The Best Car for Your Buck

The second the average new car is driven off a lot, its value drops 11 percent. Five years later, that same car, on average, is worth only 37 percent what was paid for it. Add in high gas prices and regular maintenance, and you don’t have to be a personal finance expert to ask: is it worth buying a new car? How do you find the best car for your buck?

The answer, of course, depends on your budget (should you finance, or pay cash?) and driving habits. But the good news is there are a number of cars that retain their value, get the most miles per gallon and provide reliable transportation for many years.

SUVs

If you’re planning on reselling or exchanging your car after five years, sport utility vehicles may be the car of choice. This year, eight of the winners of Kelley Blue Book’s Top Ten Best Resale Value Awards went to SUVs, with the top prize going to the Toyota FJ Cruiser. The sticker price for the 4-wheel drive SUV starts a little over $27,000. But after five years, KBB says it retains 63 percent of its value.

So is the FJ Cruiser worth buying? It depends. If you’re only commuting a short distance and can deal with 20 miles per gallon (MPG), the FJ Cruiser may be the best bang for your buck. On the other hand, if you’re going to be putting a lot of mileage on it and need some fuel efficiency, you may want to invest in a smaller car.

Compact Cars

Perhaps a Honda Civic or Ford Focus? U.S. News and World Report ranked the Focus as the best compact car for your money in 2013. The car starts at around $16,000, gets 38 MPG on the highway, and is said to handle well and has an upscale interior. U.S. News bases its awards on expert reviews, safety data, and the amount owners spent on the car during its first five years.

So is a subcompact worth buying? If you are comfortable in it, it is a great car for the money. As a 6 foot tall former owner of a Honda Civic, I can say quite simply: make sure to take breaks when you drive over a few miles, and stretch your back.

Price and Total Cost of Ownership

No matter how many awards a car earns, if you pay too much, you are not getting a good deal. Check out your car options  online and look at sites like truecar.com and realcartips.com to see current prices. There is enough information out there that you can and should be prepared to negotiate a price down and/or get valuable upgrades added for free.

You also should realize that there are a wide range of costs associated with owning a car, from insurance and maintenance to the aforementioned fuel and depreciation. So before you buy that car, new OR used, think carefully about your needs and your budget, and do your homework so you don’t get taken for a ride.

David Novich is a staff writer for SuperMoney. His mission is to help fight your evil debt blob and get your personal finances in tip top shape.
Photo: Autoviva

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