My wife, Kate, and I were perfectly content to drive her car, a 1995 Honda Civic. It never gave us trouble…until it died last December. Then we needed a replacement.
After mourning the passing of our reliable steed, we decided we did not care about specific car brands or models. We cared about features. Our goal was to buy a car with features we care about, for the best price. Our first step: decide what functionality we wanted most.
We spoke for an hour, and made a list of desired features. This was the place for each of us to say what we thought was important; other people will have different results.
|Better than 27 mpg city, 37 mpg highway||We like the environment. That is what our old car did.|
|Highly reliable||We like low maintenance costs|
|Good crash test ratings/data||We like safety|
|Lasts at least 5 years||The cheapest car is the one you already own|
|Anti-lock brakes & air bags||We like safety|
|Enough space for a baby seat||We’ll need that in a few years|
|Cruise control||Makes road trips easier|
|Audio line-in jack, for iPods||We like music|
|At least 10 sq ft space in the trunk||Necessary for camping trips|
|Range of at least 500 miles per day||Necessary for road trips|
Nice to Have
|CD player, radio good speakers||We like music|
|Sunroof||We live in Seattle|
|Power windows, door locks||We’re lazy|
|Leather seats||Easier to clean child-induced messes|
|Lasts 10+ years||We’re really cheap|
Now that we knew our goals, it was time to learn the game
KNOW THY ENEMY
Both of us have heard horror stories about the car buying experience. Neither of us had done this before. So it was time to learn. We used our favorite resource: The Internet.
A few web searches found dozens of articles discussing the best ways to buy a car. We read through the top 30 and took notes. From that we made a list of best practices when buying a car.
We also found there is a balance between features, price, and reliability:
- Best practices for car shopping
- Things to avoid when car shopping
- Get a used car if you want a deal
ROUND 1: FIND GOOD CAR MODELS
Armed with our list of features, we started looking at different car models made since 2004. I found http://Edmunds.com and http://CarAndDriver.com to be particularly helpful here. A couple hours’ web browsing found 27 models that fit our criteria. Now the fun part: data!
Our top criteria were reliability and fuel efficiency. So, we documented each car’s gas mileage, and created an “Internet score” that counted how often each model was included in articles about “the most reliable used cars” or “the top 10 quality cars by BigCarWebsite.” A little Excel conditional formatting, and voila! We ended up with this:
We removed cars with bad gas mileage (less than 29 mpg combined), and with an Internet score of less than 3 (not reliable enough). That left 7 cars.
Next, we compared each car’s specs with our list of must-have features. This led to 4 more disqualifications:
- Chevy Volt — far too expensive
- Honda Civic Hybrid — the rear seat does not fold down
- Toyota Yaris — can’t easily fit a child seat. It has too little storage space.
- Toyota Corollas — no cruise control
ROUND 2: TEST DRIVES!
Test driving a car isn’t about data. Driving a car is subjective. If we think about why a car feels a certain way, a test drive can provide a wealth of information. One day, three test drives and two auto dealerships later, Kate & I came away with some pros and cons for each car, but we liked all three of them.
Additional web research showed that none of our cons was justified. The only lesson was realizing that a Prius is very mechanically complicated. So we should only look at Priuses (Prii?) with warranties.
In our next post, we will analyze specific cars for sale, looking for the best deals, still using hard, cold, data. Come back tomorrow for the exciting conclusion!