Choosing the right carThe huge choice of cars available can be confusing, but once you have decided what you need from a car, and how much you can afford to spend on it, it should be straightforward to choose the right model for you.

Taking a few minutes to jot down the answers to some vital questions can help narrow your choice from hundreds to a handful. Here are some of the most important questions to ask:

What’s my budget?

Don’t forget that the price of the car is only the start of the bills you’ll need to consider. On top of that, you’ll also need to consider all the ongoing costs: fuel, tax, maintenance and so on. Speak to your dealer to find out how much routine servicing costs, and shop around at independent garages to get the best price.

Remember, too, that while you will be able to get some of your money back when you come to sell your car, not all cars retain the same amount of money. For a rough idea of how much value your car will lose over time, take a look at adverts for older versions of the car you’re looking at.

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Can I afford the fuel?

Naturally, a car which uses less fuel is preferable to one that drinks the stuff. The most economical modern cars can cover more than 70 miles per gallon, and although the majority of these have diesel engines, small petrol engines can run them close.

If you want the very best economy, you could consider models like the Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion or Ford Fiesta Econetic, which have been specially tuned to deliver good fuel economy. Alternatively, hybrids like the Toyota Prius (which have two separate power sources – generally a combustion engine and an electric motor) are getting more economical all the time.

However, to keep your costs down, remember that it’s not just a question of picking one of the most economical models in a range. Often these are among the most expensive versions and, unless you do a lot of miles, the savings from their better economy won’t be enough to compensate for their extra cost up front.

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Can I afford the road tax?

Vehicle Excise Duty (as Road tax is properly known) is based on how much carbon dioxide (CO2) a car emits. Every model is grouped into one of 13 tax bands and the higher the emissions of CO2, the more it will cost to tax.

Just to confuse matters, though, there’s a special first-registration tax, which is included in a new car’s ‘On the road’ price. This, too, is based on a car’s CO2 emissions, but is generally higher than the cost of subsequent years’ tax.

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What will the car be used for?

Think very carefully about how you’ll be using the car. If it’s for everyday use, you may want something comfortable and relaxing to drive, with plenty of luxurious features like climate control and a good stereo.
The dealer may try and sell you options like sports suspension and larger alloy wheels ¬- and, to be fair, they may well look good on paper – but they can lead to a firmer, more uncomfortable ride and prove irritating on a daily commute.

What’s more, they may even raise your car’s emissions, pushing it into a higher tax band and costing you more to run. Plus, if you’re considering a vehicle as a company car, remember that any options you have fitted will lead to a higher tax bill.

On the other hand, if the car is just for fun or you want style at all costs, lower suspension, bigger alloys and extra bodykit might be just what you want.
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How Auto Trader can help: Car reviews

How many passengers will I be carrying?

Unused extra space can be a waste, with bigger cars often costing more to buy and run than smaller ones, so think about how many people you’ll have in the car – and how often.

If you’ll only take passengers occasionally, a city car like the Fiat 500 or a supermini like the Ford Fiesta could be just right, whereas a Volkswagen Golf-sized hatchback or a family car like the Ford Mondeo will be fine for four or five.

If you need more space, as well as some extra versatility, consider a small MPV (aka a people-carrier), such as the Ford C-Max or Renault Scenic. These also seat five, but generally have a little more room than a conventional hatchback or saloon; plus, the seats can slide, fold or even be removed to give you a choice of several different arrangements.

If you need still more passenger space, there are plenty of seven-seaters  out there, like the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer, Seat Alhambra and Land Rover Discovery. However, remember that not all seven-seaters are equally accommodating: in some, the sixth and seventh seats are for little more than occasional use, whereas in others you can take seven adults comfortably.

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Short trips or long journeys?

If you are buying a car for short journeys, it’s probably best to choose a model with a small petrol engine – they’re generally cheaper to buy than cars with a diesel engine and are increasingly economical. Yes, a diesel-engined car will cost less in fuel, but probably not enough to make up for the extra it costs to buy in the first place.

For frequent long trips and motorway driving, the extra cost of a diesel-engined car makes sense, as the better fuel economy will make up for the additional outlay in the long run.

You may be tempted to choose a supposedly frugal small car even for motorway journeys, but that could be a false economy. Low-powered cars often use more fuel at motorway speeds than bigger, higher-powered cars, as their small engines need to work much harder.

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Do I need a big boot?

Think carefully how much luggage you need to carry in your car. A city car’s boot usually has enough space for a couple of shopping bags, but little more, whereas a large estate car can take you and your passengers on holiday or accommodate a few pets.

If you have any particular things you need to carry ¬– whether it’s kids, pets or your golf clubs – don’t be ashamed of taking them along to try in the car when you test drive it. Boot capacity figures are a good guide to how spacious a car is, but the shape of the boot can be just as important as its sheer size when it comes to loading luggage.

Last, but not least, if you think you’ll occasionally need to carry more luggage, It’s worth finding out the car’s capacity not just with its rear seats in place, but also with them folded down.

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Does it need to perform a specific task, like towing?

If you have something particular you need the car to do, make sure it is up to the job: if you tow a trailer, for example, check the official maximum towing weight; if you’re heading off road, make sure the car has adequate ground clearance and suitable tyres; and, if you have a small garage, check out the car’s measurements.

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An independent view

If you have some particular concerns, you may be able to find independent ratings to help you narrow down your choice. Euro NCAP, for example, has been crash-testing cars since 1997 and you can find the results of every test on its website; and, if security is a concern, look at the website of the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre, or Thatcham, as it’s more usually known. Here you can find ratings for the security of every new car on sale.

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The huge choice of cars available can be confusing. By deciding what you need from a car, and your budget, choosing the right car for you should be straightforward.

Spend a few minutes jotting down what you need from a car – it can help narrow your choices from dozens to a small handful. Good questions to ask include:

What’s my budget?

When setting your budget you should consider the cost of a new car as well as the on-going costs, such as fuel and maintenance.

Check how much value the car will lose over time – take a look at adverts for older versions of the car you’re looking to buy as a rough indicator.

How Auto Trader can help: Car loans and finance

Can I afford the fuel?

As a rule, a car which uses less fuel is preferable to one that drinks fuel. The most modern economical cars can cover more than 70 miles per gallon, and although the majority of these have diesel engines, small petrol engines can run them close.

Some cars, like the Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion have been specially tuned to deliver good fuel economy, and part petrol-part electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius are getting more economical all the time.

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Can I afford the road tax?

Since March 1, 2001, road tax has been based on how much carbon dioxide (CO2) a car emits. There are 13 tax bands from A to M which group emission and each has a different cost. Generally, the more CO2 a car emits, the more it will cost to tax.

New car buyers will also have to consider a higher first year rate of tax, which is called showroom tax.

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What will the car be used for?

If the car is for everyday use you may want something comfortable and relaxing to drive, with plenty of comfort-improving extras like air conditioning and a good stereo.

Things like sports suspension and big alloy wheels might look good on paper, but can irritate on a daily commute. If, however, the car is just for fun then this might be just what you want.

How Auto Trader can help: Car reviews

How many passengers?

Extra space can be a waste, with bigger cars often costing more to run than smaller ones, so think about who you’ll have in the car.

For adults with occasional passengers, a city car like a Fiat 500 or a supermini like a Ford Fiesta could be just right. A Volkswagen Golf-sized hatchback or family saloon like the Ford Mondeo is fine for four or five.

Small MPVs, also called people carriers, and most 4×4s also seat five, but many such as the Vauxhall Zafira MPV and Land Rover Discovery 4×4 can seat seven in comfort.

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Short trips or long journeys?

If you are buying a car for short journeys it’s probably best to buy a model with a small petrol engine – they’re generally cheaper to buy than cars with a diesel engine – and are increasingly economical.

For frequent long trips and motorway driving, the extra cost of a diesel makes sense, as the extra fuel economy will fund the additional outlay in the long run. Low-powered cars often use more fuel at motorway speeds than bigger, higher-powered cars as their small engines need to work much harder.

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Do I need a big boot?

While a small city car usually has just enough space in its boot for shopping bags, a large estate car can take you and your passengers on holiday or accommodate a few pets. It’s worth making sure how much space a car has with its rear seats in place, and folded down for more luggage room.

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Does it need to perform a specific task, like towing?

If you need to carry out specific tasks, make sure the car is up to the job. If you tow a trailer, check the official maximum trailer weight, which must never be exceeded. If you’re heading off road, make sure the car has adequate ground clearance and suitable tyres.

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Car reviews