Choosing the Right Car for Your Lifestyle

For anyone who is in the market for a new car, or at least a car that’s new to them, there are a number of factors to consider. Budget is obviously a major factor, but there are other necessary considerations as well. Who will be driving the car? Will the car be used only for making city trips and daily commutes to work, or will it be taken out on highway road trips? Taking these and other factors into account make it easier to choose the right car.

Which Car Is a Good Lifestyle Fit?

Lifestyle plays a major role in choosing a car. For instance, a traveling salesperson will want a vehicle with great gas mileage, such as the Honda Civic or a hybrid like the Toyota Prius. Soccer moms and dads need cars that can handle lots of people and gear, like a Kia Soul or a Ford Fusion Hybrid. Families with teen drivers should opt for reliable, midsize cars loaded with safety features like lane departure warning and automatic emergency braking, such as the Buick Encore or Chevrolet Trax.

Lease or Buy?

Leasing a car carries both pros and cons. Leasing requires less investment up front and often carries lower monthly payments than buying. Leases usually run only for a few years, which allow lessees to drive newer cars that are covered under factory warranty. The downside to leasing is that at the end of a lease, there is no car to drive or trade in. In addition, drivers who put excessive miles on the car may be penalized by the terms of the lease.

By contrast, buying a car allows owners to drive as much as they want, anywhere they choose. Once a car note is paid off, ownership is free and clear. Overall expenses are often lower for buyers who keep their cars for at least a few years.

Buying a New Car

New cars have a number of advantages — beginning with that wonderful “new car smell.” New cars also carry comprehensive warranty protection. However, nearly all car buyers will require a loan to purchase a new car, even with a healthy down payment and a trade-in.

In calculating car expenses, the monthly payment is only the beginning. Insurance for your vehicle, registration, maintenance and repairs, parking and (of course) fuel must also be accounted for. As a rule of thumb, the total cost of owning a car should not exceed 20 percent of monthly take-home pay. It’s also usually not advisable to take out more than a 60-month car loan, especially for buyers who don’t want to keep their cars that long.

Strategies for Buying a Used Car

If the numbers don’t add up for purchasing a new car, buying a used car is a sensible solution. While it may be tempting to grab the cheapest used car advertised on sites like Craigslist, that’s not a smart strategy on multiple levels. First, a car that is too old lacks many important safety features and may be difficult to insure. Second, purchasing from a private seller leaves buyers vulnerable to scams, with fewer protections available than for buyers who do business with established dealerships or legitimate online vendors.

A smarter strategy is to budget for the newest car with the most safety features available. Research aspects like make and model, mileage, and available options of various models through to get an idea of fair market value for specific cars. Good sites to consult include, Kelley Blue Book and Consumer Reports. Buyers of used cars should also investigate the history of any car they are considering, along with insisting on a thorough inspection by a licensed mechanic before spending a dime. If sellers balk at these requests, buyers should run — not walk — away from the deal.

Of course, most used cars do not carry dealer or manufacturer warranty. Purchasing a car service contract is a wise investment. The money spent on an extended warranty is money that used car buyers don’t have to spend on expensive repairs from accidents or breakdowns on the road.

Is It a Lemon?

Approximately 1 percent (or 150,000 new cars sold every year) qualify as “lemons” — cars that are always in the shop with problems that are never really fixed.  The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act provides federal protections for purchasers for new cars that turn out to be lemons. Each state and the District of Columbia has its own version of a lemon law. Most state lemon laws but some state laws cover used cars — especially cars that have remaining warranty coverage.

Making the Final Decision

Budget, lifestyle and safety are all important factors in choosing a new or used car. While new cars are covered by warranty, a car service contract provides protection for buyers of used cars. Performing due diligence can also guard against purchasing a car with multiple accidents or falling victim to a scam. If a car does turn out to be a lemon, lemon laws may offer protection. Ultimately, the right car is one that works for the buyer’s pocketbook and the way they drive.