A checklist for finding the right car for you

With the swelling number of choices in the automotive market, the common consumer can be inundated with models and makes enough to make their head spin. Consequently, the friendly and thoughtful folks at AAA have come up with a checklist to help car buyers identify the right vehicle for their budget and lifestyle.

For most of us, our automobile is our second largest asset and one that should not be taken on lightly. But which car is right for you? Do you want a commuter or a crossover? A hatchback or sedan? An SUV or a truck?

Today's consumers have more choices than ever when it comes to picking a new vehicle, but that also means the selection process can be much more difficult," said John Nielsen, AAA National Director of Auto Buying, Repair and Consumer Information. "There are a myriad of factors to consider, many of which take place long before a buyer ever hits a car lot."

Here is a list to help you narrow your choices:

Define Affordable. Before picking any specific makes or models, sit down with the household budget and determine what’s affordable before shopping. Consider trade-in value and how much you want to put down on the vehicle. Check your finance options. Search online to get an estimate of insurance premiums on the vehicle you’re considering. Do the math and crunch the numbers to see how much you can afford without overextending.

Evaluate Lifestyle. Take a look at how you’ll use the vehicle. What kind of trips will it be used for most often? How many passengers do you need to carry? Will you make long commutes with highway driving? How much cargo space do you need?

List Needed Features. Make a list of the features the vehicle should include, carefully separating wants and needs. What is the minimum fuel economy acceptable? When making the list, consider coming needs, not just those of today. Are children in the future? Could your commute grow longer?

The Cost of Depreciation. The biggest yearly expense to new cars is depreciation. Research how much the models you’re considering depreciate the first few years and consider one that holds its value longer.

New or Used. Look at pricing on both new vehicles and those one to three years old. There are benefits to both new and slightly used models. New vehicles come with longer warranties or incentives, have the latest features and are widely available in an assortment of colors. A used vehicle might offer a price break, but it could be more difficult to find just what you’re looking for and it won’t have manufacturer incentives.

Warranty and Maintenance Costs. Review the warranties of the vehicles considered and what is covered. What is the maintenance cost of the car according to its recommended schedule? What is the price of the needed services. If you have a trusted mechanic, ask them about any issues associated with the models you’re considering.

Safety Ratings and Features. Check the safety ratings at SaferCar.gov and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) at IIHS.org/Ratings. Evaluate the safety features available on each model. If using a car seat for a child, check out how easy it is to access the vehicle's LATCH system and install a car seat.

Recommendations and Reviews. Ask friends, family and resources like TorqueNews.com about vehicles. Read professional reviews as well as feedback from current owners of the models considered found on web forums.

Don't Limit Choice. Narrow it down to two or three vehicles meeting all your criteria, but do not select only one. Through flexibility, buyers have more negotiating room and a better chance of finding the best possible price.

If you follow these guidelines in picking out your next car, the chances of a long and lasting automotive rapport are much, much greater.

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