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Finding the best car for you

There's no 'best' car for everyone, but there is a best one for you and you should choose it based on your needs.

Consider the following questions when choosing a car:

  • Who's driving? Parents buying a car for a teenager should consider safety first. Karl Brauer, editor-in-chief at Edmunds.com recommends, "No sports cars and no SUVs." Kids drive differently when a bunch of others are in the car and they're trying to impress them. Young working adults probably are on a budget, so they should first consider an efficient economy car. Older people need small vehicles that are easy to maneuver.
  • How old are the passengers? Minivans are best if the primary passengers are small children because sliding doors make it much easier to position toddlers in car seats. Both the very young and the elderly can get in and out easily.
  • How many passengers? If you have three children, you might want to consider a minivan, station wagon or SUV that has third-row seating If you buy a sedan that seats five, there's no room for error. An aunt or grandparent can't ride with the parents and children in the same car.

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  • What's the primary use? If you're buying a car for commuting, gas mileage and comfort will be major considerations. Sit in a car before you buy and see if it supports your back. Check out the climate-control system. If you live in a cold climate, pick a cold day and drive a car before it's been warmed up. See how long it takes to get warm and how effectively it defrosts the windows.
  • City or country car? If you drive a lot in the city you should consider small economy cars and minivans that are easy to maneuver and ideal for traffic and parking.
  • How much horsepower do you need? If you love performance driving, or have to accelerate rapidly onto crowded freeways, a four-cylinder car may disappoint you. If not, a four-cylinder car can give reliable performance while cutting fuel, maintenance and insurance costs.
  • Is economy important? Economy cars and hatchbacks usually get the best mileage, as do the new hybrid vehicles or one of the Volkswagen turbo diesel engines such as the Jetta or Golf, which get up to 40 miles per gallon.
  • Is space important? If you or your children participate in sports or have hobbies that need a lot of cargo space, you're going to need more than a car with a trunk. Look for a minivan, SUV, a wagon or a new crossover vehicle .
  • Will it fit in your garage? Some SUVs and vans are either too wide or too high for many garages. Measure before you buy.
  • Do you haul or tow equipment? Need a vehicle capable of towing a boat or RV? Many small cars simply don't have the horsepower, transmission or chassis to handle those demands. Even some SUVs are not up to the task, so check on the vehicle's towing capacity.
  • Choosy about color? Naturally, you should pick a color you like, but keep in mind some unusual colors, such as yellow, can affect not only the car's resale value but also the cost to insure. "Red generally costs the most because insurers associate red-car owners as being younger and more prone to get into accidents," says Brauer. "White cars cost the least to insure."
  • How long will you own it? Look at car guides and check out Internet sites to see which vehicles hold their value. Every car drops in value, but some drop much less than others. The Mercedes Benz CLK class retains 64 percent of its value over a three-year period while a 2003 Chevy Tracker two-wheel drive retained only 17 percent.
  • Is the name plate 'dead'? Resale value drops sharply for cars whose brand isn't being made anymore. Oldsmobile, the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, for example, are being phased out.

Once you have narrowed your search, find comparable vehicles in that class. For instance, if you're interested in a Honda Accord, check out the Camry and the Taurus to compare options, features, insurance rates, and operating costs to find the best deal for you.

Sylvia Booth Hubbard is a freelance writer based in Mississippi.

-- Posted: Dec. 9, 2003

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