What Car Should I Buy?
When you’re about to buy a car, the options are seemingly endless.
The task is even harder than it seems. As soon as you settle on what type of car you want, new questions pop right up. Should you pay cash, finance or lease? Crossover, hatchback, or SUV? Electric, hybrid or diesel?
It’s enough to send anyone’s head spinning out of control. We’ll help you take a deep breath and dig into the matter methodically. First, it’s all about deciding what you want and then coming to terms with what you need. Finally, you have to reconcile these two with what you can afford.
Hopefully, our guide will help you move in the right direction.
What car is right for me?
For this section, we asked a car repair expert Mitchell Zelman, author of “What the “Experts” May Not Tell You About Car Repair,” to enlighten us on what people might be looking for in a car.
“Buying a new or used car is a big deal for most people, and few things are as important as getting the right car for your needs,” Zelman told LendingTree.
We are using the Kelley Blue Book® Fair Market Value prices (or MSRP when not available) for the cheapest basic configurations in the Atlanta area. Your actual price will vary, of course, by location but we had to choose one location for the purposes of these estimates.
When deciding on a car, consider looking at the following:
Will it be an everyday car, or will you drive it on the weekends or for special occasions?
Asking yourself these questions is important if you want to make sure your purchase decision is practical. Buying a car can be an emotional experience but we all need to remember (and remind ourselves from time to time) that a car is not a toy, which, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy it.
If every day, how long is your commute?
Why is it important how often and how far you drive? Because if you drive to work every day (like 86% of all commuters in the U.S.) you really want a comfortable car, and you probably don’t want a gas guzzler. What you might want to look at is a fuel-efficient vehicle, perhaps hybrid or even electric.
Will you need to use it off-road?
Where do you drive? SUVs are immensely popular, but do you really need one in a city or suburbia? Sure, they are roomy, have better clearance, are good in snow, dirt and off-road, so if you can use these features, they make sense. On the other hand, they are more expensive to drive (gas and insurance), more prone to rollovers (hence, higher insurance) and they are harder to park in tight city spots.
“For an everyday commute it’s hard to go wrong with a very reliable Toyota Camry,” Zelman suggested. “But for interstate travel, for example between New York and Vermont in inclement weather, you might want to look into Subaru WRX with symmetrical AWD for exceptional handling in the snow, especially if you like sporty cars.”
- Where you live
- Family size
- Do you plan on going on long road trips?
Now, why does all that matter? For one thing, you don’t want to get a coupe or convertible if you have two or three kids to haul to school. Well, strike that, you might want it, but this probably wouldn’t be a wise choice. Some people may not appreciate the beauty of a minivan, but they are functional, and some are actually fun to drive like the Toyota Odyssey or the Chrysler Pacifica.
How you feel behind the wheel
Never ever buy a vehicle based on the hype alone. It doesn’t matter if everyone is raving about something — family, friends or co-workers. Until you’re in the driver’s seat, you won’t know if it fits your needs.
Make an appointment and go for a test-drive (and by the way, never give the dealership your Social Security number until you know you’re interested).
That will be time well-spent.
“Test-drive the vehicle to see what it’s about, whether it’s a smooth ride or a rough ride, and how it feels going over a bump,” said Zelman. “Make a U-turn to check if the car has a tight turning radius; then take your time and make sure there are no visibility issues. In a city, pull over and park. See if parallel parking was painless or cumbersome.”
Some cars have more blind spots than others, Zelman goes on to explain.
“Dodge Challenger can be a dream for those who appreciate muscle cars, but it has a big metal area on the back that reduces visibility,” he said. “You won’t necessarily know it would bother you unless you take your time test-driving.”
What’s really important to you?
Safety reputation: Research Volvo or Mercedes.
Luxury: Lexus ES 350 or Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class.
Speed: Ford Taurus SHO, Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger Hellcat.
Off-roading: Chevy Colorado ZR2, Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, 2018 Nissan Armada.
Toyota Prius for Toyota Safety Sense, which includes:
- Pre-Collision System
- Lane Departure Alert
- Automatic High Beams
- Dynamic Radar Cruise Control
- Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection
Audi A4 for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Audi’s Virtual Cockpit with “a fully digital instrument cluster” that includes the “12.3-inch high-resolution display.”
2017 Volvo S90 for Pilot Assist (almost automatic steering, acceleration and braking) and City Safety, which includes:
- Auto brake at intersections
- City Safety auto braking functions
- Detection also in darkness
- Avoiding accidents
Servicing costs: Think Japanese- and American-made over high-end German vehicles.
Eco-friendliness: 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Electric, 2018 Toyota Prius Prime, 2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV.
Resale value: Hondas and Toyotas are well-known for holding their value.
The length of your commute
We already mentioned that the length of your commute should be a crucial part of your decision-making. If you aren’t ready for an electric or hybrid vehicle, consider a diesel car. No, they are not dead, despite the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, and the fuel savings can be huge compared with gasoline vehicles.
Consider the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, with an EPA-rated economy up to 30 mpg City / 52 mpg Highway, unmatched for gasoline cars. If you’re considering buying an electric vehicle, compare what your commute will cost in a car vs. electric vehicle in your market.
Do you have a long commute? If so, getting a comfortable, smooth and quiet ride in a luxury car can be more of a necessity than a luxury, as long as your budget allows.
There is a very simple rule on how much to pay for a car. It’s called the 20/4/10 rule.
- Put down no less than 20%.
- Finance for no longer than four years (the shorter the loan term, the more you’ll save).
- Keep your monthly transportation expenses under 10% of your monthly income.
Please don’t go “upside down” on a car, which is when you owe more for the vehicle than it is worth. A bigger down payment will help you with that.
Interested in the best car for the money? Kelly Blue Book has come up with its 2018 5-Year Cost to Own Awards.
Here are the winners.
- Best Subcompact Car: 2018 Chevrolet Spark — 5-Year Cost to Own is $29,171
- Best Compact Car: 2018 Toyota Corolla iM — 5-Year Cost to Own is $30,856
- Best Mid-Size Car: 2018 Hyundai Sonata — 5-Year Cost to Own is $36,800
- Best Full-Size Car: 2018 Chevrolet Impala — 5-Year Cost to Own is $46,057
Whether you want to buy new or used
“New is new, so if you can afford it, buy new,” said Zelman. “The only risky thing about a new car is when you buy an absolutely new model. This is when a consumer might become a guinea pig, because a brand-new model may have a serious potential problem that people are not aware of until they drive the car in a real-world situation.”
What makes buying a new car so compelling?
- That wonderful new car smell.
- No one has sat there before you.
- New cars come with new technologies.
- You can be reasonably confident that the car will be trouble-free for quite a while.
- In case there is an issue, you usually get at least 3-year / 36,000 miles manufacturer warranty (and many manufacturers offer more).
What are the cons of buying a new car?
- First and foremost: Depreciation. Some cars hold their value better than others, but your car starts losing its value the moment you take it out of the lot.
- If you finance, you must carry full comprehensive and collision coverages for the duration of the auto loan, although it’s a wise thing to do anyway.
Buying a used car can be a solid option, especially a car with a low mileage on it.
“You could buy a one-year-old car under, say, 12,000 miles,” said Zelman. “Although it has depreciated quite a bit compared to a new vehicle, yet, this is still a relatively new car covered by warranty.”
Yes, that new smell is mostly gone, and you don’t get the very latest gadgets to play with, but one year is a very short time in the life of a modern vehicle, and you are likely to save thousands of dollars in the process.
But an almost new car can still cost more than you’re willing or able to pay, and there are situations when buying an older car makes perfect sense.
What makes buying a used (and older) car compelling?
- You need a bigger car for job or business, like a truck, and you can’t afford it new.
- You want to avoid the brunt of a new car’s depreciation (about one-fourth in the first year alone).
- You know the seller well and trust that (s)he has taken good care of the car.
- It’s much cheaper than a new car even taking into account the risk of associated repair costs.
What are the cons of buying a used and older car?
- Possible high maintenance and repair costs.
- Possible systemic damage that might render the car unusable and the lack of recourse.
- The possibility of becoming a victim of a scam, such as title washing, odometer fraud, VIN cloning and others.
You can save a lot buying a used car instead of a new car, but you need to exercise caution. Experts recommend checking the vehicle’s history and contracting a local mechanic to thoroughly inspect the car before parting with your money.