By | February 3, 2018

Outside of a home, no other purchase requires more preparation and forethought that what buying a car requires. Simply kicking the tires and turning the key in the ignition does not cut it anymore.

To know how to choose which car to buy, you have to follow a logical series of steps that starts with some serious thinking.

With more makes and models than ever before, shopping for a car can overwhelm many consumers. However, with more online shopping and research tools than ever, knowing how to choose which car to buy might be easier than it has ever been.

It’s what You Need, Not What You Want

It’s a simple question not asked enough by car buyers: What do I really need? Do you need a vehicle to travel through hilly terrain for the morning and afternoon trips to and from work? Do you plan to use the car frequently to transport your family to school and social events? The key difference between buying what you want and buying what you need is when you buy what you need, you avoid purchasing a vehicle that has features you do not plan to use. Extra features can quickly increase the price of a new or pre-owned car.

Write down what you need from a vehicle and then prioritize what are the most important features and attributes. As Mick Jagger sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you might get what you need.”

Create a Budget

Let’s set one thing straight: A car should never be an impulse purchase. It’s not like the leather jacket in the window that you want to buy. Buying a car requires considerable planning, with creating a budget the most important planning tool for you to use. Unless you just won the lottery, you can expect to apply for some type of financing to purchase a car. Remember that the more you plunk down as an upfront payment, the lower your monthly car payments. Try to get your credit in order to prevent an automobile dealer or financial institution from charging an extortion like interest rate.

Your monthly car payment is just one of many expenses associated with owning a new or used vehicle. You also must account for fuel, maintenance, and insurance costs. If you live in an urban area, you can expect to pay more for fuel and car insurance. The rule of thumb to answer “how much is too much” involves keeping your car ownership costs below 20% of your monthly income.

Perform Research like a Scholar

The Internet has changed research for a car from sleuthing like Sherlock Holmes to typing a few parameters into a search engine and voila, a list of cars that match your buying criteria appear. By the time you have listed your priority features and set a budget, you are ready to perform meticulous research. First, use car finding tools on sites such as Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book to narrow your search. The car finding tools allow you to search based on several options, such as price, vehicle category, and powertrain options.

Then, perform meticulous research on the makes and models that made the initial cut. Customer reviews give you a general idea about a vehicle’s performance, but you should spend most of your time reading reviews left by third party independent websites such as U.S. News & World Report. Edmunds.com provides a Compare Cars tool that helps consumers who have difficulty comparing different vehicles make the best car buying decisions.

Test Drive at Least Three Vehicles

After performing diligent research, the time has come check out how each vehicle on your short list performs in both city traffic and over the open road. Test drives for three different vehicles appear to be the prevailing words of wisdom online, but do not limit the number of test drives if you come across a make and model at the dealership that attracts your attention. Automotive sales professionals often say “The feel of the wheel will seal the deal.” However, you should thoroughly inspect the interior, under the hood, and each of the vehicle safety systems to confirm your test drive analysis.

The last step takes discipline, as you might be completely sold by a specific make and model. Take a deep breath and put down your research for a couple of days. After two or three days, you should have a fresh perspective that helps you make the best car buying decision.

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