Deciding on a Vehicle Type
Once you've determined how much you can afford and how you're going to pay, it's finally time to start thinking about what kind of car you'll get. At this point, it's important to note that you can't let lust get in the way of common sense. Even if you think you already know what you want, pause a moment and make sure the object of your admiration fits into your lifestyle. The best way to do this is to start with a list of “need to haves” to narrow down the, at times, overwhelming selection of vehicles.
That need-to-have list can include factors like how many people you're going to carry, what safety features are important, the kind of fuel economy you want, and even where you'll park your car. These will do the trick in narrowing down your search when you turn on your computer and hit the Internet. There are numerous online tools to help you narrow your choices by price, vehicle size, vehicle class, and other parameters. One of the better ones is at Kelly Blue Book
. Simply input as much or as little information about what you need and results appear on screen. Another, which narrows the number of cars as you go, is available at Yahoo! Autos
. Obviously, the more specific you are about what you need, the more specific the recommendations you'll get back, so remember to keep your needs in the forefront.
Choosing the Extras
So let's say you've done your research and have decided that a mid-size four-door sedan will suit your budget and lifestyle perfectly. The problem is there are dozens of matching cars on the market. This brings us to the next list you need to make: the “nice to haves.”
Narrowing this selection can be tough, especially in crowded segments of the market, so start by checking the option lists. Are certain vehicles missing items on your nice-to-have list? Not only will you be able to eliminate the cars that don't offer what you want, but it's also common for a car's bargain-basement sticker to climb quickly when you start ticking option boxes. Perhaps this is also a good time to pick the cars you think look best. Sure, it's shallow, but do you really want to spend thousands of dollars on a car that makes you cringe every time you lay eyes on it? If your list is still too big, check out reliability ratings at Consumer Reports or JD Power, because far too often beauty is only skin deep.
Researching Your Short List
Once you’ve narrowed your selection down to a few vehicles, it's time to start researching your individual selections. If you have a friend or family member who owns one of the cars you're considering, ask him or her about it, but be warned: owners will sometimes downplay the problems they've had with their car if they otherwise like it.
You'll also probably want to find out what the press thinks, but try to align the kind of reviews you read with the kind of driver you are. If you're an enthusiast, then you probably already know where to go. However, if you're an average buyer who doesn't know oversteer from an Angus steer, then it may be best to avoid those kinds of publications for more mainstream coverage. Read as much as you can about the car or cars you're considering, because there's no such thing as an over-informed buyer. At the very least make sure the car you settle on is one that won’t break down as soon as you get off the lot. Nothing is more frustrating than owning an unreliable car.