Countless car-buying guides describe makes and models, covering everything from cylinders to seat comfort. How much do you really need to know about cars before you buy one? You don't have to be a car genius to buy a car you'll be happy with. Just do some soul-searching and some simple research first.
When you start the car selection process, simply knowing that you "kind of like little wagons" or want something with "some zip" is fine. But also ask yourself, "What will I use the car for?" and, "What are my priorities?" A small wagon might be a reliable family car, whereas a two-seat sports car might be the ticket for weekend cruising. Use our checklist on Page 69 to review your options.
Whether they're highly knowledgeable about cars or not, car owners can tell you about the experiences they've had with their cars. Quiz them to find out what they like and don't like about their cars. Listen to their recommendations, but keep in mind that their reasons for liking a car may differ from yours.
Comparison shop by learning how "the experts" rate cars. "Consumer's Digest Annual Car and Truck Buying Guide" compares models and offers recommendations. The "Consumer Reports Annual Buying Guide," which comes out every April, is also helpful. Other books, such as Jack Gillis' "New Car Book" and his "Used Car Book," talk about cars in plain English.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention using the Internet for research. If you're familiar with the workings of the World Wide Web, you may be able to access a Web page full of information on the vehicle you're considering. Here are some to get you started click here. If you don't have Internet access, see if your library does.
Use your resources to narrow your choices down to three or four models. Different manufacturers design cars that are very similar, so learn which cars or trucks are basically the same. Guides often categorize cars in classes so you can easily comparison shop.
If you're like most car buyers, you'll get a loan to pay off a car, so you should determine what you can spare each month. To figure your car costs, remember that the listed car price is only one slice of the financial pie and it's usually negotiable. Insurance, depreciation, license fees, gas and maintenance make up a major part of the cost, but buyers seldom consider them up front. Adding up all these pieces will tell you what you'll really spend monthly and annually over the life of the car. See Chapter 2 for a review of how to calculate your costs.
Manufacturers have discovered that a majority of consumers put safety first. Therefore, manufacturers are putting considerable effort into designing cars that can minimize injuries in an accident.
Every year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issues reports comparing the occupant protection levels of approximately 90 automobiles. The test simulates the impact of two cars meeting head on at 35 miles per hour. Crash-test dummies in the cars show the injuries people would have received if they'd been in the accident. To get the latest crash test results, call NHTSA's Auto Safety Hotline, 1-800-424-9393. If you prefer, check out their Web site at: http://www.nhtsa.gov/
For optimal safety, cars should not only hold up well in a crash, but should also include safety equipment. Consider ordering the following for your car if the following aren't already standard equipment:
Air bags for the driver and front passenger seats
Lap belts in front and back seats
Anti-lock brake systems (ABS)
Once you've done some background work, narrow your choices to three or four models you'd like to test drive. And choose a seller as carefully as you choose a car. The next chapter tells you where to start shopping for one.
You've done your research. You've narrowed your choices to a few models. Now it's time to get behind the wheel and take that all-important test drive.
You may wonder, isn't a test drive like any other type of drive? Not quite. Keep in mind what you want to learn. You're about to make a major commitment and you want to make sure it's to the right vehicle. The following should be a part of your test drive:
* Take the car on the road for at least a half hour.
* Drive in city and freeway traffic. See how the car starts, stops, shifts (if it has a manual transmission), speeds up on the freeway and takes corners.
* Ask yourself how comfortable you feel in the driver's seat.
* Let a friend drive so you can see how the car feels from the passenger's seat. Try out the back seat, too, if you're buying a sedan or van.
* If it's raining, great! Find out how the car handles on wet surfaces.
go easy on the car. Drive like you really plan to drive.
Next Chapter: "Where to Buy a Car"