Step 2: Choosing the Right Car
Once you know your vehicle needs you can accurately identify the right vehicle type.
If you're like most car shoppers, there's probably have a wide range of vehicles you’re considering that suit both your various needs and, perhaps, your different moods. Do you think that a luxury sedan sure would be comfy on your daily commute, but a pickup truck would come in handy for those weekend trips to the home improvement store? How about a cute coupe like the one your co-worker says is so much fun to drive? On the other hand, you really do like to sit up higher to get a better view of the road ahead. So which type of car is right for you? Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each.
It's the broadest category of all vehicle types and even if you are sure you want a "car" versus another vehicle type, the vehicles fitting this definition are all over the map. Perhaps the easiest way to narrow down your choices in the "car" category is to start with price, though even with that criteria your choices in body style will likely remain wide, especially if you are open to buying a new, used or certified pre-owned car. Cars come with fixed-roofs or convertibles, and generally with two or four doors plus a trunk or a hatchback/wagon design, which means a very wide range of shapes and sizes. The vast array of shapes and sizes is probably the car category's biggest advantage—you can find something to suit almost everyone's tastes and budget. Most modern cars seat a maximum of five occupants, however, so if you have to transport a larger group you'll need to look elsewhere. Cars have a lower ride height, which can be viewed as either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on personal driving preferences, but they are generally the easiest vehicles to park. Finally, while cars are typically seen as offering minimal cargo capacity, the midsize and larger models actually have remarkable flexibility for hauling things. In some cases cars can be more effective than SUVs or CUVs (crossover utility vehicles) at transporting items, so don't dismiss the car category from your consideration list if you need moderate cargo-carrying capability but want to avoid buying a large vehicle.
What used to be a small category of behemoth people-haulers has morphed into a wide range of vehicles that, in some cases, look more like cars and in other cases look more like the traditional SUVs of the past. If you are considering an SUV/CUV, then you need to enjoy (or at least tolerate) a higher seating position and feel comfortable parking a vehicle that is larger and more challenging to maneuver than most cars. Car shoppers often think they want an SUV/CUV because they need more space for people, cargo or both. Yet many vehicles in this category seat only five and don't offer much of a cargo space advantage over a sedan -- yet they have worse fuel economy. Some SUVs/CUVs that seat seven may even have less cargo space than a mid- or full-size sedan with a large trunk, which can be ideal for some car shoppers and completely unacceptable for others. While the largest of the vehicles in this category seat seven or eight as well as have substantial cargo space, they generally are the worst on fuel economy and the most difficult to maneuver at low speeds. Many SUVs and CUVs have limited towing capability, though you'll need one of the more powerful vehicles in this category to tow anything sizeable – and fuel efficiency will be even lower.
Trucks & Vans
If hauling cargo is of primary importance then a truck or cargo van is likely your best bet. These vehicles were designed to be the workhorses of automotive world – even if your workhorse needs are recreational. Pickup trucks represent the bulk of this relatively small category and today, with compact pickups getting harder to find, this category has become focused on mid- to high-level truck duty. Trucks also tend to be available with powerful engines capable of heavy-duty towing, making them a great choice whether you need to tow a trailer for your business or you enjoy weekend getaways with your boat or camper. Trucks can be limited in their seating capacity, especially rear-seat space for anyone with long legs. Trucks and vans are the least aerodynamic vehicle type, which means fuel economy is often worse than cars or even SUVs/CUVs. Of course, the most powerful, tow-friendly engines further reduce fuel efficiency, so you'd better have some extra cash handy for fill-ups.
Luxury vehicles come in all body styles and sizes because car shoppers interested in every size and shape still seek the ultimate in comfort, convenience and technology. But because technology continues to be more affordable, a luxury vehicle’s biggest disadvantage – price – is less of a problem. Vehicles with luxury features are now more affordable than ever, with a wide array of luxury vehicles priced in the mid-$30,000 to the low $40,000 range (and a few luxury-branded vehicles even priced below $30,000). While luxury features can be found in many vehicles today, buying a vehicle that is from a luxury brand generally means a higher initial cost as well as higher costs in both maintenance, insurance and repairs. Yet the additional cost does include higher levels of dealership service (such a free replacement vehicle use while your car is being serviced).
The smallest of the vehicle categories, exotic cars also tend to have the smallest production runs, making them the most difficult vehicle category when it’s time to negotiate a good deal. Most exotics tend to be of the sports car variety, making them impractical for just about anything except scenic Sunday drives (or dedicated track duty at a race facility). Purchase price and cost of ownership are also among the highest of all vehicle categories. But when you covet (and can afford) an exotic, you have to have one and the disadvantages don't matter.
Consider the strengths and weaknesses of each vehicle type carefully before you narrow your choices and zero in on your next car.