Manufacturers typically give a reviewer seven days to test drive a vehicle. The first day or two includes taking pictures, reading manuals, doing research, and getting to know the features of the car. Days three through five are spent testing how the car drives and seeing how it responds in day-to-day scenarios. The last day or two is often when the reviewer begins to draw conclusions and decide whether or not to recommend a vehicle.
More often than not, the first impressions of a vehicle are entirely valid. The maiden voyage often sets the tone for the entire week. Is it easy to get into the car? Are the seats comfortable? Is the dash functional and are features convenient? How does the car accelerate, handle and brake?
After driving hundreds of vehicles, you begin to create subjective benchmarks in each category; making informed snap decisions that often fall in line with the overall critical response found online or at the newsstand in the major automotive magazines. But sometimes those first impressions prove to be uninformed assessments, after a few days what was once a glaring flaw becomes a welcome compromise, especially as you consider the cost to value ratio.
The amazing truth is that nearly all of the model 2014-year vehicles are strong; truly horrible cars simply cannot survive in today’s competitive automotive marketplace. However, that does not mean that all new vehicles are great – especially for you – and discerning between good enough and above average can become difficult, especially for a consumer who is often limited to window-shopping and a brief test drive.
Often friends and family ask me for my personal opinions and recommendations when they are considering the purchase of a new or used vehicle. I have favorite vehicles; the cars, trucks and SUVs I have driven that have made lasting impressions. Occasionally I can connect an individual with a make and model that I feel will be perfect for them, but more often I try to arm friends and family with information that they can use to make informed purchasing decisions for themselves. I certainly do not have all the answers, and this not an exhaustive checklist, but I can gladly offer some of that same advice to you.
Start your search by objectively defining your specific transportation needs and prioritizing them. Do you have a large family or are you single? How often do you travel on the highway versus the city? Are you a performance enthusiast? Do you tow a trailer? How important is luxury? Are there any features that you specifically find useful? Are you a casual radio listener or a self-proclaimed audiophile? Each of these questions can help you narrow down the optimal vehicle for you.
Once you have created a list, investigate all the possible options. You may think that a compact SUV is the best choice, but also consider alternatives such as the 2015 Volvo V60 T5 sportswagon or a hot hatchback like the all-new 2014 Mazda 3. Both provide seating for five, excellent cargo space, a thrilling driving experience, and incredible gas mileage.
Know your budget. Calculate beyond the initial purchase price, consider long term expenses such as gas mileage, estimated repairs, warranty and resale value. The monthly payment is important, but it does not tell the whole story. How far do you drive every month and how much of that is highway versus city? If the car you are considering purchasing is out of warranty, or soon to be, how expensive are repairs and is it worth purchasing an extended warranty?
Brand loyalty is excellent, but be careful with assumptions. The 2015 Kia Sorento SXL that I recently drove was so much better than the 2001 Sephia that I owned, it was hard to believe the same company made them. The 2015 Hyundai Genesis Sedan rivals the quality and performance of many high-end BMW, Mercedes and Lexus models.
Use your resources. Friends and family, personal relationships that you have built with local car dealers, the weekly Drive section of The Florida Times-Union, AutomotiveAddicts.com and other trusted online websites are vital as you begin to narrow your search. Be careful not to allow one recommendation to cloud your judgment, the neighbors amazing experience may be singular and your uncle’s “lemon” may have been the byproduct of not changing the oil for three years.
If possible, borrow or rent a similar car and drive it for a couple days. I have found from my days reviewing vehicles that nothing is better than actually driving the car to know if it is right for you. If you are limited to a short dealer test drive, make sure you spend enough time with the car to get past the initial wow factor of simply being new and different. Driving around the city and highway are important. Testing out features, listening to the infotainment system, programming the GPS, experiencing any driver help systems such as radar cruise and lane assist should also be a part of the limited ride. Pedal to the floor acceleration and panic braking are both important assessments as well, you do not need to take the car to a racetrack, but knowing a little about the cars capabilities goes a long way.
Finally, choose a vehicle with your brain, but buy with your heart. After you have done your research and found a reliable vehicle that meets your needs at a cost that you can comfortably afford, make sure you actually like it before you buy it. I would go so far to implore you to buy a vehicle that elicits an indubitably positive emotional response.
In simple terms, buy something that you love. Cars are stuff, objects that wear out, rust and fade. Automobiles cannot replace faith, family, and friends and priorities should put them well below all three, but that does not mean that they do not deserve our affection. I have been known to park hundreds of yards away from a store or restaurant, even from the entrance at church, to avoid potential door dings. I have a vacuum that is only used for my automobile’s interiors and a couple of shelves in the garage filled with detailing products. Granted I might be a little obsessive, but vehicles are expensive and payments often go on for years and years and amount to tens of thousands of dollars, keeping my cars clean and well maintain extends the life and makes the day-to-day driving experience optimal. Further, when my mechanic alerts me that I need $2500 worth of repairs I am comfortable investing in my vehicle.
For more automotive purchasing advice, including reviews on hundreds of popular makes and models, visit AutomotiveAddicts.com.