By Steve Jacobs
Choosing a car is one of the most important purchase decisions you make in your adult life.
For most people, it’s something they not only use every day but is an indispensable element in their lives. Therefore, it’s not a choice to make lightly. There are three main factors to consider when making the call on your next ride. Let’s talk about each in turn.
This is usually one of the main drivers (pun intended) in choosing a car. It’s also the easiest metric to determine. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates most vehicles, including gently used cars. This is a nonbiased way to see how the car you’re considering stacks up against the field.
It’s worth noting that auto safety technology has progressed dramatically in recent years, to the point where many of these features are included on some entry-level cars. These include backup cameras and sonar in the bumpers to detect nearby cars, pedestrians and potential obstacles.
How much your car will cost – especially over the course of ownership – is another essential piece of the purchasing puzzle. “You want to make sure the car you’re driving won’t be a big financial burden,” says Sean Scaturro, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM practitioner and USAA advice director.
It’s so important that USAA built a tool to determine a car’s affordability. And that total cost of a vehicle doesn’t end with the sticker price, of course. You have to factor in monthly payments – unless you pay in cash – insurance, fuel, licensing, titling and maintenance.
After considering all of this, you might decide new isn’t for you. There are plenty of benefits in owning a lightly used car. The total cost of ownership is usually more affordable, and depending on how old the vehicle is, it might be just as safe and reliable.
The X-factor in car buying. After all, how do you quantify “reliability”? Obviously, you want to make sure you don’t spend a lot of time stuck on the side of the road waiting for help to arrive because your car conked out — but that’s a low bar to pass.
Because reliability is such a variable measure, your best bet is to search online for consumer reports. Look for things like the failure rate of parts or for the frequency of breakdowns.
Or you could just ignore the idea of reliability altogether and know you’ve chosen a car that might break down more frequently, but that you got it for a good price.
“There’s a big difference between expecting something to happen versus going in without a plan,” Scaturro says. “You can plan for any expense, if needed.”
Yes, breakdowns are unfortunate, but if you have the right insurance or your car is under warranty, you can likely remain insulated to some degree from the maintenance costs.
So, to answer the question about what kind of car you should drive, the best response according to Scaturro is really “the one that ticks off most of your mandatory concerns regarding safety, affordability and reliability, and that also looks good in your favorite color.”
If you need help purchasing your next car, whether it’s new or used, visit the USAA Car Buying Service.
USAA Car Buying Service provided by TrueCar, Inc. USAA Bank receives marketing fees in connection with the Car Buying Service.
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