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What vehicle should I get? A Practical Approach

Vehicle Purchasing Questions
What vehicle should I get? A Practical Approach
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About the Author

R. G. Beltzner

R. G. Beltzner

A long time automobile enthusiast, and competitive race driver, Rainer Beltzner provides performance driving and racing instruction for Porsche, BMW, and Ferrari owners and clubs. He's been doing this for over 25 years. Often, Rainer is found driving/teaching on one of the Canadian Tire Motorsport, Shannonville or Watkins Glen tracks. During the “off-season”, Rainer spends his spare time driving and evaluating a broad range of vehicles. Follow Rainer on Twitter @redy2rol.

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During the years of researching, driving and then writing new vehicle reviews, I often get asked for advice on what to consider when choosing a new or used car, SUV or pick-up truck. There are so many options today that it is easy to get overwhelmed. To help you out, I have put together some thoughts based on my experience.

What Do I Need vs What Do I Want

Our decision can be swayed by our desire for the image we want to present to others.  As a result, we may have a tendency to give certain brands or a certain types of vehicle more attention. This can make the selection process much simpler as we often have made up our minds and are choosing between one or two models.

However, many of us have more of a practical need based on our lifestyle at a stage in life. We struggle to find the right balance between style and cost. So how do we start to approach this in a sensible way – what should we consider first?

Functionality

The basic questions to ask yourself are:

What do you mostly need this vehicle for?

  • Daily commute to work or to drop kids off at school? Short or long trip?
  • Trips for shopping, doctor visits, etc.?
  • Occasional or frequent transport of larger items/luggage/sports equipment that need cargo space?
  • Towing; what type of trailer; how heavy; how often and how far?
  • City, express or highway driving?
  • Number of passengers you frequently need to carry?
  • Will you be using a child seat?

 

Ford Edge 2020 Interior

2020 Ford Edge Interior ; Image Credit: Ford Motor Company

What comfort features do you need?

  • Ease of entry and exit?
  • Manual or automatic driver/passenger seat adjustment?
  • Cloth or leather seating?
  • Heated/cooled driver/passenger seating.
  • Heated steering wheel?
  • Automatic or manual transmission?
  • Apple CarPlay, XM radio, sound system?
  • Motion activated trunk/hatch?
  • Remote door lock/engine start/etc.?
  • Heads-up display?

 

What safety features do you need?

  • Good sight lines/visibility?
  • Front wheel, rear wheel or all-wheel drive?
  • Cameras, proximity warning, emergency braking, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, etc.
  • Number of air bag and restraint systems?
  • Engine power for passing?
  • LED headlights/fog lights?

 

Where do you park?

  • Size of garage/driveway space?
  • Size, access to and type of city, business, shopping, commuter parking spaces?

 

Decide on type and size of vehicle

There are many options to choose from that could meet or even exceed your needs. For example:

SUV – These range in size from smaller “crossovers” based on a car frame up to the larger based on a truck platform. They range in 4/5 seater to 7 passenger vehicles. They often provide easier entry/exit, higher seating position and thus better visibility, and of course larger storage capacity.

Vehicle: 2020 Ford Focus Electric

2020 Ford Focus Electric; Image Credit: Ford Motor Company

Hatchback – A popular segment for the younger and budget conscious, these are slowly being replaced by the small SUV.

Sedan – Often accepted as the more traditional type of car, they range in size from quite small to large. Generally offered in the traditional four door configurations with a range of sporty to more conservative lines.

Coupe – Typically a two-door version of the sedan with sportier styling often available in a convertible form as well. Often referred to as a sports car.

Performance/exotic – Generally in a two-door format with high power output, nice lines and sounds, best for Sunday afternoon or driving on a track.

Vehicle F-Series

2020 Ford F-Series; Image Credit: Ford Motor Company

Pick-up – A popular choice offering high seating/visibility, cargo space and towing capacity. Available in a variety of sizes from the smaller Ute to larger and luxurious models with a range of engines to meet needs.

People Movers – Also known as the minivan, these are an alternative to the very large SUVs with typical 7 passenger capacity. For even larger families, there are full sized van options available.

Determine your realistic budget

Whether you choose to buy or lease, your available maximum weekly/monthly/annual payment amounts are important to determine up front. How much can you realistically afford? In determining your realistic budget for a vehicle, first determine what your total monthly transportation budget can be and then calculate the amount available for the actual vehicle purchase/lease.

How to calculate the available amount for financing a vehicle

Take the total available monthly budget for transportation and subtract the monthly costs of:

  • Bus/train/transit
  • Parking
  • Driver/vehicle license/registration (annual/12)
  • Fuel  (average price per litre x total km/liters per 100km)
  • Service (estimate annual/12)
  • Insurance (annual/12)

 

What often comes as a surprise to most first-time buyers is the cost of insurance which can be even more expensive depending on where you live as well as what you drive. There are many other factors that determine your annual insurance cost such as your driving experience, use of the vehicle, and accident/ticket experience. Best to make some inquiries once you have an idea of what vehicle you are going to go after – before you buy/lease.

There are also additional operating costs to consider such as: toll roads (ETR) that we take to reduce commute time, higher license fees for pick-up trucks pulling heavy trailers, as well as wear and tear from high mileage or aggressive driving requiring more frequent change of oil, tires, brakes and even suspension parts.

Lease or buy a vehicle

There is both an emotional as well as a practical side to this decision. Some of us may prefer to always drive the latest model with the latest technologies/features. Some prefer to keep a vehicle for many years. Here are some of the pros/cons that relate to this decision.

Buying

Many of us that choose to buy our vehicle because we plan to keep it for years after we finish paying for it – and thereby reduce the annual cost.

Owning the vehicle also allows us to modify it according to our tastes. That may mean nicer rims, perhaps some sound or performance modifications, etc. It also allows us flexibility to sell the vehicle any time we want. It may also be less expensive if we drive a lot and don’t want to suffer the mileage penalties of a lease.

Of course, there may also be problems with the decision to buy and keep.

You may find that your purchased vehicle starts to look dated as compared to others on the road around you. There may be improvements to technology that you can’t retrofit. And there may be repair costs that start to creep up as the vehicle ages. Fortunately, there are simple formulas that can help to decide when it is time to abandon your treasured vehicle and move on to another.

My personal decision to “upgrade” is based on two simple factors.

  • First, if my vehicle becomes unreliable and strands me on the road or in my driveway more than once in a year – time to change (other than as a result of a dead battery) .
  • Second, if my annual repair costs approach 75%-80% of the annual cost of a replacement vehicle.

 

Leasing

Many people find leasing the only option simply because they do not have the flexibility to finance the total amount of a purchase. Monthly lease costs appear to be less expensive (watch for the up-front payment amount) because you are not investing in the total cost of the vehicle.

There are also occasional incentives for zero or low interest rates on a car lease – to attract you.

Operating costs may also be lower as many repairs are covered under the factory warranty that has a limited time frame – often exceeded when buying and keeping a vehicle longer. Finally, you get to drive a “new” vehicle more often with no trade in hassles.

Leasing can also be a bit problematic if you are involved in a minor accident or otherwise damage the vehicle with more dents and scratches than the lease allows. The vehicle must be returned in a satisfactory condition and within the allowable mileage without incurring penalty costs.

Consider your driving habits carefully, the potential for premature wear and tear and, also consider who else in your family might have occasion to drive the vehicle.

Finding the right vehicle for you

Through this process, you have identified the type of vehicle. Perhaps you even made a decision on whether to buy or lease. Now you can research the brands that offer you that type of vehicle and arrange some test drives.

Find out what’s available in Canada, list the manufacturer, the model with available trims and then make an initial selection of perhaps no more than 5 models to test drive. Your decision on the first five should be swayed by cost, looks, brand or even location of the nearest dealer.

There are also lots of articles on which cars have the better maintenance records and which to seriously avoid.

The test drive

Once you decided the model’s trim level that is both affordable and appealing, book the test drive for that specific trim level. Do not be swayed by offers for different trim levels – you want to be able to try out the exact features that you are going to buy/lease. There are two parts to the test drive.

Vehicle - Ford Edge 2020

2020 Edge ST ; Image Credit: Ford Motor Company

Part one

Familiarization with the controls and features of the vehicle. This may mean spending an hour or more with the salesperson in the vehicle being shown and trying out the many controls and their features. Do not proceed to part two without this.

Part two

Driving the vehicle in a variety of situations and for a reasonable length of time. The easy part of a test drive is to leave the lot, drive a couple of blocks and perhaps on the QEW/401 for a few minutes. That basically tells you that the vehicle can go forwards, accelerate and decelerate, and turn corners.

Here are a few more things to consider

  • How good are the sightlines?
  • Have you tried parking on a busy street?
  • Will it fit in your garage or driveway?
  • What will you feel like after a two or three-hour drive?
  • How will your passengers feel? Try sitting in the back seat with someone else driving.
  • While driving, can you access and comfortably use the desirable safety features such as adaptive cruise control, headlight switches, seat/steering adjustments, navigation, audio, phone, etc.?
  • Does your child seat fit?
  • Can you enter and exit comfortably?
  • Is the sound system to your liking?
  • Do bags of groceries or sports-equipment fit in the trunk?

 

In other words, really pay attention to your earlier defined “needs” and put the vehicle through its paces.

Take pictures, take notes. Allow yourself information by which you can later compare the test drives.

Consider other vehicle options

Your initial decision on the type of vehicle may have been a mid-sized SUV, based on your “needs”. Before making the final decision, consider looking at another option, perhaps a smaller/larger sedan or perhaps a smaller/larger SUV. In other words, explore what these feel like.

You might even find that a two-year old model of the desired vehicle allows you to buy/lease a better trim level with even more desirable features – at an even lower cost.

Do the deal

Prices are not all the same, nor are the things that dealers will do to close the deal. For me, here are a number of “must haves” after all other negotiations are done:

  1. Floor and trunk mats/liners
  2. Winter rims and tires
  3. Mud flaps
  4. One or more free oil/filter changes

 

There are also times in the year when incentives are better as dealers try and move their inventory. Selection may not be the best but it’s something to consider.

Find more automotive reviews and insights by R.G. Beltzner  on OakvilleNews.org.

Follow R.G. Beltzner on Twitter @redy2rol

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