Buying A Car: Building A Car Shopping List

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If you’ve ever grocery shopped without a list, buyer’s remorse can take hold once you’re home with each unnecessary item you unpack.  If you’ve ever car shopped without a list, the regret can be stronger and the commitment more substantial.  Next time, build a car shopping list to narrow down your final candidates.

Price.  If you don’t have a realistic maximum price to spend, it’ll be far too easy to overspend.  Along with sale price, factor in insurance and maintenance to better determine the ongoing cost after purchase.

Miles.  If buying used, have a clear idea of the highest odometer reading you’ll consider.  Compared to previous generations of cars, 100,000 miles may be the new 50,000, but even if the car is solid it will demand more attention as components run their service life.

Age.  Another used-car consideration here.  Part of it takes style into account, but there are also things like ergonomics that tend to improve with each iteration of a model.  Interior appointments and fit and finish tend to take a step forward also.      

Powertrain.  New or used, your next car’s powertrain should be narrowed down.  Choice of automatic or manual gearbox isn’t as wide open as it used to be, but actual three-pedal cars can still be found.  If the choice exists, decide whether two- or all-wheel drive suits you best.  For engines, you’ll want to have settled on something efficient but in tune with your lifestyle.  If you cover long distances and/or tow a lot, that could mean a diesel.  If stop-and-go driving is a regular thing, it could be time for a hybrid or other kind of green machine.

Fuel economy.  Whatever you want under the hood, it should deliver the kind of fuel economy you’re willing to accept--especially when gas prices spike.  Remember that you won’t always achieve the EPA numbers advertised.  

Body style.  Form and function should go into this decision.  A sports car is fun, but you might still want room for golf clubs or groceries.  A large SUV gives room to spare on road trips, but is that what you need for the other 90 percent of your driving?

Safety.  This should be a priority on your shopping list whether you buy new or used.  Be mindful that some used cars may lack safety features that are standard on newer models.  Things like traction control, side curtain airbags and even anti-lock brakes could be missing.  

Options.  We are creatures of habit, and that’s underscored by the creature comforts we demand in our cars.  Once we get accustomed to a feature, it’s tough to give up that convenience in successor cars.  Amenities like air conditioning, cruise control, heated seats, infotainment and sunroof commonly get included in newer cars’ standard fare.  Just don’t assume it will be there without confirming, especially in used cars.
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