Car Trek III: The Needs Awaken
Now that we know WHY were are shopping, we need to identify what exactly we are shopping for. We will look at this in two parts, the needs, and the wants.
First, what exactly do you need?
In my case, the needs are very straightforward. I need room for 5 or more; I need all-wheel drive or 4x4, I need excellent fuel efficiency, I need a passenger compartment that is easy enough to get into that my aging father can get in and out of the front passenger seat without aid. I need room for the groceries (yes this is still going to be the grocery-getter!) I need maximum reliability as this will be my primary vehicle for several hundred thousand miles. Lastly, I need excellent crash survivability as this vehicle will be responsible for the lives of my children very often.
In your case, the needs will vary, but I strongly recommend making a list. I used an excel spreadsheet that I kept in Microsoft OneNote, that way I could have access to it anywhere I went from any device and I shared access of it to my wife also. This may not be something that you need to do, but a written list will keep you on track, keep you separating the needs and wants, and making it much harder for a bright shiny new thing to woo you into making a poor choice.
Also, make sure that over the course of the process, you take the time to go back over each of these steps to make sure that you are staying focused. These are not steps that we are taking just to go thru the motions, these are each in their way critical to the overall process but combined, they are a gauge to measure your progress at each point in the process.
Here are some things to take into account as you assess your needs and wants. First, you need to be able to discern between them. What separates a want from a need? Well, you are the only one that can answer that as this will change drastically between people. When I bought my van, I NEEDED 6 or more seats. Now, with six years behind me and my children growing, I now NEED 5. Six seats would be handy, so that may be a WANT, but I don’t really need all six anymore. For me, the color of the vehicle is a want, never a need. That could be different for you, perhaps you cannot see your vehicle in a parking lot unless it is orange, (I say this because my grandfather had all his vehicles painted bright orange back in the eighties expressly so he could find them in a parking lot.) If this is the case for you, then maybe for you, color is a need. Maybe you will drive for a ride share company, and you can charge more if the car is black. Again, these wants and needs categories change for each person, so set your own list, don’t try to use mine or anyone else’s. You do you. A few things to think about as you start your list of needs and wants: Engine size, trailer towing capacity, color, drivetrain, ground clearance, crash rating, material type, fuel type, maintenance, reliability, resale value, country of origin, body type. Now let me explain each of these items. Engine size: How many cylinders does it have and how big are each cylinder? This can matter a lot as larger engines with more cylinders use significantly more fuel but can haul larger loads, move faster, or pull a larger trailer easier. Trailer towing capacity: can the vehicle pull a trailer, do you need it to, and how large of a trailer if it can? This will matter if you pull something like a bike trailer, a camper, or a utility trailer for work. Drivetrain: Is it a front wheel drive, a rear wheel drive, an all wheel drive or a four-wheel drive? Which do you need? Which would you prefer? Where will you be driving primarily and on what type of road conditions? This goes hand in glove with ground clearance. If you use the vehicle for off-road recreation, or work, more ground clearance is probably better. Crash rating: How safe or survivable is this vehicle in a crash? Material type: is this vehicle make primarily of lightweight plastics and alloys or solid metals? Fuel type: does this vehicle run on Gasoline, Diesel, or Electricity? Which is the easiest to find and at the most reasonable price where you will use this vehicle the most? Maintenance: How much will this vehicle cost to keep on the road and how often will it require service. How much will you be left without it when it does need maintenance and how much will that cost you. Reliability: What kind of reputation does this vehicle and brand have for breaking down or needing unscheduled maintenance? Resale value: how much does this vehicle sell for used with the number of years and/or miles on it that I expect to put on this one before replacement. Country of Origin: Where did the vehicle come from, where were the bulk of its parts manufactured, and where was it assembled? To many people, this doesn't matter at all, but to some, this means everything. There are many people, especially here in America that are fiercely brand loyal solely because their brand treats their local union properly. Body Type: This is just that, what the new vehicle actually IS, and what does it need to be? Is it a sedan, a van, truck, a coupe or an SUV? That may have seemed a bit elementary, but it can really matter. When you walk into that dealership, with a clearly defined need for a small SUV and the sales staff points you to that awesome shiny convertible, you need to be able to look at the list and know that it doesn't fit. There are likely several other categories of wants and needs for you, but this is a great place to start.
So as I said earlier, the first thing I did was clearly define my needs. These are the core of the decision and should not be allowed to change by much. If some item truly is a need, then it will be highly unlikely that it will be able to change in the few short weeks it takes you to find your new vehicle. If however, the item's importance shifts rapidly and often, then you are most likely looking at a want, not a need.
Let's talk about those wants. Sometimes one person's want is another person's need. For example, I don't care what color my car is. I like black, but I don't need it. If however, I were to be driving for Uber or something, I may need the car to be black to maximize my income. Other times, wants are so frivolous that they could NEVER be a need. I want my car to have a HEMI engine. Any engine that turns the wheels at the required pace is a need. A HEMI specifically is just a want. I think they are cool, I like the way they sound, but there is no situation in the world where ONLY a HEMI will do the job. (Sorry Dodge folks)
For me, the wants were a bit more varied. I wanted up to seven passengers. I wanted an electronic all-wheel drive system. I wanted an easily accessible storage area to carry the groceries in. I wanted heated leather seats. I wanted Apple CarPlay. I wanted Navigation. I wanted a touchscreen. I wanted black paint.
The next important thing to realize is that wants can, will, and should change as you proceed thru this and learn more about cars. For example, after using a few different Navi systems in a few different brands, I realized that touchscreen was not needed. During this, I changed my mind on the black paint; I decided that while black would be fine too, silver, gray and white were also very nice colors for me.
Lastly, in the area of needs and wants, the one most important thing that I did was I made notes. Lots of notes on every car I looked at. I wrote about how they served my needs, how they addressed my wants, and always, I wrote something very soon after each interaction with each car. Then later, before I went to see the next one, I would read over the notes I made, judge my thoughts based on how the car scored, and move it up or down in my list of possibles based on that new, updated score. This way, as I discovered new things about the cars I was test driving, I used those new things to affect a weighted assessment of the vehicle. Couple this with the other lists I made regarding other aspects, like feelings, thoughts, impressions, data, mileage, cost info and such, and I had a complete break down of each car, I also had a very comprehensive breakdown in how each of those cars compared to each other. This gave me the ability to objectively assess each one on its own merits and on its standing in the pool and make an informed decision that was tailored specifically to my own case.
In the next post, I will go over the last item I consider critical, budget. After we look at the budget we will put all this data together, show how I was able to make an informed decision and share with you the forms, lists, and spreadsheets I used to make that decision.