longer), it’s possible to own the same car for a while. Consider how your life might change in the future—might you change locations, or perhaps start a family?
9. What conditions or climate will the car be in? Depending on where you live, climate may guide your car selection. “A Northeasterner might consider getting all wheel drive for ice and snow,” Reed says, “while a Southwesterner might favor a white car, which would keep cooler when parked.” Also consider tire quality, especially if you live in a wet or snowy climate.
10. What features do I want or need? Seat temperature control? A GPS navigation system? You might not find a car that has all of your desired features, so prioritize your list.
11. Where will you park? City dwellers may require a car that can fit into tight parking spots.
12. Is resale value important? Some cars are known for having good resale value, meaning they retain their value over time more efficiently than others. This is especially important if you plan to eventually sell your car. At Kelley Blue Book, you can check out cars that generally have a high resale value.
13. Manual or automatic? A stick shift may improve gas mileage, but also require more skill to operate.
14. Electric or not? If environmental concerns are high on your list, and especially if you drive less than 40 to 50 miles a day, an electric car might be an option for you—although electric cars tend to sport a higher sticker price.
15. What is the cost of ownership? Once you’ve narrowed down your car selection, how much will that car cost you on a yearly basis? Consider owning and operating costs such as gas, maintenance and repairs and auto insurance.