A car is one of the most significant purchases you'll ever make in your life. But besides the sizable financial investment involved, there's the added pressure of finding just the right ride — one that will accurately reflect who you really are as a person. If your car is an extension of yourself, shouldn't you put some serious thought into the purchase?
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Choosing from among the seemingly endless options on the market can make your head spin, but you can narrow down your choices with a bit of soul-searching. Start by asking yourself these 14 questions, and you'll be well on your way to finding your dream car.
1. What is your current and future family situation? More than almost any other factor, the answer to this question will have a big impact on your search. For single folks who are all about fun, a sporty little coupe or a soft-top Jeep might seem perfect.
But if you have kids — or you plan to expand your family in the next few years — space and safety will probably be two of your biggest concerns. Car seats, strollers, and nappy bags take up more room than you might imagine, making a people mover or SUV crossover more practical. And remember — dogs are family members, too.
2. Consider your lifestyle, too. Do you surf, golf, garden, or occasionally partake in ill-advised home improvement projects? You should choose a car with enough space to support your hobbies.
Will you be towing caravans and boats? You will need to ensure your choice has the right amount of pulling power.
3. Where and how far will you be driving? If you do a lot of off-road driving in rural areas, a 4X4 is a natural choice. If you plan to do mostly long-distance highway driving, you may be more interested in a comfortable car with smooth handling and good fuel economy.
4. What's your budget? You may imagine yourself driving away in a shiny new Land Rover, but if you're on a tight budget, you'll probably have to settle for something that costs less. If you have your heart set on a particular make or brand, try looking for an older, used version. When calculating your budget, make sure to take into account running costs like fuel economy, insurance, registration, servicing and tyres.
5. What kind of running costs are you willing or able to pay? Servicing costs can vary greatly between makes and models. Some manufactures now offer fixed price servicing for a set number of years. Calculate the cost per year of the fixed price servicing to ensure you are comparing apples with apples.
Insurance will be one of your major ongoing costs. The type of car you choose will impact the cost of the insurance, and it's not always obvious. A car's popularity, power and appeal to thieves, cost of parts and repairs are all issues that will impact the cost of insurance.
Lower-cost insurers may also not use genuine parts, so make sure you're comfortable with what will be going into your new car as a result of an accident.
A car's fuel economy is another major ongoing cost. Real-world fuel economy will differ from the manufacturer's claim and will depend on the mix of city and highway driving that you do. Consult forums and other research websites to get a real understanding of these costs.
6. Do you want to buy new or used? Both options have their pros and cons — you can save a lot of money buying used or be able to afford a used prestige brand if a new one is out of reach, but there's nothing like the feeling of being the first person to drive a brand-new car.
7. How important are safety ratings? If safety is a major factor for you, you'll be able to eliminate a number of options that have less-than-stellar ratings. But before you consider the ratings too closely, make sure you understand what they really mean. For instance, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) — traditionally one of the strictest safety ratings in Australia — lowered its standards for 2015. A five-star car does not require airbag protection for back seat passengers, so always check out exactly what safety features a car has, even if it has a five star rating.
8. Do you worry about environmental issues? If you're looking to significantly reduce your carbon footprint, you may want to choose an electric car, a hybrid, or at least something that gets great decent fuel economy.
9. How much do looks matter to you? There's no shame in caring about your appearance, and your car can be a big part of that. Just know that if your heart is set on a specific color or style of vehicle, your inflexibility could cost you extra.
10. How techy are you — and do you want a car to match? More new car buyers than ever are offering in-dash tech options like satellite navigation, internet access, and infotainment systems. Are these features important to you, or would you rather keep things simpler and more budget-friendly?
11. How much power do you need/want? For some people, putting the pedal to the metal on the open road is one of the best feelings in the world. If you appreciate powerful acceleration and smooth handling, a high powered car might be for you. If you're more likely to stay well below the speed limit in city traffic, don't bother investing in something with extreme horsepower.
12. Will you be using the car for personal or business purposes? How you use your car can significantly impact tax and financing options.
13. How long do you intend to keep the car? Some cars have a better resale value than others, so if you plan to trade it in within a few years, you may want to choose a model that holds its value well.
14. What do the experts — and other drivers — say? Staying up to date on what automotive industry experts are reporting will help you pinpoint the makes and models that are getting solid reviews. Also check forums and review sites to find out how owners feel about their purchase.