Which car should I buy?

Gauges on the dashboard of a car

I’ve been into cars my whole life. If I could sell my long-gone childhood Hot Wheels collection, I’d be a rich man.

My idea of fun reading is a car magazine. I love learning about a vehicle’s performance, design, value, and how it stands up against the competition. As a result of a lifetime of study, I know a lot about cars. I may not be able to diagnose why your car won’t start, but I can tell you which vehicle is the best in the class you’re considering.

I’ve never formally been a car salesperson. But I’ve recommended cars to many friends over the years.

Here are some of my favorite tips…

  1. Skip the lease. If you buy a car, you’ll save a lot in the long run by buying a lesser model for the same as the lease payments for a fancier model. “But I’d have a monthly payment anyway,” is not a good argument when you consider where you’ll be at the end of the lease – having to start again compared to having a paid-for car. Better yet, keep driving your old beast and save up to pay cash.
  2. What’s your primary use? If you’re going to live in the mountains with serious snow to plow through every day for months, then all-wheel drive is a good option. If you spend the vast majority of your time driving around town and live in a place that gets snow, a good set of snow tires and front-wheel drive will get you to your destination 99% of the time.
  3. If you’re buying from Craigslist, be sure to take the vehicle you’re seriously considering to a reputable shop nearby to have a mechanic check it over. That could save you thousands in repair costs. The shop may turn up a serious problem you won’t see.
  4. Make sure it has a clean title. If the used vehicle you like has a salvage title, you’ll save upfront but you’ll never recoup the difference when you later try to sell it.
  5. Reliability makes a big difference five years down the road. Spend $10 on a month-long membership to Consumer Reports and find their ratings on the model you’re considering. You’ll discover, for example, that the Mazda CX-5 has much better ratings than the Hyundai Tucson.
  6. Make sure it runs on the lowest octane. 30¢ a gallon adds up to a lot of money over the course of a year. (If you’re considering an electric car, this obviously does not apply.)
  7. Finally, have fun. I’ve shared many practical considerations. But it’s worth spending a little more for a vehicle you’ll enjoy.

Disclaimers: I am not judging you if you lease your vehicle! And as with many things, do as I say, not as I do… one of our two vehicles has all-wheel drive. (The other, however, has front-wheel drive with snow tires – and it works great in the snow.)


The dashboard photo is courtesy of Claude Gabriel on Unsplash and is used with permission.

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