So you’ve decided you want or need a different ride. Great, but how do you find the right one? And how do you know you will still want it in six months? Here are eight steps you can take to make sure your next vehicle purchase is a keeper.
1. Plan ahead for your lifestyle. Take a look at your expectations and goals with your life for as long as you hope to keep the vehicle. Planning on having five kids? You will need third row seating. Have a huge boat? You’ll need towing ability. Living and working in Manhattan? Parking is an issue there, so look to a small vehicle like a Smart. There is no one perfect vehicle for everyone and different lifestyles will require different vehicles.
2. Find your budget. Financial guides will warn you to not overbuy, but to find a vehicle that fits your income. Don’t just look at the total cost, but factor in your monthly payments. Also try to save up for a down payment, as it will lower your monthly payments.
3. Check your credit score. The three major credit reporting agencies each offer a free annual credit report. Look over the report for errors, and get them cleared up if you find any. Knowing your credit score will let you know the likelihood of loan approval. An 815 score means buy whatever, while a 425 means lowered expectations.
4. Narrow it down. “SUV” is a wide term, and searching through all of them is exhausting. A subcompact Buick Encore and a full-size Ford Expedition are two very different SUVs. Find the sub-category that meets your needs and wants to narrow down your results.
5. Research the competition. Leaning towards the CR-V? It’s a solid choice, but go look at a RAV4 and Escape as they are also capable vehicles. Cross-shopping the competition helps you solidify your decision making.
6. Deeply research the vehicle. How is the long-term reliability? Check Consumer Reports, and magazine reviews with initial test drives and long-term tests. Join an owner’s forum for the vehicle and ask specific question and owner impressions.
Narrowed it down to one vehicle? Go rent one for an entire day or weekend with Turo. This lets you see an un-prepped used example in the real world, and what it’s actually like to live with. You can drive it your usual route to work, or see how it does on errands. You can see if it fits your life without buying.
7. Price the insurance. This lets you have a look at your true cost of ownership, not just the payment. Also factor in other drivers, such as a 15-year-old that will be using it to learn to drive soon.
8. Can you get one with a warranty? Some used vehicles still offer a factory warranty, which covers most vehicle issues. That kind of peace of mind goes a long way. Hyundai offers the longest factory warranty, but nearly any vehicle under three years old has factory warranty left.
Other considerations. Are you buying a plug-in hybrid Prius or EV Leaf, but live in an apartment? Look into alternative charging options. Did you know the Mini Cooper and Subaru BRZ need premium fuel? Check which stations sell high octane for cheaper. Does that giant lifted Silverado even fit in your garage? Have a look at all the details to make sure it’s really the vehicle for you.