There's no best car for everyone, but there is a best one for you, and you should choose it based on your needs.
1. Who's driving?
Parents buying a car for a teenager should consider safety first. Usually, that quickly eliminates sports cars and 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 may need small vehicles that are easy to maneuver.
2. 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.
3. 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 company. An aunt or grandparent can't ride with the parents and children in the same car.
4. 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 region, pick a cold day and drive a car before the heater's been on. See how long it takes to get warm and how effectively it defrosts the windows.
5. 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.
6. 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 auto insurance costs.
7. Is economy important?
Economy cars and hatchbacks usually get the best mileage, as do hybrid vehicles and Volkswagens with turbodiesel engines -- available in the Jetta and Golf -- that get up to 40 miles per gallon.
8. 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 crossover.
9. Will it fit in your garage?
Some SUVs and vans are either too wide or too high for many garages. Measure before you buy.
10. Do you haul equipment?
Need a vehicle capable of towing a boat or RV? Many small cars simply don't have the horsepower, transmission and chassis to handle the demands. Even some SUVs are not up to the task, so check on the vehicle's towing capacity.
11. Are you 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 with being younger and more prone to get into accidents. White cars cost the least to insure.
12. 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. A Mercedes-Benz can retain 64 percent of its value over a three-year period, while a small two-wheel-drive Chevy SUV might keep only 17 percent.
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 Toyota Camry and the Ford Taurus to compare options, features, insurance rates and operating costs to find the best deal for you.