Final thoughts (and a handy worksheet for finding your next car)
Before you head off to the far corners of the internet to search for your next vehicle, I have a few parting words of advice. And for those of you who are still unsure about what sort of vehicle to purchase, I’ve also developed a very simple worksheet to guide you to your next car, crossover, truck, SUV, or minivan.
Parting tip #1: Don’t buy what you don’t need
If you’re purchasing a brand-new vehicle, visit the automaker’s website, click on the model that interests you, and customize it. You may be surprised by the number of add-ons and options available, from larger wheels to luggage racks to cargo nets that hold your groceries in place.
Before you shell out for any of those upgrades, ask yourself whether you’re really going to use them. Some may come in in handy, depending on your lifestyle. For example, if you’re a camper, you’ll probably appreciate a roof rack. Others may be less useful down the road. Two add-ons that I tend to pooh-pooh are:
Pricey factory stereos: If a car stereo really, really matters to you, why would you spend money on a high-end system from an automaker when you can probably get something better and cheaper from an aftermarket shop? Yes, buying and installing it will require a few extra hours, maybe even a couple of days, but if you’re going to own this vehicle for the better part of a decade, it’ll be time well spent.
In-car wifi: If you have kids, and if they’re as addicted to iPhones and tablets as my nephews are, it may make sense to sign up for in-car wifi, which generally requires a monthly subscription with a broadband provider like AT&T or Verizon. But do a little homework first: you may already have the ability to set up a wifi hotspot using your mobile device. If so, why not use it, since you’re already paying for it?
Parting tip #2: Take the damn thing for a spin
Believe it or not, plenty of shoppers are perfectly content to buy a car without driving it around the block a few times. I hope you’re not one of them–especially if you’re purchasing a used vehicle.
I mean, yes, I understand the temptation. Maybe you’re so smitten with a car’s appearance, you’re ready to take it home without getting to know it first. That’s approach works fine on Scruff, but not at the dealership. This isn’t an NSA hookup, it’s a long-term commitment. Would you treat marriage so lightly? (If you’re the current president of the U.S., don’t answer that.)
You may also think, “What do I know about cars? I’m not going to be able to tell much from a test drive. I don’t know what to look for!” But you do, Blanche, you do.
Start by taking a seat–the driver’s seat. Is it comfortable? Do you feel cramped? Does the seat swaddle your tuchus like a gentle lover, or is it more like being trapped in a dom daddy’s dungeon (in a bad way)? Do you have enough headroom and legroom? How about folks in the passenger’s seat and those in the back? Would it be comfortable on a three-hour road trip? How about a 12-hour road trip? To Disney World? With the kids?
Start it up and see how it drives. Is it easy to steer? When you punch the gas, does it stall for a moment before taking off? If so, that could be what’s called “turbo lag”, when the turbocharger (see “Choosing the right engine”) is ramping up power. Is it easy to see out of the car from all angles? Are there any blind spots that seem unusually large? Can you navigate your way through the stereo system without cursing? Does your phone sync up (if you’re into that kind of thing)?
Keep in mind that you may notice some of these things simply because they’re different from the car you currently drive. Like friends and friends-with-benefits, every vehicle is unique, and we adapt to new ones over time. Try to distinguish between the things that are simply different and those that are going to drive you bonkers over the long haul.
One worksheet to rule them all (and help you find a car)
Some people know exactly what kind of car they want to buy before they start shopping. If you’re in that number, (a) congrats, and (b) this worksheet won’t do much for you. Even if that Mazda Miata isn’t a good fit for your lifestyle, it’s going to make you happy, and happiness counts for a lot. Enjoy it.
On the other hand, if you’re less certain about what’s best for you, this worksheet can help point you in the right direction. Answer these simple questions, and you’ll have a better idea of what to look for in your next vehicle.
1. How would you describe your household?
1. I fly solo, bro.
2. I live with a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/sisterwives.
3. My partner and I have kids.
4. I’m a single parent, like Bonnie Franklin but with better hair.
2. Where do you live?
1. Downtown, Petula, downtown.
2. In the city, but it’s not especially cramped. You know, hipstery, but not that hipstery.
3. In the ‘burbs with the big-box shops.
4. Miles from where anyone can hear me scream. Which is fine because I’m kind of a screamer.
3. Do you use your car for work?
1. Nah, I prefer walking/biking/taking the train/telecommuting.
2. I commute, but I usually leave my car parked until I’m ready to head home.
3. I travel a lot for work, so my car is an extension of my office.
4. Dude, my car is my office.
4. Any pets?
2. One or two.
3. My friends call me “The Zookeeper”.
4. I prefer to think of them as “four-legged roommates”.
5. What do you do on weekends?
1. Netflix and chill. Or PornHub and chill. Whatever. Don’t judge.
2. I run errands, mostly.
3. I get out of town whenever I can.
4. I feel like a Lyft driver.
6. Describe an average vacation (not you ideal vacation).
1. I fly somewhere, or maybe I take the train/bus.
2. You mean “staycation”, right?
3. I take a roadtrip to a nearby city or an amusement park–something within a day’s drive.
4. I get as far away from humankind as possible: the mountains, the beach, Camp Sleepaway, anywhere.
7. How important is fuel economy to you?
1. It’s at the very top of the list.
2. It’s important, but I wouldn’t say that it’s the most important.
3. Feh, if I get more than 20 mpgs, I’m happy.
4. Scott Pruitt is my hero.
8. How important is having an eco-friendly car to you?
1. Very important. Anything to cut down on pollutants, right?
2. I’d love something like a hybrid, so long as it’s not going to cost much more than a conventional car.
3. Sorry, but I’m not sacrificing comfort for the sake of polar bears.
4. What about “Scott Pruitt is my hero” didn’t you understand?
9. How tech-savvy are you?
1. I code for a living. print (‘w00t!’);
2. I keep up with tech news and stuff, but I’m not a nerd about it.
3. I can play Candy Crush. Does that count?
4. Look, just show me how to watch Matlock.
10. You’re traveling to a foreign country. Which do you pack first?
1. My passport, obviously. Yeesh.
2. My phone so I can call friends from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
3. My toiletries. I hate using hotel toothpaste.
4. Money, because everybody speaks the language of cash.
Tally your score using the numbers of your responses. For example, if you chose answer 1 for question #1 and answer 3 for question #2, that would count for 4 points.
Based on your score, here are some suggestions for your next vehicle. Take ’em or leave ’em.
10 – 17 — Compact car/crossover
Let’s be honest: you don’t need much of a car in your life. Sure, you need one to get around now and then, but there’ll probably be times when it sits in your driveway, in the garage, or on the street for days at a time. It ought to be dependable, but you’d rather it didn’t cost more than necessary, since it’s a fairly small part of your life. A compact car or crossover will take up less space, use less fuel, and if you keep up with oil changes and such, it may cost less to maintain, too.
18 – 25 — Midsize car/crossover
Smaller vehicles might turn your head, but TBH, you need something a little bigger. You use your vehicle regularly for getting yourself and others around town, and you’re no stranger to schlepping. A midsize vehicle, whether it’s a car or crossover, will give you the interior room you need while also allowing you to save some of your pay at the pump. Sounds like a win-win, no?
26 – 33 — Minivan
You spend a lot of time in your car, moving people and things across the subdivision, across town, and occasionally across state lines. You need a vehicle that’s comfortable and practical, but you’d also like something that isn’t going to cost an arm and a leg to maintain. Have you considered a minivan? The current crop are much more stylish than those of years past, and they’ll give you serious cred with daddy/mommy chasers.
34 – 40 — SUV or pickup
You were made for the road. You’re on a first-name basis with your car and your mechanic. You get huffy if someone’s using your favorite bay at the car wash when you pull in for a super-deluxe special. The last thing you think about before bed is your odometer reading. Your current vehicle is like a second home–or at least a second living room–and as you look for a new one, you’re prepared for an auto loan that rivals the size of your mortgage. And you’re okay with that. Nothing’s too good for you–or your driveway.