|How This Guide Is Organized|
|1. What Kind of Car Do You Want?|
|2. What Kind of Car Do You Need?|
|3. Who/What You Carry|
|4. Where You Live|
|5. What You Do|
|6. What You Can Afford|
|7. What You Can Compromise On|
As a car shopper, you have hundreds of choices when it comes to picking a new ride. While there’s something for every buyer, finding that perfect match isn’t always easy. Do you want a sports car but need an SUV? How critical are safety and fuel economy? Will that full-size truck fit in your garage? Do you need something that can drive off paved roads, or do your wheels never leave the pavement? How many people do you need to carry, and do you need to carry a lot of cargo?
Finding the right ride involves finding the nexus of what you want and what you need. Fortunately, there are lots of tools available to help you narrow your search, including U.S. News & World Report’s new car rankings, used car rankings, and vehicle comparison tool.
Cars tend to be extensions of our personalities, so you’ll probably gravitate toward cars that fit yours. Most car buyers know what they don’t like, so that thins the field out some more.
Is having a green car important to you, or is safety your number one consideration? Be honest with yourself and what trade-offs you can handle. Is comfort and convenience important enough that you would drive a minivan, or would the stereotype of minivan drivers push you to a crossover SUV?
Sorry, but time to come back to reality. For most of us, our wants have to be tempered by our needs. Think about your lifestyle and how your car fits into it. If you have two kids and another on the way, you need to think long-range to those soccer-filled Saturdays. The ability to fit car seats becomes critical, and cargo room moves up the list of importance.
If you’re a business professional who has to shepherd clients around, you’ll need something more upscale than a high-mileage subcompact, but if you drive long-distances for work, you’ll want something that gets great fuel mileage. Once again, being honest with yourself and thinking ahead will serve you well as you contemplate this large purchase.
What you can afford also should come into play when you start thinking about what you need, but we’ll explore more about budget later.
Are you looking for a vehicle to use as a solo commuter, or is the vehicle going to be the Family Truckster? If you have kids, they might fit in the third row of that midsize SUV today, but odds are that they are going to grow, and planning for a large SUV with a more spacious third-row might be a better idea. If you have to fit car seats, are there enough places to put them, and would they be easy to access, both for installation and for strapping kids in?
Do grandma and grandpa ride along? A gargantuan SUV that requires a stepladder to enter might not be the best solution when a minivan could accommodate everyone more comfortably.
If you’re considering a low-slung sports car, can you and your partner climb in and out comfortably? If it is difficult at first, you’ll probably not like it any better a year down the road. Do you carry clients? You’ll want to check out the back seat of that sedan that you’re considering to see if there’s sufficient comfort.
You will also want to consider your cargo. If your weekdays involve shuttling the kids, but your weekends have you commuting to the home improvement warehouse, a crew cab pickup might be the best solution. Do you spend a lot of time on the golf course? Check out that sedan’s trunk to make sure your clubs fit.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every environment. While a tiny subcompact might be a great solution in the city, it might not be a good choice for snowy mountains. Ever try and park a full-size truck in the city? Hint: It’s not fun. Ever try to drive a high-power sports car on ice? It’s even less fun.
If weather is an issue where you live, you’re a good candidate for an all-wheel drive vehicle that can handle the rainy or snowy days with confidence. If your home is at the end of a gravel road that gets muddy in the winter, you might need to go a step further and opt for a four-wheel drive SUV with high ground clearance and a low-range transfer case for maximum traction.
Looking for a car for the urban jungle? Smaller cars that are more maneuverable tend to excel in the land of grocery store parking lots and parallel parking. Look at fuel prices where you live. If they exceed the national average, you might want to opt for a high-mpg gasoline vehicle, diesel, hybrid, or even battery-electric vehicle.
You’ll want to look at cars that not only fit your daily commuting needs, but also your transportation needs on the weekend and on longer trips. Unless you can afford a car for each role, you’ll want to find a balance of the two.
Often, you can find that compromise simply by properly equipping the car you buy for its primary job. Say you need to commute with colleagues during the week, so a midsize sedan fits that role with pretty decent fuel economy. However, on the weekend you like to find twisty rural roads and let your driving enthusiast out. A good compromise might be a sporty sedan with performance tires, large wheels, paddle shifters (or a manual transmission), and a sport mode that amps up its performance.
If your week involves shuttling kids from activity to activity, but your weekends are filled with ski trips, you can balance the two with an all-wheel drive crossover or minivan with a rooftop cargo box for the skis and snowboards.
This one is a bit more difficult, because what you can afford can be measured a couple different ways, and the way that car dealers like to do it isn’t generally very good for you in the long run. They’ll want to focus only on the monthly payment, but you should focus on the total cost of the car, including registration, insurance, fuel, and maintenance costs.
By focusing on the monthly payment, it is easy to be convinced to stretch your payments out to buy more car. But by doing so, you can pay thousands more in interest, put yourself at increased financial risk, and limit your ability to move into another car as soon as you might want to.
Staying informed about what is happening in the market helps you stretch your buying power. Each month, manufacturers offer new car deals, lease deals, and used car deals. You can save big money by finding a new car with a cash back or low-interest financing offer. U.S. News & World Report offers buying insights on a growing number of models, enhancing your information about what to buy with information on when to buy.
Buyers can also use our Best Price Program, where they will receive a guaranteed amount of savings from local dealers. Buyers save an average of $3,279 off MSRP by using the program.
You’re probably going to have to compromise on something in your car search. You might think about giving up the latest infotainment technology and saving thousands of dollars by buying a used car rather than new. If you’re only going to use the third row of seats in a large SUV occasionally, you save a bunch of money on gas by choosing a more efficient midsize crossover.
You can also save money by paring down the optional equipment that you purchase. Instead of buying the $2,795 rear-seat entertainment package on that minivan, buy a couple of iPads instead, and save $2,000. There are many features you can skip or buy from less expensive aftermarket suppliers.
The best place to start your research is on U.S. News & World Report's rankings page.