How to figure out what you need in your new vehicle.When buying a car, one of the first steps is to figure out what you need the car to do. Here are some good questions you can ask yourself to figure out what kind of vehicle you need and want:

1. 2 door or 4 door? Car, truck, or SUV? How many seats do you need? Automatic or manual transmission? Light or dark colors? DVD player?

Do you need 5 seats all the time (because your family is five people), some of the time (just when you car pool), or almost none of the time (just when relatives visit once a year)? Do you need a pickup bed because your work requires it, or because a few times a year you need to haul some equipment? If you can honestly and objectively evaluate your needs, you can save yourself a lot of money. I’ve met lots of people who told me they needed a particular feature because they had a special circumstance (relatives visiting, hauling a boat, etc.). However, when I asked how often this special circumstance actually occurred, I found out it was only once or twice a year. When I pointed out it was cheaper to rent a car that filled this need once or twice a year that it was to buy one, I ended-up saving the people hundreds of dollars a month. Don’t let that one extreme circumstance convince you to buy a feature you don’t really need, or at least one that you won’t use very often. You can almost always rent a big SUV, a truck, or anything else you need for that one time a year when you have relatives visit, haul something, tow something, etc. When you’ve figured out what you really need, make a list.

2. What do you like the most about your current vehicle? What do you like the least?

This question will help you figure out if you’re using all the features you have. Here’s an example — I knew a couple that would lease a new SUV every two years. Because they were so busy, they would usually come into the dealership separately. The husband would always make sure the SUV had a sunroof, and the wife would always make sure the SUV had the nicest stereo. Here’s the funny part — the husband asked for the sunroof because he thought his wife used it, and the wife asked for the stereo because she thought her husband used it. We finally figured this whole thing out when we had a chance to talk to both of them together, and they realized neither of them were using these features! Needless to say, the next SUV they got didn’t have a sunroof or the upgraded stereo.

The other reason you should evaluate your current vehicle is that it’s a good way to figure out if you don’t have a feature you really need. For instance, if your favorite feature on your current vehicle is the engine power, but your most hated feature is the poor gas mileage, you can use your experiences to figure out which is more important. Just like above, make a list of the things you like and the things you could live without.

3. Are there any new features or options that you absolutely must have? Any that you can’t stand?

Next time you’re in a parking lot, take 5 minutes and look at some other kinds of cars. Even if you’re not interested in owning a big Chevy SUV, you might like the idea of having a folding row of seats. Or maybe you want a hatchback because they’re so easy to load. Maybe you’re interested in a vehicle that has an upright sitting position, or maybe you’d like to have 4wd or AWD for the winter months. Make a list of the features you might be interested in and the features you don’t want — that’s a good way to help you figure out what’s most important to you.

By now you should have three lists — 1. The features you need; 2. The things you like about your current car and the things you could live without; 3. The new features you want and the ones you can’t stand. Looking at all three of your lists, you should be able to figure out pretty quickly if a car is going to work for you. With your lists in mind, it’s time to go window shopping. Take a look at cars and decide if they meet your criteria — if they do, test drive them. If they don’t, look at something else. When you find one you like, check out our new car buying guide or used car buying guide for advice on getting the best deal.

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