What Matters Most
Determine Your Priorities
This should be a priority no matter how much or how little you will use the vehicle. Look at the latest crashworthiness ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (iihs.org) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (nhtsa.gov).
COMFORT & STYLING
Consider interior and exterior features, seating and leg room for passengers, suspension, steering, audio system and other add-ons.
Family size and primary use may matter. Think about seating and interior space, cargo room, basic and optional features, towing capacity and off-road capabilities.
WHERE TO BUY
Choose from local new and previously owned vehicle dealerships, online sales sites, private seller ads or buying services including car concierges and brokers.
Check for rebates, seasonal or dealer discounts, option package discounts, trade-ins, available financing and interest rates.
This includes your monthly payment, insurance, vehicle maintenance, any repairs not covered by warranty, taxes, registration and state-required inspection fees — for every year you keep the vehicle.
For vehicle ratings and reviews go to consumerreports.org and search the appropriate section to get some ofthe most current information available.
Is it important that your next vehicle get good gas mileage? Read the manufacturer and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates based on type of engine (gas or hybrid combination), vehicle size and weight, and other factors. Go to epa.gov for more guidelines.
It helps to know when buying a vehicle how well the model and/or make have retained their value in the event you want to sell or trade in your model later on. This is especially true if buying a used auto or truck. Value is affected not only by the features and type of vehicle but also its condition, mileage, and brand reliability. Check with your financial institution for a recommendation. Search online for an Internet car valuation service.
Do Your Homework & Do The Math
Know what you can afford to spend. It’s not just about the purchase...not everyone qualifies for the lowest rates you see advertised. Talk to your financial institution or your local dealership to discuss your individual options. Then add in the cost of taxes and fees, interest, insurance — based on credit, the price of the vehicle, and type of coverage — fuel, and related maintenance and repair costs. Make sure you can comfortably pay this expense, each and every month for the duration of your loan. You should typically keep your total vehicle expense to less than 20% of your net household income (after-tax pay). You should also consider your overall current debt load. Even if your car expense is less than 20% of your after-tax pay, other debts could still detract from your ability to pay off other debt such as credit card balances or student loans. Either way, it’s a big investment that deserves serious thought.
Check out the inventory. Go online to manufacturer or third-party websites to help streamline your search. Manufacturer websites are a good place to start if you are interested in a specific make and model. You can also visit dealerships and vehicle lots, and look at the ads or articles in both print and web publications to compare prices, option packages, and incentives for discounts and possible manufacturer rebates. End-of-model year deals can be found as early as late summer while the end of the month is also noted to be a good time for reduced prices with sales staff trying to clear out more inventory. An independent opinion is crucial, and there are several websites where it is easy to find information to help you compare options and make an educated decision.