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Tips for Picking the Right Car for Budget and Lifestyle

(LOS ANGELES, March 28, 2012) – Buying a new vehicle takes time, research and eventually money.  So when it’s time to purchase a new car, it’s time to review the Automobile Club of Southern California’s checklist for budget and lifestyle when looking for the “right” new car.
“Today’s consumers have more choices than ever when it comes to picking a new vehicle, but that also means the selection process can be much more difficult,” said the Auto Club’s Car Buying Service Manager Dave Cavano.  “There are numerous factors to consider, many of which take place long before a buyer ever hits a car lot.”
When shopping for a new vehicle, the Auto Club recommends the following:
•           Determine What Is Affordable. Before considering specific makes or models, sit down with the household budget and determine what is affordable before visiting a car lot. The Auto Club advises that no more than 15 to 20 percent of your monthly budget should go to all car-related expenses. Consider the value of your trade-in and how much cash you want to put toward the vehicle purchase. You can get a good estimate of your vehicle’s current value by going to  and clicking on Vehicle Trade In Values.  Consult with an insurance agent to get a rough estimate of premiums on the type of vehicle being considered. AAA insurance agents also can be located at  
•           Evaluate Driving Habits. Take a realistic look at how the vehicle will be used. What types of trips will be taken most frequently? How many passengers will the vehicle need to carry? How long is the day-to-day commute and will the vehicle be driven on the freeway? Will you need extra cargo space?
•           List Needed Features (Current and Future). Make a list of all required features the new vehicle should include, being careful to separate ‘wants’ from ‘needs.’ How much seating? How much cargo? Minimum fuel economy?  Fuel economy has become an important consideration with today’s gas prices.  When making the list, think about needs today and those several years down the road. Could children be in the future? Could the commute lengthen?
•           Consider Depreciation Costs. The biggest yearly expense to new cars is depreciation. Research how much the models being considered depreciate within the first few years and consider a model that has a track record of holding its value longer. The new mobile AAA Auto Buying Tools iPhone App (available from the iTunes App store) can assist consumers shopping for a new vehicle by providing the information they need to make an educated decision.  The mobile app can build the car you want, including options and available incentives, while viewing pricing information, crash safety ratings, AAA reviews, images and more.
•           New or New to You. Look at pricing options for new vehicles as well as models that are one to two years old. There are benefits to new and slightly used models. New vehicles typically come with longer warranties, buying incentives from the automaker, the latest features and are widely available. Slightly used vehicles might offer a price break, but it can be more difficult to find the ‘perfect’ vehicle with the exact features a buyer is seeking and does not have buying incentives from the manufacturer.
•           Review Warranty and Maintenance Costs. Review the warranty of vehicles being considered and exactly what it covers. Investigate maintenance costs associated with the car by reviewing its recommended maintenance schedule and calculating new costs of regularly needed maintenance items. If the buyer consistently uses the same repair shop, ask how the cost of maintaining the new vehicle will compare with the current vehicle.  AAA Approved Auto Repair shops are located across North America and are excellent sources of trusted maintenance information.  The nearest shop can be located by visiting
•           Investigate Safety Ratings and Features. Check the safety ratings of all models under consideration from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Evaluate the safety features available on each model. If using a car seat for a child, check the accessibility to the vehicle’s LATCH system and the ease of installing a child passenger safety seat.
•           Seek Recommendations and Reviews. Ask friends, family and colleagues for feedback about their vehicles and feedback from current owners of the models being considered. Current owner feedback can often be found on web forums.
•           Don’t Limit Choice to One Vehicle. Narrow down choices to two or three vehicles that meet all the criteria, but don’t narrow it down to just one. By allowing flexibility, buyers have more negotiating room and a better chance of finding the best possible price.
•           Financing is Key. AAA advises that consumers gain a distinct advantage in the car buying process by arriving at the dealership with financing in hand.  Carefully and thoroughly shop loan options and available interest rates in advance. Inching down a loan’s interest rate even a percentage point or two can save hundreds of dollars over the life of the car loan.  Match length of the loan to length of ownership.  Select your loan term based on how long you plan to own the vehicle and make sure your loan has no prepayment penalty.
CST 1016202-80 Copyright © Automobile Club of Southern California. All Rights Reserved.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.