Picking the Perfect Ride

USAA Tips - Find The Best Car For You

“If my van doesn’t start, I’m in trouble.”
That might be an understatement coming from Leanne Kocsis, a working mom with four boys and a husband who’s often called away with the National Guard. For Kocsis, like many Americans, the type of vehicle she drives isn’t a matter of amusement or vanity; it’s a linchpin in her family’s way of life. Not only must it run reliably, it has to accommodate her family of six and all their gear, keep them safe, and get a respectable miles-per-gallon rating. Above all, the loan payments can’t rob the family of their college savings.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a soccer mom, a construction crew chief or a jet-setter - choosing the right vehicle for the family’s lifestyle isn’t something to take lightly.

“Do your research before you buy,” advises Kocsis, director of research and development for MilitaryAvenue.com, an advice website for military families. As a member of financial services provider USAA, she used car-buying tools available at USAA.com to compare vehicles and find the perfect match for her, a Toyota Sienna.

“The car-buying experience is unique to each person,” said Steve Thompson, assistant vice president in charge of USAA’s Car Buying Service. “We try to help people understand both the cost and value of a vehicle - beyond the sticker price - so they can get the right car for their needs.”

Whether working through a car-buying service or going it alone, savvy shoppers get the most for their money by weighing all options in advance. Start your search with these factors in mind.

Category and Class
Most buyers already know if they’re in the market for a family-hauler versus a hot rod, but narrowing it down from there can get more difficult. What’s better for a hockey-coaching, drum-playing accountant - an SUV or a minivan?

“Think hard about your lifestyle and how you’re going to use the car most often,” said Thompson. “Are you off-roading in the mountains or cruising around the suburbs? Separating your ‘wants’ from your ‘needs’ can help you make a more practical choice.”

Fuel Economy
It’s no secret that soaring prices at the pump increase the demand for fuel-efficient vehicles. But don’t base your purchase on gas prices alone. Carefully consider your driving habits and whether you rack up enough mileage to make fuel economy an important financial factor.

Kocsis, for example, carts her kids all over town and makes frequent five-hour trips to visit family out of state. For her, fuel efficiency was a must-have.

Safety
Auto accidents can ruin lives, so safety should play a role in every car-buying decision. You can find crash test ratings for most cars at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website at www.iihs.org

Reliability
That sedan looks great, but will it hold up? Objective research tools such as Consumer Reports and TrueDelta.com offer predictions of reliability based on their own road tests, consumer surveys and other historical data.

To get another hint of whether your car will zoom or sputter, check the used-car listings for the vehicle you’re considering and compare it to others in the same class. If it tends to sell for much less, that might be an indication of poor performance.

For new cars, the reports on reliability are generally positive. “Extreme competition in the auto industry has led manufacturers to concentrate heavily on quality, and consumers have benefited,” said Toprak. “There are no real clunkers.”

Insurance Costs
Your age, where you live, and how you drive all affect your insurance premiums. But your car makes up the other half of the equation. You might pay more to insure a vehicle that has been involved in more accidents, causes more damage, costs more to repair, or is stolen more frequently than other models.

“As a general rule, sports cars are more expensive to insure than station wagons,” said Phil Leininger, vice president in charge of auto insurance for USAA’s Property & Casualty Company. “But if you’re on the fence between two similar models, a quote from your insurance company might help you decide.”

Article courtesy of USAA