Choosing a car used to be a pretty straight forward process in days gone by. Cars were either big or small, two doors or four, and with either plenty of grunt or not very much at all. But those were simpler times, and today, the industry has virtually has a car for every possible combination of lifestyle, practicality, budget, and preference on form factor. And they’re marketed to appeal to our needs in very specific ways, too; from large to small families, those that prioritize luxury or are budget conscious, buyers that are looking for form or function.
Purchasing a car is a big decision, and one that needs careful consideration. So, with such a wide variety of different vehicles on the market, here we’re going to offer some advice on how to go about deciding which car is best suited to your needs.
Cars are designed and advertised for specific applications, and while there are certainly good all-rounders out there, choosing a vehicle very much depends on assessing your own needs and asking yourself what exactly you’ll be using the car for.
With that in mind, it is worth considering the following questions in order to effectively narrow your choice:
- How many passengers do you need to carry?
- Do you need a lot of cargo capacity?
- Will you be using children's car seats?
- What type of driving do you do: highway, surface streets, off-road, ice and snow?
- How much mileage will you do, is fuel economy important to you?
- What safety features are important to you?
- Do you need to tow anything?
- How much garage or parking space do you have?
Breaking It Down
Now you’ve pondered the questions, it’s time to break them down and weigh up the details of these considerations.
Logistics: Riding Solo, Room For More, And Carrying Precious Cargo
How many people you will be carrying in your vehicle is going to be a key consideration in your choice of car.
If you’re an eligible bachelor as opposed a family man, or if you’ve only one significant other to consider, a two seater might be your preference. That being said, consider that back seats add little or nothing to the cost and fuel consumption of the car, allows the passenger seat to recline more, and potentially greatly increases cargo capacity. If you’re after something sporty for two, consider a sub-compact car such as a Ford Fiesta ST - so called “hot hatches” are popular in Europe and offer practicality and performance at a fairly low cost. Otherwise, a range of import vehicles from manufacturers such as Hyundai and Kia offer small, economical, and fairly well equipped vehicles for affordable prices second hand.
If you usually transport 3-4 people but don't need that much trunk space, a compact to mid-size car similar in size to a Dodge Dart, Chevrolet Cruze, or Ford Focus should be sufficient. But if you’re after a decent size trunk, remember that compact cars typically offer no more cargo capacity than a subcompact or “hatch back” vehicle. You’re upgrading leg room over anything else.
Transporting 4 people, especially if it is a family, will require more substantial trunk space. Consider a full-size sedan, minivan, or an SUV. A full-size sedan offers comfort and form factor, but a station-wagon version, with an extended boot, is typically more practical. A minivan is roomiest of these, sacrificing visual appeal for the most efficient usage of space. An SUV often has four wheel drive and is good at low speed and on poor road conditions - it will typically offer the most stability and protection due to its solid design.
Individuals who are transporting more than 4 people are limited to a minivan. Most of these vehicles seat 7 or more people, with plenty of trunk space. Larger 7 seat vehicles are obviously going to suit families that need to install childrens seats, too. Additionally, its low center of gravity makes it a safer choice for a fully laden vehicle with babies on board.
Thinking Sensibly: Economy, Safety, Other Factors
As fuel prices continue to steadily increase, fuel economy is a big consideration for those with a long daily commute or frequently drive long distances. If you have a commute longer than thirty miles to work daily, or if you spend a great deal of a short commute in traffic every morning, then hybrids are a great option versus economy sized four cylinder cars.
Large, 8 cylinder engines may once have been popular in the US, but increasing fuel prices have consigned them to enthusiast vehicles only. As a general rule, any large displacement engine with more than four cylinders is going to greatly decrease fuel economy overall. You’ll also want to factor in the size of the vehicle and how that affects aerodynamic efficiency - a large front area will also decreases fuel economy at speed. A long, low car such as a big sedan or wagon with a relatively small, cheap engine can be stylish, comfortable and safe.
Diesel engines are certainly more economic than petrol vehicles, providing up to 29% (source: https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/06/04/diesel-vs-gas-which-is-the-better-fuel-and-vehicle.aspx) more efficiency at highway speeds. In the US, however, diesel costs have risen dramatically over the past decade and vehicles using diesel typically cost more upfront than petrol equivalents. If you are driving less than 10,000 miles annually, you are best to stick with a petrol car, but any more than that and diesel is certainly a viable option.
With regards to safety; unless you have opted to purchase an old second hand car, virtually every vehicle modern vehicles features airbags. If you’re safety conscious, consider cars with rear airbags and side protection bars, too. Generally, the larger your vehicle, the more likely it is to survive a crash, but take also remember that large SUVs are sometimes not as stable as smaller, lower-slung vehicles with a lower center of gravity. Smaller SUVs of similar size to a Chevrolet Equinox or Subaru Forester are a good compromise between solid design and stability.
Build quality is certainly a factor, though safety has become a key area for modern cars to market, and as a result, a priority for most car manufacturers to incorporate into design. American, European, or Asian; all major manufacturers pride themselves on touting safety, so there’s no need for traditional bias against import cars anymore.
Vehicle safety largely depends on what sort of road conditions and climate you're going to be driving in frequently. Four wheel drive offers superior traction in comparison to two wheel vehicles and will allow you to drive on varied road conditions. If you live in a climate where it snows frequently or in a rural area where gravel roads prevalent, 4WD might well be essential. But if that isn’t going to be a major factor, remember that 4WD adds to both upfront and running costs. 4WD cars are generally less fuel efficient, heavier, and have more moving parts, so if you’re only going skiing once a year, it probably isn’t worth it.
A big limiting factor for many individuals in the market for a new car will be their ability to garage/house their new vehicle. City dwellers aren’t always going to have a substantial garage and if you need to park on the road, consider how difficult it will be to find parking space for a big SUV.
If you’re planning to tow anything behind your vehicle, apart from opting for a car with a tow bar, you will also want an engine that delivers torque for the job. A low displacement engine will struggle to tow anything over large distances or up hills, and if it’s a boat you’re planning on towing, then a small engine isn’t going to have the grunt to pull it up the boat ramp, either. Diesel cars are excellent for towing heavy cargo because they make their torque at a much lower RPM than petrol engines.