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Here are 8 steps to consider when looking for your perfect car.

Automotive enthusiasts refer to their perfect car as a “Unicorn.” A Unicorn car could be a customer version of a vehicle that doesn’t exist from the factory, such as a Dodge Ram 2500 Mega Cab with a long bed, or it could simply be a car that checks all the boxes of what you’re looking for in your steed of choice.

Here are 8 steps to consider when looking for the perfect car for you.

1. Define your style

Spend 5 minutes on the internet and you’ll find that there are more car clubs than you can count as well as a forum for every make and model ever created. Why? Because for every lifestyle, there is a car that’s a match made in heaven. Sophisticated urbanites who like to sit up high might like the BMW X5, while a construction company owner might prefer a heavy lifting Ford F-250. Subaru’s are associated with independent outdoorsmen and families, and Jeep owners are pictured crossing rivers and mountain trails, even if they spend most of their time in office parking lots.

2. Know How Much Space You Need

If you’re a college student and only have yourself and some modest possessions to get from point A to point B, something like a Honda Fit might fit your bill, but if you have a growing family, you’ll need something bigger. Minivans are excellent people movers and if you take the seats out (or fold them into the floor) you can have considerable amounts of cargo space. The Dodge Caravan can give a lot of bang for your minivan buck but if you’re after serious resale value, consider the Toyota Sienna. If you’re not ready for a minivan, consider more versatile SUV’s like the Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban or the Ford Expedition.

3. Choose Front, Rear or All-Wheel-Drive

Cars come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and they can be propelled in different ways as well — either rear-wheel-drive, front-wheel-drive, or all-wheel drive. Depending on the climate and road conditions that you’ll be facing in your travels, finding the right setup is key. If you’re a Manitoban and have to face the harsh winter roads, something with all-wheel-drive might be best. Some models, like the Ford Escape can be had in multiple configurations of drive type to suit your needs.

4. Work within your Budget

The next step to finding the right car is going to be looking at the costs that work with your budget. Depending on what your monthly income vs. monthly expenses look like, you might be looking at buying a used car or at least more of an economy model of a new one. With the average new car price topping $33,000, used cars are becoming more attractive all the time. Utilize tools that help you know your budget before you start shopping.

5. Factor in Cost of Ownership

You can’t judge a book by its cover and the same goes for cars. Just because a car is a good price to begin with, doesn’t mean it will continue to be easy on the pocketbook for the long term. Insurance, cost of repairs and the availability of parts all play a part in cost of ownership.

  • Cars that have high safety ratings are typically cheaper to insure than sporty models.
  • Models that are sold in high quantities are going to have more parts available when it comes time for repairs, which usually means the parts are more affordable than lower-volume models.
  • Then you have fuel economy: Pickup trucks and SUV’s hold their value well and often aren’t too expensive to insure, but you’re going to pay at the pump.

Looking for the top of each category? According to Edmund’s in 2016, the Honda Odyssey was the cheapest to insure, the Dodge Challenger to repair, and the Mitsubishi Mirage to fill up (that’s not a hybrid or electric car).

6. Consider Long-Term Value

Unfortunately, unless you’re in the classic car market, your car is a depreciating asset, and not all cars depreciate at the same rate. For example, vehicles loaded with the latest high-end technology may lose value quickly when the next big leap in technology occurs. Make use of tools available that provide insight on which vehicles hold their value over the long run and which ones depreciate quicker.

7. Decide How Used Is Too Used

If you decide a used car is more in line with your purchasing power, you’ll want to pay attention to the age. Try to buy one that is under 6-years-old if you’re going to be financing your purchase. Interest rates tend to take a bigger jump on cars older than that. And the older the car, the more repairs it tends to require.

8. Wave your banner

Once you find the perfect fit for you, enjoy it. Some owners treat the make of their vehicle with the same respect they would a country’s flag. The nice thing about today’s manufacturers is that most have multiple offerings, so you can find the configuration that best meets your needs: Compact, midsize, crossover, SUV, pickup truck, most makers have something for each category.