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...whether "you" includes your family, your dog, or a boat!
Finding the right vehicle for your lifestyle is a lot harder than picking what is trendy or the newest model.
Your next vehicle is a big investment and maybe one you will keep for some time. You should take the time to examine what you want your next vehicle for: is it mainly driving to and from work, towing your boat, driving your kids to soccer practice, etc. You may want that brand new convertible but an SUV may be more practical. Or maybe you're ready to downsize to save on gas.
Start shopping by making a list of must-haves: automatic transmission, towing hitch, etc. Consider how important each must-have is, it may help you to rank your list on a scale of one to five or arrange it in order of most importance. Just like buying a house, you may not get everything you want, so it’s important to be able to recognize which features are the nice-to-haves and which are the deal-breakers. Consider a vehicle’s safety record – you can search for a vehicle’s safety rating on http://www.safercar.gov/. If it’s important to you, you may want to consider the vehicle’s gas mileage. The United States Department of Energy’s website, http://www.fueleconomy.gov/, lets you easily search and compare vehicles’ miles per gallon and other rankings.
Unfortunately, you will also need to consider what you can afford. A good rule of thumb is your monthly car payments (whether for one car or multiple cars) should not exceed 20% of your monthly take-home pay. Always shop a few thousand dollars below what you can afford to allow room for taxes and fees.
You can easily calculate your monthly payments with a financial calculator found online. Consider getting pre-approved before you start shopping, you’ll know how much you can afford and already have financing in place before you get to the dealership. You should also contact your insurance company and see if they will give you a quote for the vehicles you are interested in – some vehicles may come with a higher rate.
Now that you know how much you can afford and what kind of vehicle you’re looking for, it’s time to do some research. Shop around online looking at different makes and models. Consumer Reports puts out rankings on many popular models and Edmunds’ website lists cars of in a similar class. When comparing cars, not only consider what the car costs but also maintenance costs and how much the vehicle will depreciate. You will also need to decide between buying a new or used vehicle. Buying used may save you more money since new cars lose value quickly after you leave the dealer’s lot.
Now that you have an idea of what kind of vehicle you are looking for, it’s time to go shopping – online. Research local dealerships and look at their selection – it’s an easy way to see what’s out there and what the dealer’s want for the vehicle you’re interested in. Contact the dealerships with inventory you’re interested in and ask to set-up a time to come test-drive the vehicle. While you’re online, take note of what the price is for the vehicles you’re interested in. The more information you have, the better you’ll be able to negotiate later.
When you take the vehicle for a test-drive, try to test the vehicle in different situations – stop and go traffic, highway, city, going up and down hills, etc. Leave the radio off, you want to be able to hear any problems and gauge the noise level in the car. Follow your instincts – this is a big purchase and if something doesn’t feel right walk away. Try to test-drive all the vehicles you are considering in one day. It will be easier to remember things you did and didn’t like about each model if it is still fresh in your mind. If you still aren’t sure which one is right for you or just need more time to decide, consider renting that model for a few days. The rental car might not have all the options you want but you’ll get a good idea of how the car handles and if there is anything you really dislike about the model.
Once you’ve done all your research, you should have a good idea of what vehicle you want.