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        by Lauren Fix Auto & Finance Contributing Editor

        If you want to make sure you buy a car with the right technological, safety and space-saving features, use our guide to research the best car brand for you. Each company has multiple models that can be customized in dozens of ways. We explain how to find a vehicle that fits your lifestyle and budget.

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        What should you consider when looking for a car?

        Price

        Price is one of the most important factors when you’re planning to buy a new automobile. Make sure to set and stick to a realistic budget.

        • Financing: Most car dealerships offer financing, and they often advertise very interest low rates, but not everyone will qualify for those rates. Compare the financing the dealership offers you to financing at a local bank or credit union to ensure you get the best deal. Leasing or purchasing are options to consider.
        • Certified pre-owned: Consider buying a certified pre-owned model. These vehicles have passed thorough inspections and usually come with a warranty. They will save you money upfront, and you’ll also lose less on depreciation. However, a certified pre-owned vehicle means you do not get to build the vehicle to your exact specifications.
        • Base models: Consider what features you truly need and decide whether the base model of your chosen vehicle meets your needs. By determining your needs first, you’ll avoid adding on unnecessary features and options. Based on your budget, then you can add the wants to your chosen vehicle.

        Technology

        Auto manufactures know the modern consumer is accustomed to a lot of technology, and different models feature a variety of tools that might make your drive time easier, safer, more connected or more pleasant.

        • Onboard navigation: Built in navigation systems give you directions when you’re driving in an unfamiliar area. Some systems are more advanced than others, and adaptive systems can often reroute you to avoid traffic jams. Base models do not usually include this feature, so if you a map system on your smartphone or have a separate GPS system, you may not really need this built-in technology.
        • Emergency assistance: Many companies offer programs that automatically contact the brand’s support center if your airbags deploy. The support center can then speak to you to determine whether you need medical or police assistance, call the appropriate authorities and give them your location. This feature could help emergency personnel reach you more quickly, but you will probably have to pay extra for the technology. Many companies do offer a free trial period.
        • Connectedness: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can connect your car to your smartphone. This technology allows you to make and receive calls through your car’s audio system, listen to music from your smartphone or stream music from an app. The level of connectedness offered on base models vary greatly, so determine whether this is a feature you really want to pay for before heading to the dealership. Having Bluetooth technology in your vehicle is a safer choice and may be required in many states to meet the “hands free” laws that do not allow a driver to have their phone at your ear.
        • Safety: There are many additional safety features that will save you from a potential accident. These safety features can be standard or an optional package. Safety features can not be added later and should be considered when choosing one vehicle versus another.

        Purpose

        The way you use your vehicle should be an important factor when selecting a brand and model. Realistically consider the reasons you drive to figure out what kind of automobile you should buy.

        • Commuting: If you primarily drive to and from work, you may be happy with a smaller car. A small lightweight vehicle will be less expensive up front and more fuel efficient in the long run. If you have a long commute, consider purchasing a compact car and using the money you save on extra features that will make your drive more enjoyable. If you carry equipment or business supplies then consider a larger vehicle.
        • Carpooling: If you regularly take children to school or other events or if you carpool with others to and from work, consider a larger sedan, minivan, mid-sized crossover or SUV. These models may cost a little more, but making sure that all of your passengers and cargo have plenty of room will be worth it.
        • Business/Work: If you use your vehicle for business or work, consider what you need it to do—a tradesman worker would likely benefit from purchasing a truck while a financial consultant might want an impressive luxury car. Consider how your automobile will help you do your job before you make a purchase.
        • Fun: If you love driving or if you want driving to be enjoyable, consider a sports car, convertible or SUV with off-road capabilities. Test drive a few models to determine what offers the spirited drive you prefer.

        Costs

        A down payment and monthly payments on a vehicle are the most significant cost of owning a car. However, many other factors can determine how much money you’ll spend on your car each month.

        • Fuel: More fuel-efficient vehicles will save you gas money every time you fill up the tank. Hybrids require even less gas, but they often come with a higher price tag up front. If you don’t drive that many miles, the investment in the hybrid might not pay off financially. Some cars require diesel or high-octane fuel, consider the cost in your final choice.
        • Insurance: Different brands and models of cars will cost different amounts to insure. Your driving record and credit rating are also considered in your insurance rates. Talk to your insurance company about the models you are considering so you’re not surprised by your new premium.
        • Maintenance and repairs: Factor in the cost of regular maintenance when budgeting. Proper maintenance is required on all vehicles; being proactive and completing the maintenance required by following the service schedule in your owner’s manual will vary, each vehicle will have different cost for repairs and maintenance.

        Passenger capacity

        A vehicle’s size may be classified by its weight, length, wheelbase, cargo capacity, towing capability or interior cubic space. When shopping for a new automobile, you will probably be most interested in how much room there is in the interior space.

        • Mini compact: This type of car is very small and good in urban areas. These are very small cars. This type is the most fuel-efficient vehicle.
        • Sub compact: A small car that is great for commuting. These have limited rear seat room and trunk space.
        • Compact: If you will use your car primarily to commute and/or if only one or two passengers will be riding in the car with you, a compact car might be a good choice. These cars will have less room but will also be more fuel efficient.
        • Mid-size: Mid-size vehicles may include sedans, midsize crossovers or midsize SUVs. These automobiles will comfortably accommodate four or five adult occupants.
        • Large: If you need a vehicle that can safely and comfortably hold more than five people, consider a minivan or full-size SUV. If you’re not sure if you need a mid-size or large vehicle, take one of each for a test drive.

        Safety

        New cars come standard with passive safety features like airbags, anti-lock brakes and tension-adjusting seatbelts. Active safety features, which protect you by preventing accidents, are now available on many vehicles, usually at an additional cost.

        • Backup camera: Backup cameras will show you what is behind your car whenever it is in reverse. This feature ensures that you see small children, animals, other vehicles and short items and do not back over them. They might also have an audible alarm that triggers when an object is behind you to warn you to stop backing up.
        • Blind spot monitoring: Cameras or lasers mounted on your car will detect objects in your blind spot and alert you to them. These systems help prevent accidents on busy multi-lane roads and highways.
        • Brake assist: Brake assist detects when a driver initiates a panic stop (as opposed to ordinary gradual stops) and applies the brakes to maximum force. In conjunction with anti-lock brakes, the system enables threshold braking without locking up the wheels.
        • Forward-collision warning (FCW): Forward-collision warning uses cameras, radar or laser (or some combination) to scan for cars ahead and alert the driver if they are approaching a vehicle in their lane too fast and a crash is imminent. Most systems alert the driver with some sort of visual and or audible signal to a potential crash, allowing time for you to react.
        • Adaptive cruise control: Adaptive cruise uses lasers, radar, cameras, or a combination of these systems to keep a constant distance between you and the car ahead, automatically maintaining a safe following distance. If highway traffic slows, some systems will bring the car to a complete stop and automatically come back to speed when traffic gets going again, allowing the driver to do little more than pay attention and steer. Some vehicles equipped with lane keeping assist will also allow the car to stay within the lane markings.
        • Lane-departure warning (LDW): This alerts you if you steer your car out of its lane without the turn signals activated. Using a camera or lasers to monitor lane markers, the LDW may sound a chime, blink a dashboard telltale, and/or vibrate the steering wheel or seat.
        • Lane-keeping assist (LKA): In addition to sensing when you leave your lane, this technology will introduce a mild steering input to put you back into your lane.
        • Active head restraints: Active head restraints move up and forward in a rear crash to cradle the head and absorb energy in an effort to mitigate whiplash injury.
        • Parking assist systems: These are sensors embedded in the front, rear or both bumpers that alert you—at parking speeds—that light poles, walls, shrubbery and other obstacles are getting close.
        • Automatic high beams: This function automatically switches from low to high beam and back again, for improved nighttime visibility as conditions warrant.>
        • Automatic emergency braking (AEB): This feature is usually a part of a forward-collision system (FCS), which uses lasers or cameras to detect objects in front of your vehicle. While all FCSs will alert the driver to the object, systems with AEB will automatically break if the driver does not respond and can significantly reduce front-end collisions caused by distracted driving.

        What are different types of cars?

        Sedans

        Passenger cars with four doors are classifieds as sedans. These can vary in size, and almost all car companies offer one or more model(s) that is available as a sedan.

        Coupes

        Coupes have only two doors. They may be similar to their sedan-model counterpart in every other way. Coupes do tend to look sportier.

        Wagon

        Wagons have all the same passenger room and driving characteristics as the sedans they're based on, but offer more cargo room. A few of the larger wagons even offer a third-row seat.

        Hatchback

        Available in two- and four-door body styles, hatchbacks have the same footprint as a comparably sized sedan, but instead of a conventional trunk, they offer a spacious cargo area accessed by a liftgate.

        Convertibles

        Convertibles have a removable top. Tops may be cloth, vinyl, fiberglass, metal or a combination of these materials. Some convertibles have automatic tops, which can be raised and lowered with the push of a button, while others will require the driver to manually put the top up and down.

        Sports cars/roadsters

        Sports cars are usually low to the ground and have a powerful engine. They’re designed for speed and highly responsive handling. Many sports cars are available as convertibles.

        SUVs

        Sport Utility Vehicles are all about utility. They're ideal if you drive in varying road and weather conditions or regularly carry a mix of passengers and cargo. Typically, SUVs offer raised ground clearance, a spacious cargo bay and either four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

        Crossovers (CUV)

        Crossover vehicles offer some of the design features of an SUV, like more interior space, but they are built on a car frame. They do not offer the same off-road capabilities as SUVs. CUVs that are based on passenger-car platform architecture for improved ride, comfort and fuel economy. Available as compact, midsize and large crossovers, and many offer a third-row seat that can be purchased with optional all-wheel-drive systems.

        Trucks

        Pickup trucks come in a variety of sizes. Lightweight trucks are suitable for transporting a small amount of cargo. Bigger trucks can haul more and heavier items and have a bigger towing capacity. Trucks with crew cabs often have four doors and offer more room inside the cab. Extended cabs and different length beds are choices.

        Minivans

        Smaller passenger vans designed for everyday use are known as minivans. These usually have third row seating and accommodate more than five passengers. They are very family friendly and can typically transport six or more passengers.

        Diesel

        Diesel-fueled engines have always been available in heavy-duty trucks, but manufacturers now offer them in a few compact and midsize sedans, as well as some SUVs and hatchbacks. All modern diesel engines are turbocharged for increased power and very high fuel efficiency.

        Hybrids

        Hybrids are vehicles powered by a battery and a standard engine. These may be more expensive upfront, but offer significantly better fuel efficiency and reduce your dependence on fossil fuels. Some are plug-in hybrids while others regenerate energy to charge the battery.

        Electric

        Electric vehicles have a battery that is charged with electricity, and the range between necessary charges varies with model and age. Range can be impacted by very cold and very warm temperatures.

        What's your car persona?

        Parents of teens

        Parents buying cars for their teenage children will want to look for cars with excellent safety ratings and may be interested in adding on active safety features that are not included in the base model. These buyers should also consider a brand that offers a hands-on driving course.

        Parents of young children

        Parents with younger children may want to look at larger vehicles that will accommodate their whole family as well as their children’s friends. These

        Commuters

        Anyone who commutes more than a few miles each way might consider looking for a small, fuel-efficient car.

        Recent graduates

        Students who have recently graduated college should look for a base model vehicle that fits into their budget. Some brands offer special discounts to recent grads, so they should consider purchasing a new car while they still fall into that category.

        Retirees/Empty Nesters

        People who no longer need to commute may want to look at fun cars that might have been impractical for a daily drive or when they had children living at home. Those who plan to spend a lot of time traveling might want to consider a larger sedan that will offer a more comfortable ride.

        Business

        Drivers that spend plenty of time on the road, typically high mileage drivers that drive long distances or make multiple stops per day. Comfortable ride and extra safety features might be a consideration.

        Spirited Driver

        Drivers who prefer to use their vehicles on the weekends or take a car to its performance limits.

        Not sure how to choose?

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          by Lauren Fix Auto & Finance Contributing Editor

          Lauren Fix, also called The Car Coach, is an automotive and auto finance expert. Her understanding of vehicles has made her the “go to” person on TV, radio, print media and the Internet. She has authored multiple books and writes a column for several outlets, including Parade Magazine, NewsMax and Car Coach Reports. She is a regular guest on major news and morning shows, discussing the latest updates on cars and car financing that will help drivers make smart decisions when buying, maintaining and financing cars.

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