The Supreme Guide To Finding Out What Car You Should Buy
Car manufacturers today offer a dizzying amount of models and body styles aimed at a wide range of buyers, but with so many options what type of car do you actually need and why?
We can't tell you what to buy specifically, but we can get you to ask the right questions to find out what is important to you in a vehicle and to make sure it suits your lifestyle.
What are you going to use it for? It's a simple question many car buyers overlook. It's easy to have a gut reaction and say you'll need something big like an SUV with 4WD because it snows in your town and you like to take the occasional road trip.
However, It's a common pitfall for people to picture everything they do in a year and pick a vehicle that can handle anything life throws at them when 99% of their drives are going to work or running errands with no one in the backseat.
So start asking yourself questions like: Am I okay paying more in gas for something less efficient? How often are people in my backseat? How comfortable do I want to be every drive? Is getting something practical or exciting more important? Is getting a certain brand important to me?
With those questions in mind let's start from the largest vehicles and narrow it down to answer the question "What car should I buy?"
Should I buy an SUV?
SUVs are the true do-it-all vehicle, but keep in mind they are high in demand and you'll be paying a premium to own one. Add on the extra gas consumption compared to a standard sedan and the cost can start to add up.
That being said, no other vehicle on the market can be loaded up with 8 people, their luggage and tow a 7,000 pound trailer at the same time. Plus the high seat height is nice, SUVs tend to be quite comfortable and most have 4WD or AWD and can get to some gnarly places if necessary.
If you only occasionally need an SUV consider going with a cheaper vehicle and renting an SUV for road trips. Chances are the gas savings alone will pay for the rental on its own.
Should I Buy A Truck?
Pickup trucks are very close in spirit to SUVs, but chances are if you need (or just want) a pickup, you're not looking at other vehicle types. Nothing else can tow or get loaded up like a truck, so if you're going that route your only real question is size.
Big trucks are fun, but think about how easily you want to find a spot in parking lots or on the street. Also, if you have a garage, you might want to break out the measuring tape and ensure it will fit before you sign any paperwork.
Also think about what you are towing. Do you need a bunch of towing features and over 1,000 ft lbs of torque to tow your 400-lb fishing boat to the lake once a month? Mid-sized trucks like Toyota Tacomas or Chevrolet Colorados are often great choices for people that need some towing power but won't make five-point turns into a nightmare while still giving that high seat height with some better fuel economy.
But if your fishing boat is 8,000 pounds and not 400, you'll want to go full sized. Plus if you don't live in a city and want something more comfortable, a full-size pickup will offer a plusher ride, have more features and can just straight up carry more stuff.
Not to mention full-sized trucks aren't much more than mid-sized examples. There's no right or wrong answer here.
If you are set on a truck, your next question should be diesel or gas. You can skip down to that section here.
4WD vs RWD Trucks
In general, we recommend just grabbing a 4WD truck as they have better resale value and are more capable in bad weather. That being said, if you don't live in an area with crappy weather or plan on offroading, a RWD truck will work for you just fine - you might even save some money on the purchase!
Should I Buy A Minivan?
Some of you might groan considering one, but they're worth talking about if you have kids - the dreaded minivan. As cool as an SUV or crossover might be compared to a minivan, when your kids start whipping open the doors in a crowded parking lot like giving door dings is a sport, those minivan sliding doors start to look good.
Add in that minivans sip less fuel compared to SUVs, are often cheaper overall and don't require kids crawling over the second row to get to the back, they aren't bad choices.
If you have kids and you value practicality more than everything else, the minivan is king.
Should I Buy A Crossover?
If you can't handle the minivan (or don't have kids), don't need an SUV but want the boxy look with some extra space compared to a sedan and would prefer having AWD or 4WD, you'll want to look at crossovers.
Crossovers get their name as they are a "cross" between SUVs and sedans as they are usually based on sedan platforms, but have larger more SUV-like bodies. With that larger body size, crossovers will (sometimes) come with larger engines than their sedan siblings and have higher towing capabilities with some ground clearance to boot.
A crossover is a good mix for a do-it-all vehicle that doesn't weigh over 5,000 pounds, still gets adequate gas mileage and offers a high seating position.
Crossovers are also easy to get in and out of for those of us that often find SUV or sedan seats too high or low.
The downside to crossovers is that while they are jacks of all trades, they are masters of none. They have decent fuel economy, but will never compete with sedans, they have competent cargo space, but not as much as SUVs and will struggle traversing anything beyond a forest service road.
That being said, if you occasionally need to load up your vehicle, like a higher seating position and want the added security of AWD, a crossover might be the right choice for you.
Should I Buy A Wagon?
Despite their bad rep to non-car enthusiasts, they get similar fuel economy results to sedans, have just as much cargo capacity as crossovers and offer a nimbler driving experience due to their smaller size.
While they lack the ground clearance or ride height of a crossover, chances are if you need those extra inches for the type of driving you do, you shouldn't be in a crossover anyways.
The market as a whole doesn't buy wagons so you can usually get a good price on one.
Should I Buy A Sedan?
Taking another size step down from wagons you have sedans. If you just want a car to get you around reliably and without breaking the bank on fuel costs or price with the ability to carry four people, look no further.
They obviously aren't as capable or versatile as the larger vehicles on the road, but if the majority of your drives are solo and you don't find yourself navigating snowy mountain passes or filling your trunk regularly, this is likely your best option.
Should I Buy A Coupe?
Now coupes get a little more complicated as they lean a bit sportier than their sedan counterparts, but offer similar specs and equipment. Sure the Honda Civic coupe will weigh a bit less than the sedan version (and look better for our money), but it's still a Civic designed to be fuel efficient and affordable. A coupe might get slightly better fuel economy for shaving some weight off, but whether that's worth it for less practicality is up to you.
Should I Buy A Sports Car?
Like a truck, if you want a sports car, you probably didn't cross shop anything else. There are a million questions to consider when purchasing a sports car, but if you're buying a car for fun, the most important factor is if you get excited by the idea of owning it.
A sports car should be an emotional purchase, if you try to make it a logical one, you wouldn't be buying a sports car. Even if you find the best sports car on paper, if you don't love it, you probably won't keep it around too long.
Things like how much horsepower, weight, style are all preferences we can't help you answer. The best advice we can give here is to drive a few examples. If you like power and comfort, look into muscle cars or sportier luxury sedans or coupes. If the idea of diving into corners excites you, we'd recommend something light and RWD. If you just want some performance without sacrificing too much to get it, look at cars like the GTI, WRX or Focus ST.
Now that you have an idea what type of car fits your lifestyle, it's time to narrow down what options and features you'll want to have.
AWD vs FWD
Most buyers will be looking at cars that offer all-wheel drive (AWD) or front-wheel drive (FWD). We'll briefly go over the pros of these systems and you can decide which one works for you.
Price: AWD cars usually cost $2k-$3k more than their FWD counterparts.
Fuel economy: AWD cars need more power to move as the engine is moving more components and the extra parts increase the total weight. This is usually a 2 mpg difference.
Simplicity: With fewer moving parts there are fewer things to break.
Better acceleration in all conditions: With twice the amount of tires to share the load to accelerate, AWD is easily the better performer on snow and concrete.
Is Front Wheel Drive Good In The Snow?
It's important to keep in mind that if you want a vehicle to tackle snow on a regular basis your tires will be more impactful than how many tires your engine is moving.
Of course a car with four wheels digging into the snow is more effective than two, but a FWD car with winter tires will outperform a AWD car with all-seasons in the snow as AWD only helps you accelerate, while good winter tires help you accelerate, brake and turn.
That being said, if you want the ultimate cold-weather performer, an AWD or 4WD car with winter tires can't be beat.
Hybrid vs Gas Cars
If you are trying to decide whether you should get a hybrid or not, here are some things to consider.
First, hybrids will get better gas mileage. While that's surprising exactly nobody, you will pay a premium to own a hybrid as they are more expensive from the factory. Chances are you are looking at a hybrid to save money, so you should make sure you will still come out ahead in the long run if you drop $1k-$3k more on the hybrid version of a car.
Also think about where you will charge it. For people with garages it's an easy answer, but if you park in a lot or on the street, you will need to plan ahead or buy a couple extension cords.
Likewise consider how much more complicated hybrids are compared to gas-only cars. With more moving pieces and technology come more things that can fail. Hybrids are very reliable nowadays, but it is something to consider.
That being said the Prius regularly wins reliability awards, so just because a machine isn't simple doesn't always mean it's not reliable.
If you are considering an electric car, look at this infographic we made here.
Diesel vs Gas Cars
If you can choose between a gas or diesel vehicle, chances are you're looking at a truck or commuter car.
In general, diesel engines use less fuel, make way more power at low revs and have a higher up-front cost.
For trucks the biggest benefit is the ability to tow bigger and heavier things. There's a reason just about every semi truck has a diesel engine. Even if you find a gas-powered truck that can tow well, the engine will be making a racket on the highway working much harder than a similar diesel engine would be.
While tow ratings usually don't matter with cars, diesels still get better fuel mileage and are great at scooting away from a stop with that low-range power. Just keep in mind if you go diesel, it's usually the more expensive option at the gas station and you'll need to take it to a diesel mechanic.
In Europe where diesels are common, diesel is often cheaper than gas and finding a mechanic that can work on the cars is easy, both of which are often not the case here in America.
If you can find a reliable diesel that sips fuel at a rate where the higher fill-up cost is worth it, you should have a great car.
What Type Of Transmission Should I Get?
In general a manual transmission is going to offer the most control over your vehicle and require the most work. A basic torque-converter automatic is going to offer middle-ground performance, fuel economy but good reliability.
A dual-clutch transmission (DCT) and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) are relatively new advances in automatic cars that each have their own strengths. The CVT is going to offer the best fuel economy while a DCT is going to be more enjoyable to drive with its rapid gear shifts.
CVTs have come a long way and there are plenty of excellent cars with the transmission, but some people don't enjoy them. If you are one of those people we have a list of every car without a CVT.
What Type Of Cars Have Cheap Insurance?
Determining your insurance rate involves a lot of factors such as your age, gender, location, income etc. While some of that is out of your control, you can choose a vehicle that traditionally brings lower insurance rates.
Here is a table from Policygenius covering the average yearly cost for different types of cars that draws info from an AAA study you can find here.
Of course your mileage may vary when you start reaching out for quotes and understand these are just averages, but just because you think a car will be cheap to insure does not mean it will be.
We recommend you get a quote before you buy. You can potentially be in for a rude awakening if your insurance is quoted at a much higher rate than you thought it would be.
Car Safety Features
Just about every modern car has ABS, traction control and airbags, but if you want more safety features than just the basics here are some options to look out for.
Blind spot sensors: A simple piece of technology that can make driving easier every day. If a car is in your blind spot, a light on your mirror will illuminate, warning you and will beep if you turn on your indicator in that direction. Instead of taking your eyes off the road to check your blind spots manually, the sensors do the work for you.
Lane Keeping aides: If you start drifting out of your lane a car with Lane Departure Warning will make a noise warning you, if you have the next level of this system, Lane Keeping Assist, it will steer or brake just enough to keep you straight.
Automatic Emergency Braking: Exactly as it sounds, the car's computer will smash the brakes for you if it detects a probable impact. Even if you are paying attention, the computer can often start braking before your foot can get on the pedal, giving you precious moments of extra braking in an emergency.
Adaptive Cruise Control: A safety feature and a luxury rolled into one. If you turn on your cruise control the computer in your car will regulate your speed with the flow of traffic. Perfect for long stretches of busy highway, plus it will hit the brakes for you if it detects a sudden slowdown.
While this technology used to only be found on luxury cars, it can now be found on a variety of cars from just about every manufacturer. But there's more to safety than just technology, car color is a factor as well.
What Car Color Should I Get?
First, you should buy the color you like, but there is more to a car's color than just preference.
White, black and silver are the most popular car colors in the world in that order.
Statistically you'll probably be buying a white car which despite being the popular choice is a good thing. White cars are easy to keep clean, they hide scratches and are the safest car color to own according to this study.
Silver cars aren't much different from white cars, but black cars have the opposite problems. Scratches stand out, dirt and streaks are very visible, they get hot quicker in the sun and are the most likely to get into an accident.
Despite the extra work a black car brings, there is no other color that looks as menacing or effortlessly cool as a black car. For some people that may be worth it.
Other colors fall somewhere in the middle.
What Features Do I Want In A Car?
In general, if you want a "nicer" car, you'll want to shell out for a higher trim level or a more luxurious brand like Lexus, BMW or Infiniti. With those higher-end brands you'll get a nicer interior, more options, usually a more powerful engine and a higher price to go with it all.
Now extra features like heated and cooled seats, keyless entry and heated steering wheels are nice, but are also extra parts that can fail and need repairing. More expensive car brands come with more expensive repair bills as well, for some people those luxurious are worth paying for.
However, there are plenty of well-priced cars that have some luxuries and don't carry big price tags.
For you that could be a sunroof and heated seats. Someone else might want a backup camera, leather seats and Apple CarPlay. Whatever your wants are in car features, establish them and cross vehicles off your shopping list that don't have them.
The Most Important Piece Of Advice
Buy the car you want to buy. Ideally you'll find a car that you like and fits your lifestyle, but as much as we weigh spec sheets and read reviews, cars are emotional purchases. You can find the perfect vehicle on paper, but if you can't stand to look at it or wish you had bought something else, you won't enjoy it.
By now you should have a solid idea of what type of car you should buy. Your next step is to do more research! Look up models in your price range, read reviews and look up common problems on carcomplaints.com.
You can also give us a call at (913) 295-9300 and we can help you find exactly what you're looking for no matter your state! You can look at our inventory here.
When you finally see your potential car in person, look at our used-car checklist to make sure you're not buying a lemon!