How to Spend Money Wisely » Shopping

What is the right car for us?

Buying a car is a big decision. Financially, it is something that can cost anything from a couple hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Relationally, your vehicle can also be a reflection of who you are, what your lifestyle is like, and where you are going in life. There’s a certain persona that goes with certain vehicles, like Harley Davidsons, Hummers, or old Cadillacs. So as my wife and I set out to purchase our first vehicle, we are asking ourselves a lot of questions about what car is right for us, both in terms of our finances, and our lifestyle.

Should we buy new or used?

The first question that we had to ask ourselves was whether or not we wanted to buy a new or a used vehicle. This greatly impacts the cost of the vehicle, as well as maintenance costs and fuel consumption. The benefits of a new car, of course, are numerous. Not only does it look great, drive great, and feel great, but you can drive worry-free, at least until the warranty runs out. A used vehicle, on the other hand, is vastly cheaper, but comes at the risk of potential repairs, and will have a shorter lifespan.
This debate is a huge one, and I can see both sides of the argument. My parents always disagreed on this, with my father extolling the virtues of a (relatively) maintenance-free vehicle, but my mother was insistent that the best value was with a used vehicle.
For us, as we know that this is a vehicle that we want to drive for at least 10 years, we want to get something as new as possible. Unfortunately, our budget doesn’t necessarily support that, so we are looking for a relatively new used vehicle, like a 2010, 2011 or 2012 model. Honestly, the year of the vehicle doesn’t bother me as much as how much the vehicle has been used. I’d rather buy 2010 with 25,000 kilometers on it rather than 2012 with 50,000.

What type of vehicle should we buy?

The second question we addressed was what type of vehicle we wanted, or rather, needed. Like I just mentioned, this is a vehicle that needs to last us about a decade, so we’re not looking for a motorcycle or a smart for two. We want something that we can put kids in (four-door), something that we can put stuff in (truck? hatchback? wagon?), and something that gets good gas mileage. Unlike most men my age, I’m really not that interested in a fancy car. I don’t need it to go faster than the speed limit, and I don’t plan on racing it anytime soon. I just need it to get from point A to point B safely, reliably, and comfortably.
After debating this, and after doing a little research, we ended up deciding on a small hatchback. The hatchback design allows us four doors, for us and some friends, and eventually some kids, but it also allows us to carry some luggage, or fold down some seats (hopefully) to even further increase our cargo area. In addition, the newer models are typically good on gas and have enough luxury features to keep us comfortable. We also considered some small SUVs, as they also match our criteria, but they are a little beyond our budget.
In the end, we’ve narrowed our search down to a couple of vehicles. Leading the way is the Nissan Versa. A used Versa is in the nine to twelve thousand dollar range, which is doable for us. It also has the largest cargo room in its sub-compact class. According to reviews, the Versa is a great vehicle, just not quite as good as the Honda Fit and the Toyota Yaris. We prefer the Versa over the Fit or Yaris because it is a little bit larger, a little bit less expensive, and honestly, it just looks nicer. Also competing for our attention is the Toyota Matrix (bit bigger, but more expensive) and the Hyundai Elantra. The next step for us is to go and test drive all the mentioned vehicles, and see which one actually fits us the best.


If you’re looking for a new vehicle, there are a couple of resources I’d love to mention. The first and foremost is Consumer Reports. Each quarter they put out a new vehicle buying guide, which reviews all the new models for the new year. While this makes for interesting reading, it might not help you so much if you’re looking for a used vehicle. Luckily, in the back of each magazine is a Reference and Ratings section for Used Vehicles. This information is not available for free off their website, but it is a valuable resource for any car buyer, as it lists each vehicle, the model years available (for the last 10 years), and what potential problems the vehicle might have. For instance, did you know that the 2004 model of the Honda CR-V had huge issues with its climate system, but all the other models did not?
The second resource I would point you towards is This website is a car buyers bible. Unfortunately it is based in America, so prices and related information is American, but is still an incredible precious tool for model reviews, reliability information, and customer reports. Check it out before you ever think about purchasing a vehicle.
What was your first car? Would you recommend new or a used vehicle? Why? What resources do you use before you buy a car?


  1. Craig/FFB

    Its really important to look at what you need to buy the car for. When we were shopping for a large car (3 kids) we needed seating and storage. We wanted a type of SUV at first but a mini-van was really more practical. That decision has saved us a lot of trouble climbing into a car trying to get the kids belted in and such. And its so much easier loading everything through the back.

  2. Chris

    I drive about 120km a day so my criteria for a car were as follows:
    1) gentile on gas
    2) low milage
    3) interior space for people or my bike or a run to home depot.

    In the end I went with a G6. The interior is big enough to carry 4 adults, nice on the highway and if I drop the seats I can get about 20 2×4’s in the back.

  3. Robert

    Consumer Reports does it for me as far as reliability goes, new or used. I looked at trying to buy a used or off-lease Civic 2 years ago, and out West here the price difference between new and used was almost non-existent, less than $1000, often just a few hundred dollars. For that, I went new. I have had Toyotas and Hondas before and all lasted over 10 years reliably … i plan on keeping my Civic 15 years. At that time frame, new made a lot of sense.

    For a second (commuter) car I bought a well used Civic with 200K on it, but I drive it only about 6,000 km per year.

    On any used car I insist on the CAA used car inspection (or similar) – a thorough going over of the engine, tranny and major components before I buy a used car. If the buyer refuses to accommodate this, I walk.

  4. Evan

    With the cost of crude oil rising to around 87 dollars a barrel gas prices are on their way up again. Unfortunately most pure hybrids still are not hitting the “Break even point”. Hopefully technology will continue to improve.

  5. youngandthrifty

    I just went to the Vancouver Auto Show over the weekend =)

    It was quite fun to sit in $90,000+ cars and ogle at Lambourghini’s, but in the end, for me, fuel economy is a priority.

    I like the versa too- it’s better looking than the Yaris or Fit.

    I would check out the fuel economy guide- I think you can check it out online before I buy =)

    My current car is a Honda Civic and it’s 10 years old and still doin’ okay! (It was used when I bought it too)

  6. Steven

    Hi Alan, this blog was a great read as i’m, not only looking for a new car, but i am also a new driver in my 30’s. So the ENTIRE experience is very new to me.
    The Nissan Versa has been the main choice so far out of the selection we’ve seen so far. However, i just don’t know where to start at all. A gentleman at a dealership today, mentioned that my steps should be to find out how much i can be approved for and Then look for a car. Strange to me, makes no sense.

    If possible, could you please help me out with the financial side of things. e.g, can i put money down towards the principal, how much does credit rating effect payments, what is the actual procedure that it followed once you actually find a car you like.

    Thank you very much.

    I’m really lost, but really need a car for work.

  7. Jordan

    I always look for the cars that use gas most efficiently. I drive a lot so every mile counts!

  8. Joshua Rodriguez

    What I look for in a car all depends on what I need the vehicle for. I like to go off-roading, so I would prefer a truck that can take a beating and doesn’t suck a ridiculous amount of gas. Those can be pretty hard to find.

  9. Amber S

    I don’t drive a lot so I just need something that can get me from point A to point B without draining the tank. I’ll take one new or used car as long as it runs well.

  10. Randol

    I like to do my research before purchasing a car and review consumer reports so that I know what I’ll be driving away with. Great article!

  11. gcai

    if this double posted my apologies!

    I chose ‘new’ mainly because I keep my cars until they no longer move under their own volition – i.e. least 10 years – I’m working on year 15 right now. My choice Subaru Outback – great vehicle.

    if you decide on ‘new’ then I can highly recommend (as would several of my friends ) – (note the .org suffix) run by Bob Prest.

    You specify the precise vehicle you want and he finds the best price in your area for a $150 fee.
    I my case the savings worked out to over 10% ($3300).
    Will use his service again without hesitation.

    happy car buying

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