Finding the best car for you

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Choosing your next set of wheels is a deeply personal decision. With thousands of car options available, there’s no best car for everyone, but there is a best one for you; you should choose it based on your needs. When the car-buying process begins, you’ll need to do some homework about your budget, your buying options, your fuel economy preferences and more.

How to find the best car for you

A car is a significant investment; to ensure that you leave the dealership satisfied with your choice, ask yourself these questions first.

1. What’s your budget?

The first and most important question to ask yourself when choosing your next vehicle is how much money you are willing to spend. When trying to find this perfect number, take into consideration the true cost of owning the car, including the expected maintenance costs, fuel cost and insurance. A site like Edmunds can help you estimate how much each of these items will cost over a five-year period.

If you plan to take out an auto loan, you can also use an auto loan calculator to see how different rates and repayment terms will affect your monthly payment and determine how much you can practically afford.

2. Who’s driving?

The primary drivers of the car will decide which type of models you search for. If you’re a parent buying a car that a teenager will use, a sports car or pickup truck probably isn’t the best choice. If you have a large family or will be sharing carpooling duties to and from school or soccer practice, you’ll need a car with a greater occupancy.

3. What’s the primary use?

If you’re buying a car for commuting, gas mileage and comfort should be major considerations. Go to the dealership and sit in the car before you buy it; take the time to adjust the seat and the climate control system to see if it’s the right fit. If you live in a cold region, test-driving on a cold day is a good way to see how quickly the windows defrost or the vehicle warms up.

For long road trips or drives where you’re expecting rough terrain, you might also choose to skip the sedan and look for an SUV or hatchback. In a city, a smaller vehicle might be better. Take into consideration where you’ll be driving, what you’ll be taking with you and how long your typical drive will be.

4. 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.

5. 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 the vehicle’s towing capacity.

If you plan to purchase a larger vehicle for hauling equipment, check if it will fit in your garage. This is a step many drivers forget, but some SUVs and vans are either too wide or too high for many garages. Make sure to measure before you buy.

6. Do you want to lease or buy?

Leasing and buying a car carry different financial burdens. Leasing is a good option if you want the newest vehicle available without paying as much upfront, but you will have to keep up with lease payments. Additionally, you’ll have to keep a close eye on the condition and cleanliness of your vehicle, and you may have to contend with mileage caps.

Buying your vehicle places you fully in control, and you won’t have to worry about any mileage restrictions. The downside is that you typically need to keep the car for longer than you would with a lease in order to make the investment worth it, and monthly payments will likely be higher.

7. Is fuel economy important to you?

Economy cars and hatchbacks usually get the best mileage, as do hybrid vehicles. Before signing off on a new vehicle, consider how much you are willing to pay at the gas pump. A more luxury vehicle will require premium gas, which tends to be a few dollars more than regular or midgrade gasoline.

Check the fuel economy of your intended vehicle ahead of time. It may be worth it to spend a bit more upfront and avoid excess trips to the gas station.

8. How long do you plan to own it?

Some vehicles depreciate much more quickly than others. Look at car guides and check Kelley Blue Book to see which vehicles hold their value. This is especially important if you go through cars quickly; you’ll get a much better deal on a trade-in with a car that doesn’t lose much value in its first five years.

Some cars simply last longer, too; Toyotas, Fords and Hondas are all known for their longevity, so they’re good starting points if you’re planning to keep your car for 100,000 miles or more.

The bottom line

The key to driving out of the dealership satisfied with your new vehicle is preparation. Decide what is important to you: size, fuel economy, style. All of these factors come together to create your perfect vehicle, and one that you will be happy with for years to come.

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Written by
Rebecca Betterton
Auto Loans Reporter
Rebecca Betterton is the auto loans reporter for Bankrate. She specializes in assisting readers in navigating the ins and outs of securely borrowing money to purchase a car.
Edited by
Student loans editor