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How To Choose The Right New Or Used Car For You And Your Family

May 28, 2008
Buying a car is an emotional decision. There, I've said it. It says something defining about you, about your family. It gives you the feeling you can go anywhere and do anything. It's the freedom to jump in a car and go, no waiting. Freedom for which a sixteen year old yearns. The loss of freedom an eighty year old dreads. Next to purchasing a home and paying for college, buying a car is typically one of the most significant purchases a family will make.

Answering some basics questions beforehand about the vehicle's size, purpose, performance, maintenance ,insurance costs, and resale value can greatly reduce the need to revisit the dealer or to search for a new dealer. But remember, buying a vehicle that excites you usually translates into a better overall ownership experience.

Doing your homework before you get to the car lot and hear the barrage of offers dealers have prepared for you will pay off. Visit with friends and family about vehicles they own to get a real world idea of pluses and minuses for a particular model. You know how they drive or take care of their cars. You are familiar with their biases concerning import, domestic, big, small, performance, gas mileage, styling, etc., so you can filter their opinions to give you a good idea how that vehicle should perform in the area you live. The internet can give you lots of information, but even unbiased sources have their likes and dislikes (biases) that slip through. Internet sites and publications that claim independence from outside interference still need to attract readers, so even they can produce provocative reviews. This doesn't mean you should ignore these sites, just take into consideration that they have their own slant. Manufactures internet sites today are loaded with great information, but again they are selling, so take that into consideration. Most importantly, before you even consider going to test-drive a car, you should have a general idea of what appeals to you. From that starting point, you filter all the other sources against your preferences. Remember, ultimately you'll want to drive a vehicle you're excited about. Only then, when you have balanced panache against practicality, should you test-drive the possibilities.

A good sales person will always start by getting to know you, how you use an automobile, others that are involved in the purchase, and what excites you. Even if you walk into the showroom with a good idea what you will purchase, allow the sales person to get to know you. You can tell if they really care about your need. They sometimes are familiar with special programs you might qualify for or other models that might also fit your lifestyle. They are paid to sell cars, but good salespeople actually want you to like them, strange as that might sound. They know that if they understand your tastes, needs, budget, and even family dynamics, they'll have a chance at future sales as well (even if they miss out on this one). Don't settle on just one model in advance - have three or four in mind. Ask the right questions based on your projected use of the vehicle. Questions like:

Does the car have adequate power for my driving needs? Uphill and rough terrain drivers have very different power requirements from those that drive on mostly flat surfaces. Can your 4-cylinder vehicle get you up and down those mountains? Do you need 8-cylinders in the city? Find out before you buy!

Do I need an automatic or a gear-shift? Shifting gears can be a great way to harness the full power of your vehicle; however, there are times when shifting gears is not ideal - like in heavy stop-and-go traffic. If this defines your normal commute, you may prefer an automatic vehicle. Also, a standard shift today doesn't necessarily mean better gas mileage.

What factor does fuel economy play, and is a hybrid a good choice? Today's gas prices are causing a nationwide pinch on long-distance commuters. Before choosing your next vehicle, factor in the amount that is going to be paid for gas in your car budget equation. Hybrids may also be an option for better mileage, but some cost enough extra that it could take years to recoup the upfront cost.

Are you comfortable with the exterior and interior design? A lot of thought goes in to what consumers think of a car on the outside. However, the bulk of time spent with a car occurs on the interior. That's why factors such as the quality of trim, the usability of the instrument panel, gears and controls, and the overall interior comfort level of the car needs to satisfy all occupants. Picture yourself using the vehicle for an average day to notice the little things. For instance, getting in and out of your car where you normally park at work and at home, what you listen to while driving, throwing things in the back seat or trunk and getting them out.

Is there adequate room for your weekly 'adventures'? Ensuring that there is adequate space in the vehicle is more than simply considering headroom and back comfort, not to mention ease of getting in and out. Make sure that the vehicle can accommodate passengers and whatever supplies and gear need lugging - groceries, suitcases, bicycles, garden supplies, and don't forget pets.

How does it rate for safety? Unfortunately, accidents happen. When they do, you want to know beforehand that all occupants of the car are as protected as possible. Perform your research on the safety rating of any potential vehicles you may be interested in well before you get to the car dealership. Make sure the safety research is provided by a reputable company.

What are the additional costs to consider? Most new cars and a fair amount of used cars are sold with a warranty. Before purchasing however, make sure you perform a check of the warranty's terms and a price comparison of common repairs (tires, brakes, service maintenance, etc) to see where the vehicle fits. Does this car typically incur higher insurance premiums for a good driver? Get the facts because over time, these 'extra' costs really add up.

Does the car maintain a high resale value? It is often said that a car depreciates immediately after it leaves the car lot. This becomes important if you like to trade every 2 or 3 years. Although depreciation is not a drastic as you might be led to believe, you need to take into consideration resale values when you compute the total cost of ownership. If you drive vehicles until the wheels fall off, resale obviously becomes less important, but quality becomes more important. One other word about resale value. Quality and resale value are linked but don't necessarily go hand in hand. Resale value is heavily linked to the amount of like used vehicles available in the market versus the demand. As an example, because of gas prices currently, large SUVs have a lower demand and that has affected the resale value, not the quality of those vehicles. The opposite is true for smaller vehicles, but a change in gas prices could flip that scenario.

Your goal in purchasing your next car is to end up with an asset instead of a liability. By following a few commonsense steps beforehand based on an analysis of your wants and needs, you will not only have more trust in the vehicle you select, but you will also have a greater respect and appreciation for the quality of the vehicle itself. When buying your next vehicle, listen to your head and rely on the facts and never let image alone be your only consideration. Fortunately for all vehicle buyers, there are so many choices today that it's easy to combine all your real-life requirements without sacrificing style.
About the Author
Scott Conklin is the president of Conklin Cars, a leading Kansas City, Missouri Car Dealer and provider of Kansas City Cadillacs. Conklin Cars can be found online at: http://www.conklinfangman.com
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