In 5 Simple Questions

For the last 13 years, I’ve written about new and used cars on a regular basis. One of the most common questions I’ve heard (besides did you ever drive a Lamborghini?) was, “What kind of car should I buy?”

Most auto journalists answer that with a question. “What kind of car are you looking for?” Most people don’t want information. They want validation of their choice. Well, there are 5 simple questions you need to ask yourself before buying a car. Then you can ask me to validate your choice.

What kind of driving do I do? Drive a lot? Drive a little? Soccer mom who carpools the kids to practice hither and yon? Just use your car for transportation? You need to figure out if you drive a lot if you are concerned about fuel economy. Gas probably isn’t going to stay cheap. Are you a soccer mom? You’d be surprised how much more efficient a minivan is if you are honest with yourself.

How much can I afford? Some experts suggest 25 weeks of salary is about right. Per capita income in the United States was $28,124 in 2013. Do the math and the per capita car cost should be about $14,000. The average new car in the United States cost is $33,560. You need to earn about $67,000 to afford that car. 

Do I need all the bells and whistles? Sure, it’s nice to get leather seats, navigation, and 14 speakers with 800 watts of stereo power. Can you live without it? For example, the base price of the 2016 Ford Mustang is $24,700 and comes pretty well equipped. The Mustang GT premium with V8 costs $37,200. Sure, you get more power and better options. But do you get $12,500 more?

How much power do I need? This dovetails well with the Mustang question above. Today’s four cylinders have plenty of punch. They’re going to get you on the highway just fine. And, do you like to drive 80 mph occasionally? We don’t recommend it, but any four cylinder is going to do it and pretty quietly. However, if you need to tow something, you’re going to want a bigger engine. Check the vehicle’s tow rating and know how much weight you’re pulling. 

Should I get a car or a crossover? Like the flexibility of a crossover but not the size? Well, then you should consider a hatchback. Heck, the new Scion iM that I drove in Philadelphia recently is a fun little hatchback. Volkswagen makes some great ones. Crossovers are great if you like sitting higher in traffic. Sedans and coupes are usually easier to maneuver if you live in a more urban environment. Here’s one additional tip: don’t buy a coupe if you have kids. Managing car seats and such is difficult. Opt for a four-door car or, better yet, a minivan. There are lots of questions you should ask when considering what car to buy. Do your research and don’t rush into anything. It’s an expensive purchase.

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