a family choosing a car at the dealership and taking a selfie in front of their new vehicle

If you're going to be in the market for a new (or new-to-you) vehicle soon, you may be wondering how to choose your next car. What should you consider when car shopping? What questions should you ask before you buy? Learn more about just a few of the factors to keep in mind when looking for your next vehicle.

Your Needs

For decades, most car shoppers only had a few options: a coupe, a sedan, or a truck. But today, there are dozens of models and trim options to choose from, and no one-size-fits-all vehicle for every family.

When evaluating your needs (and wants), consider what you'll be using your vehicle for the most and target your search to what will provide the most return on your investment.

For example, if you're a construction worker or weekend warrior who is always hauling mulch, lumber, and other home improvement materials, driving a truck can make sense. But if you're someone who doesn't haul anything larger than a load of groceries, it can be more cost-effective to buy a smaller vehicle. Don't end up buying more vehicle than you need!

Also, consider these factors:

  • The number of miles you typically drive in a year, and whether they're highway or city miles
  • How long you hope to keep the car
  • Whether you prefer a manual or automatic transmission
  • How much you're able to spend per month
  • How many passengers you generally have (and their ages)
  • Whether you regularly haul equipment, tools, or other bulky items

What it comes down to when choosing your next car is what is most important to you!

Once you have a better idea of some of your must-haves (and can-do-withouts), you'll be able to narrow down the candidates for a test drive.

Your Budget

Budget is one of the chief considerations when shopping for a vehicle. Your auto budget will be dictated by factors such as your monthly cash flow, credit score, and insurance history. 

But, with the average price of a new vehicle now exceeding $40,000, few buyers can afford to pay in cash. In most cases, you'll need to take out an auto loan or use another form of credit (like a home equity loan or line of credit). With 72- and even 84-month terms available, along with historically low interest rates, it's easier than ever to get an affordable auto loan. 

But you want to think about the length of the loan in relation to the car you are purchasing. A longer term may not be the best option if you're purchasing a used vehicle that already has some wear and tear. It may be worth reducing your budget a bit (or finding other areas to cut) so you can pay your vehicle off more quickly and begin saving for your next one.

There are a variety of online car loan calculators available that can help you determine your minimum and maximum spend, tweaking factors such as the total borrowed, the interest rate, the term, any down payment or trade-in value, and other factors. Chartway Credit Union’s online calculator is a good place to start!

Total Cost of Ownership

Your vehicle payment is only part of the finance puzzle. You have to consider the total cost of ownership.

When choosing your next car, think about the total cost of owning your vehicle over its lifetime—particularly when it comes to maintenance, repairs, and gas. Some vehicles are more expensive to work on than others; some are more reliable than others; some get better gas mileage than others.

Do your research when choosing your next car. Reading auto-reviewing publications such as Consumer Reports can give you a better idea of how much you can expect to pay in ongoing costs for a particular vehicle.

To Lease or To Buy?

Both leasing a car and buying one comes with advantages and disadvantages. The right choice will depend on your circumstances.

Generally, leasing is better if:

  • You don't drive many miles per year (since most leases have mileage limits with a per-mile charge if you exceed it)
  • You enjoy driving new or nearly new vehicles
  • You tend to get a new vehicle once every few years
  • You don't want to be financially responsible for vehicle repairs

Buying can be a savvier decision when:

  • You usually keep your vehicles for years
  • You drive more than 12,000 to 15,000 per year
  • You want to get rid of your monthly auto payment (eventually)
  • You're willing to cover maintenance and repair costs

If you're waffling between the two options, you don't necessarily have to choose. You may be able to purchase a nearly new, formerly leased vehicle at a discount, or you can opt to purchase your own leased vehicle at the end of the lease term.

Choose Your Next Car: The Test Drive

When it comes right down to it, even the best-on-paper vehicle might not provide you with an enjoyable driving experience. There could be unexpected blind spots, an uncomfortable headrest, or steering wheel controls that just don't seem intuitive. It's important to get some experience behind the wheel of your new vehicle before you commit to it.

Today, many dealerships offer overnight test drives or, for serious shoppers, may even allow you to take a car home for the weekend. This can be a great way to get an idea of how the vehicle handles in a variety of situations, from a routine trip to the grocery store to an interstate commute. 

And if your dealership can't swing that option, you may even be able to inexpensively rent a vehicle for a day or two just to get a good feel for it. After all, the best way to choose your next car is to drive it!

No matter how you choose your next car, the vehicle you pick should be a car you feel comfortable in physically, emotionally, and financially. And if you have a family that you will be driving around, it’s more important than ever that you make the right choice.

Let Chartway Credit Union help you pick the best car for you and your family.  If you're ready to begin researching your next car, look no further! 

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