For most people, buying a new vehicle is a big deal. Not only does it represent a significant expense, but it’s something you’re likely to become dependent on because you use it nearly every day.
That’s why choosing the right kind of vehicle for your needs is so important. And as you shop, there are a lot of factors to consider and a number of models to compare.
So what factors do U.S. shoppers consider most important when buying a car? Clearly, it’s not all about being practical. A recent survey by J.D. Power pointed to the following, in order: expected reliability; exterior styling; previous experience with the brand or model; reputation/reviews; ride and handling; price and payment options; safety and fuel economy (tied); quality of workmanship and four-wheel or all-wheel drive capacity.
“Emotion often trumps logic,” notes Jared Gall in Car and Driver. “But for many buyers, a car is a rational choice; they buy what they need to transport themselves and their loved ones as safely, comfortably and cheaply as possible. It’s a smarter way to buy, but it isn’t any easier. With more than 400 new cars to choose from, how do you pick the right one?”
The answer to that question depends entirely on your needs, preferences and budget. Here are a few guidelines to help you think through aspects beyond spending capacity.
Choose Your Body Style
The choices are coupes, convertibles, sedans, station wagons, crossovers, SUVs and trucks.
In general, coupes and convertibles come in the flashiest designs; they’re often favored by single people who don't need a lot of space, as their backseats are nonexistent or very limited, and storage is minimal.
Families and seniors tend to prefer four-door sedans because they’re typically roomy and easy to enter and exit, especially with car seats.
Hatchbacks and station wagons may not always be stylish, but their storage space can come in handy; they’re often considered fuel-efficient versions of SUVs.
SUVs and crossovers offer extra ground clearance for consumers living in rugged climes. You can also expect a higher seating position for better visibility and easy entrances and exits, but fuel efficiency is seldom optimal and they’re often not as comfortable as minivans.
Minivans are a popular choice for families and others who routinely haul five or more people and/or their accoutrements.
Trucks offer some of the strongest, most durable engines available in consumer vehicles, and also drive well in tough climes. The trade-off is fuel efficiency. They work well for those who do a lot of hauling, and many now offer backseats for families.
Consider Preferred Size
While this choice will, of course, depend on the size of your body, your family and/or your typical passengers, you should also consider that lighter cars usually cost less, offer more agile steering in difficult driving conditions, are more fuel efficient and show more environmental consciousness. Further, cars with small bodies are no longer necessarily small inside.
Think About Your Terrain
This will have a huge impact on how your vehicle will perform. Do you most often drive on the highway, city streets or dirt roads? If dirt roads, how often will you face inclement weather? Will you face rush-hour traffic that requires frequent stopping and starting and agile steering? Note that four-wheel drive will provide added traction as you accelerate, but it doesn’t enhance your ability to stop or turn.
Weigh the Value of Safety
Those hauling family members around may opt for newer or more expensive cars with more cutting-edge safety features just to maintain peace of mind.
Does Your Choice Align with Your Values
Like it or not, your car of choice tends to make a statement about who you are as a person. As such, you might consider whether you wish to buy American, whether you prefer a flashy or conservative style, and whether you wish to drive a hybrid or other environmentally friendly model.
Still in doubt? The more research you can conduct online or otherwise, the easier it will be to choose the vehicle that fits you just right.
“In too many cases people choose a car for its styling or because it is a trendy favorite,” advises a recent article in Entrepreneur. “If you do, you might either exceed your budget or have to go car shopping again soon. Let your needs, not your wants, drive your decision.”