With all of the competing advertising claims out there, it’s easy to get caught up in distracting details and forget the cardinal rule of car buying: The person who should choose your next car is you. Not a car company, not a dealer, not a salesman and not your neighbor/friend/relative. You’re the one who’s going to live with (and, most importantly, pay for) the car.
How to Get the Best Car For Your Money
This is Part One of the AutoPayPlus “How to find the best car for your budget” series.
Before getting too emotionally invested in any one vehicle, start by browsing comparison websites like Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book and Consumer Reports to get an overview of the kinds of vehicles available, and their strengths and weaknesses. Edmunds and Kelley are free, while getting in-depth information from Consumer Reports requires a paid membership. The websites of auto enthusiast publications such as Car and Driver and Automobile are also good sources for performance data and commentary on styling and drivability.
Whether you’re buying new or used, first make a short list of the best cars that fit your needs and wants — along with a list of prices that fit within your budget. There are excellent new and used car pricing tools available online at Edmunds and at Kelley Blue Book that can show you what buyers in your area are paying for the make and model you want.
Safety and Reliability First
Forget your four-wheel fantasies for a minute and think about what you really need. Assuming this is the car you’ll be driving every day, safety and reliability should be at the top of your list. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety performs crash tests on vehicles to determine how they protect you in different types of accidents. Consumer Reports does comprehensive testing of new vehicles (and archives results from previous models if you’re buying used). They keep track of reported problems with different vehicles from year to year, and publish a predicted reliability score. Perform a Google search using the terms “problems with [name of car model]”. You’ll find everything from news articles to forums discussing in sometimes excruciating detail the kinds of things that may go wrong with that model vehicle. Many cars are prone to one problem or another; the question is how severe, costly and inconvenient they are for you.
The Real Cost of Ownership
This isn’t the same thing as the purchase price; your favorite vehicle may be priced lower than competing models but cost more to own in the long run due to fuel economy, insurance costs and maintenance issues. To find out the cost of insurance, go to your current insurer’s website and submit a request for a quote on the vehicles you’re considering. Consumer Reports and Edmunds are both helpful sources for the multi-year ownership cost of many models. Even if your favorite costs more than your budget, you may decide to pay the premium because it has features that make the difference in total cost worth it to you — but you should know what you’re signing up for before you buy.
We’ll delve deeper into how to find the best car for your budget next time when we discuss features, performance and eco-friendly alternatives.
Do you have any car shopping tips? Share them. If not, you can continue onto How To Find the Best Car for Your Budget — Part 2