Buying a car is a big decision. Financially, it is something that can cost anything from a couple hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Relationally, your vehicle can also be a reflection of who you are, what your lifestyle is like, and where you are going in life. There's a certain persona that goes with certain vehicles, like Harley Davidsons, Hummers, or old Cadillacs. So as my wife and I set out to purchase our first vehicle, we are asking ourselves a lot of questions about what car is right for us, both in terms of our finances, and our lifestyle.
Should we buy new or used?
The first question that we had to ask ourselves was whether or not we wanted to buy a new or a used vehicle. This greatly impacts the cost of the vehicle, as well as the maintenance costs and fuel consumption. The benefits of a new car, of course, are numerous. Not only does it look great, drive great, and feel great, but you can drive worry free, at least until the warranty runs out. A used vehicle, on the other hand, is vastly cheaper, but comes at the risk of potential repairs, and will have a shorter lifespan.
This debate is a huge one, and I can see both sides of the argument. My parents always disagreed on this, with my father extolling the virtues of a (relatively) maintenance free vehicle, but my mother was insistent that the best value was with a used vehicle.
For us, as we know that this is a vehicle that we want to drive for at least 10 years, we want to get something as new as possible. Unfortunately our budget doesn't necessary support that, so we are looking for a relatively new used vehicle, like a 2010, 2011 or 2012 model. Honestly, the year of the vehicle doesn't bother me as much as how much the vehicle has been used. I'd rather buy a 2010 with 25,000 kilometres on it rather than a 2012 with 50,000.
What type of vehicle should we buy?
The second question we addressed was what type of vehicle we wanted, or rather, needed. Like I just mentioned, this is a vehicle that needs to last us about a decade, so we're not looking for a motorcycle or a smart fortwo. We want something that we can put kids in (four door), something that we can put stuff in (truck? hatchback? wagon?), and something that gets good gas mileage. Unlike most men my age, I'm really not that interested in a fancy car. I don't need it to go faster than the speed limit, and I don't plan on racing it anytime soon. I just need it to get from point A to point B safely, reliably, and comfortably.
After debating this, and after doing a little research, we ended up deciding on a small hatchback. The hatchback design allows us four doors, for us and some friends, and eventually some kids, but it also allows us to carry some luggage, or fold down some seats (hopefully) to even further increase our cargo area. In addition, the newer models are typically good on gas and have enough luxury features to keep us comfortable. We also considered some small SUVs, as they also match our criteria, but they are a little beyond our budget.
In the end, we've narrowed our search down to a couple of vehicles. Leading the way is the Nissan Versa. A used Versa is in the nine to twelve thousand dollar range, which is doable for us. It also has the largest cargo room in its sub-compact class. According to reviews, the Versa is a great vehicle, just not quite as good as the Honda Fit and the Toyota Yaris. We prefer the Versa over the Fit or Yaris because it is a little bit larger, a little bit less expensive, and honestly, it just looks nicer. Also competing for our attention is the Toyota Matrix (bit bigger, but more expensive) and the Hyundai Elantra. The next step for us is to go and test drive all the mentioned vehicles, and see which one actually fits us the best.
If you're looking for a new vehicle, there are a couple of resources I'd love to mention. The first and foremost is Consumer Reports. Each quarter they put out a new vehicle buying guide, which reviews all the new models for the new year. While this makes for interesting reading, it might not help you so much if you're looking for a used vehicle. Luckily, in the back of each magazine is a Reference and Ratings section for Used Vehicles. This information is not available for free off their website, but it is a valuable resource for any car buyer, as it lists each vehicle, the model years available (for the last 10 years), and what potential problems the vehicle might have. For instance, did you know that the 2004 model of the Honda CR-V had huge issues with its climate system, but all the other models did not?
The second resource I would point you towards is Edmunds.com. This website is a car buyers bible. Unfortunately it is based in America, so prices and related information is American, but is still an incredible precious tool for model reviews, reliability information, and customer reports. Check it out before you ever think about purchasing a vehicle.
What was your first car? Would you recommend new or a used vehicle? Why? What resources do you use before you buy a car?