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Drive Green Guide for Car Buyers

It is not easy to buy a car.  There are a lot of decisions you have to make, which can be a real headache.  However, do not rush into making a quick decision.  Car salesmen often try to convince you that their special deals are for a limited time and lead you to a bad decision.  This is a common trick a car salesman likes to play.  Please calm down!  Take your time and follow the Drive Green  Online Guide for Buying A Car.  Careful consideration always pays off.

  1. Budget

  2. New or Used?

  3. Size and Features

  4. Demestic or Import?

  5. Engine Size

  6. FWD or RWD?

  7. 4WD or AWD?

  8. Safety

  9. Inspection

1. Budget

Buying a car is a major financial decision. You need to make a budget and then stick with it. As a rule of thumb, you can only spend about 90% of your budget on the car price itself, and the left 10% may cover other expenses like insurance, taxes, title documents, inspection stickers and maintenance.

You want the best car at the lowest price, but the car price varies from one car lot to another.  Fortunately, there are many books on car price guide. The Kelly Blue Book and the Edmund's Automotive Buyer's Guides are two of the popular reference books that are published periodically. They also provider FREE online price consulting service for both new and used cars. However, you must bear it in mind that these books can only tell you general price ranges. The real price of a car can be highly affected by the specific car conditions.  Therefore, car inspection will play an important role in determining a car price.

2. New or Used?

New cars usually have excellent performance and make less troubles, but they are expensive. You lose about 10% of the value of your new car as soon as you drive it from the dealer to your home. This is the most expensive way to drive. You will also reduce about 30% of the value after one year driving even though your car is still in perfect conditions. If you are rich, new cars are, of course, your best choice. Regular maintenance is required to keep the valid warranty and the resale value. New car maintenance by a dealer can be very slow and expensive. However, the warranty does not require the maintenance must be done at the dealership. You may have your car maintenanced at any independent shops or by do-it-yourselfers as long as you keep good records (receipts). Please read your warranty carefully to make a right choice.

Being aware that a new car depreciates very quickly in its early life, the new car owner's loss can be your gain. A used car may be the best investment for you.  You need to do two things: do car inspection before closing the deal and do preventive maintenance immediately after buying it. Drive Green will give you pointers to help you as follows.

3. Size and Features

What kind of car should you buy? Buy the one you like! There are many types: subcompact, compact, mid-size, full size, luxury car, sports car, sport-coupe, sport utility vehicle, mini-van, pick-up truck, etc. To decide what kind of car can satisfy your need, you may want to know the features of each type of cars.

  • Subcompact

Subcompact cars usually have a wheelbase under 100 inches and an overall length of less than 175 inches. Typical subcompact is a small two-door hatchback, but small two-door or four-door sedans are becoming popular. A few convertible models are also available. Most subcompact cars have four cylinder engines; others have three cylinders.  Subcompact cars are inexpensive to buy and operate, but they do not have a lot of room. Subcompacts are good commuter cars.

Examples: Suzuki, Toyota Tercel, GEO Matro, etc.

  • Compact

Compact cars have relatively more room than subcompacts but a little less fuel economy. They usually have a wheelbase about 100 - 105 inches and an overlength about 175 - 185 inches. Most compacts are four-door sedans but station wagons, coupes, hatchbacks and convertibles are also available. They usually have a four cylinder engine while V6 becoming more attractive.

Examples: Toyota Corolla, Chrysler Lebaron, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, etc.

  • Mid-size

Mid-size cars usually have a wheelbase about 105 -110 inches and overall length around 185 - 200 inches. Most mid-size cars are four door sedans; some are coupes and wagons. Most mid-size cars have a six-cylinder engine, but some have a four- or eight-cylinder engine. Mid-size cars are luxurious and entertaining to drive.

Examples: Toyota Cressida, Nissan Maxima, Dodge Diplomat, Ford Granada, etc.

  • Sports Car

Sports cars are fun cars. They usually have two door, two seats, a convertible top, wide tires, good brakes, a firm suspension, a manual transmission and a powerful engine. The performance is excellent. Insurance premiums are higher for sports cars.

Examples: Toyota Supra, Nissan 300ZX, Toyota MR-2, etc.

  • Sportcoupe

The sportcoupe is an alternative to the sports car. It is built on the chassis of existing models. Although sportcoupe performance may be not as good as a real sports car, its sporty appearance is more comfortable and attractive.

Examples: Toyota Celica, Toyota Paseo, Nissan 240SX, Nissan NX2000, Chrysler LeBaron coupe, Volkswagen GTI, Volkswagen Cabriolet, Ford EXP, etc.

  • Mini-Van

Mini-Van is usually based on front drive car or rear drive mid-size truck chassis. It has a box like shape and spacious interior. Driving a mini-van is as easy as driving a car. The mini-van satisfies the needs of young families.

Examples: Chrysler, Ford Windstar, etc.

  • Sport Utility Vehicle

Sport utility vehicles usually have four-wheel drive (4WD). They are rugged, reliable and safe. However, they consume more gas because they are heavy. Comparing with two wheel drive (2WD) sedans, the sport utility vehicles are less stable and have less usable interior space.

Examples: Toyota 4Runner, Suzuki Sidekick, Jeep Wrangler, etc.

  • Pick-up Truck

A pick-up truck usually has a pick-up bed, which makes it very useful to transport bikes, Christmas trees, camping equipment, etc. Pick-up trucks are simple and inexpensive. Although pick-up trucks used to be rugged, the late models can be as easy and comfortable to handle as cars.

Examples: Toyota T100, Dodge Dakota, etc.

4. Domestic or Import?

Believe it or not that some Japanese and European cars have held better value than most American cars. These foreign cars are more reliable and easier to maintenance and repair. Their lifetime is longer. However, it is expensive or sometimes hard to find parts to repair some low volume models such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Saab, Subaru, Valvo, etc.

It should be pointed out that the automotive industry is becoming more and more internationalized with the emerging global economy. There are basically no 100% American or Japanese or European cars. A car with a foreign brand may have more than 50% domestic parts while a car with a domestic brand may have more than 50% foreign parts. Therefore, it does not make any sense to mention a car is a foreign car or domestic car. In most cases, the car you buy today is actually the "world car" !

5. Engine Size

It is common sense that a four-cylinder engine can run higher mileage than a six-cylinder, but have lower performance. If you drive your car just for commuting, a small engine is your best choice. If you drive your car with heavy loads for most time or you like to show off, you should bet on a big engine. However, engine size is not the only factor that determine the car performance. A four-culinder engine with double overhead cam, 16 valve heads or a turbocharge may have better performance than a V6.

6. Front Wheel Drive (FWD) or Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) ?

FWD cars usually have better traction than RWD. FWD cars have more interior room because they have lighter and smaller drivetrain. However, some FWD parts such as Constant velocity (CV) joints and MacPherson struts are harder and more expensive to replace. Most modern cars have FWD while some big and luxury cars still use RWD.

7. Four Wheel Drive (4WD) or All Wheel Drive (AWD) ?

A 4WD car has a drive train that can send power to all four wheels. This provides maxim traction for off-road driving. It also provides maximum traction when the road surface is slippery or covered with ice or snow. An AWD car is one version of 4WD but designed primarily for on-road use. It provides improved traction on slippery or snow-covered road.

8. Safety

Generally speaking, a large car collides with a small car, the large car will sustain less damage. However, the large car will sustain more damage when it collides with another large car or an immovable object at above 35 mph. On the other hand, a small car can stop and drive more easily than a large car, so you can avoid accidents by driving a small car. From preventive point of view, a small car is safer than a large car.

Besides the car size, the design itself should be considered. Airbags and anti-lock brake system (ABS) are equipped in newer cars. These are valuable options though the controversy still exits.

9. Inspection

If you buy a used car, you need a careful inspection to determine its current condition and upcoming maintenance & repair. It is wise to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic of your choice. He usually can always find something wrong and tell you how much to fix it. This does not necessarily mean that you should not buy the car, but you should use this information to negotiate a better deal. Click here for the Drive Green Inspection Check List.


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