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New-car shopping checklist

From engine size and fuel economy to safety and sound systems, there’s a lot to consider while shopping for new wheels.

Published November 15, 2012

Before you start

What kind of car? There are 60 variants of vehicles: Do you want a car or crossover? Four-door or two-door? Hatchback or SUV? How about a convertible?

What size? How big do you really need, and how much luggage space? Seats range in number from two to eight. Do you need a bicycle to fit in the trunk, or your dog to be comfortable in the back seat?

What kind of power? Gas, hybrid, diesel, electric, or extended electric — each has its advantages and limits. Go to wheels.ca to read up on which offers what.

Which drivetrain? Two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive? AWD is better in unpaved or winter conditions, but costs more to buy and fix.

How’s the dealer? You’ll be visiting for maintenance and potential warranty work. Go to the dealerships you’re interested in and take a test drive. Check their service rates while you’re there.

Value for money

Resale value: Take a look at canadianblackbook.com and consider how much the car should be worth when you expect to sell. A higher residual makes the investment cheaper.

Regular or premium brand? Are you prepared to pay the higher service costs required to maintain a “premium” brand?

Which gas? What do you need to put in the tank? Is expensive premium fuel required, or merely recommended for better performance?

Fuel economy: Consumption claims are under ideal circumstances, so don’t expect to replicate them easily, but they do work for comparing vehicles.

How far do you drive? If you drive just 5,000 km per year and you’re watching costs, pay less heed to fuel consumption and more to resale value — ultra-low-mileage cars don’t resell for much more than low-mileage cars.

Reliability: Go to Google or wheels.ca to check what current owners say about the models you’re considering. Anyone who considers buying your used car in a few years will be doing this, too.

Insurance: Check how much the models you’re considering will cost to insure, and shop around for quotes. Prices vary widely between vehicles and insurers.

Financing: If you want to finance your vehicle, compare the interest rates for the models you’re considering. More-popular cars offer fewer incentives to buy, with greater interest rates that can really add up.

Rustproofing: Cars are built with much better materials than they used to be. You probably don’t need additional corrosion protection, but look for advice from other owners online.

Warranty: Again, cars are more reliable now, but there are still some lemons. Take the warranty home to read in comfort before you sign it — there are many variables to suit your circumstances.

Compare the makes: Use the dealer’s “build and price” online tools to compare the final cost of the vehicles you’re considering. Then try to negotiate.

Comfort

Leather or cloth? Cloth is usually cheaper and easier to maintain. It doesn’t need heating or cooling, either.

Sound system? If you’re really a connoisseur, pay for the extra speakers. If you only want the traffic on AM radio, go for the basic.

Staying connected: If you’re on the phone all the time, or use your iPod for music, is there a Bluetooth or hardwire connection for hands-free use? Is there an auxiliary connection socket? Can your device stay charged with a USB connection, or a six-volt charger within range? Is hands-free entertainment easy to scroll through and use?

Legroom and headroom: Check out the car in the showroom and drive it, too, to make sure the seat will fit your frame.

Adjustable seating: There’s no need to pay extra for electric adjustments if you’ll be the only driver, although it’s nice to have the seat slide back to give more space for entering and exiting.

Heated seats: If they’re leather, this is a must in Canada. Otherwise, you’ll spend four months of winter sitting on a blanket, or an aftermarket cover. If they’re cloth, this is a luxury.

Automatic and air-conditioning: Some budget models charge extra for these, usually about a thousand dollars each. The investment always pays for itself when you resell the car.

Navigation: Touch screens are common now, but satellite navigation can still be a costly option. If you’re happy with a much-cheaper portable GPS that sticks to the windshield, don’t pay for sat-nav — the money won’t recoup at resale. The same goes for an entertainment system in the back seat, where aftermarket options are cheaper and easily fixed.

Little things add up: Look carefully at the extra costs for a sunroof, a six-disc CD player that’s now redundant for most people, keyless entry, custom paint, etc. They’re nice, but are you prepared to pay for them?

Coffee time: If you drink coffee or other beverages in the car, bring your favourite mug or bottle to the showroom to try it out. It may be awkward to reach, or not fit the holders. Hey — it’s your car!

Safety

More than the basics? Some makers equip their most basic models with every safety option available. Others vary the number of airbags and computerized safety devices with the model trim. Buy as much as you can afford — it’s more important than the stereo.

Extra help: Traction control is compulsory now in a new car, and anti-lock brakes are common. But other driving aids such as stability control, blind-spot warnings and lane-assist warnings are becoming more affordable.

Crash testing: Vehicles perform differently in government-regulated testing. Look for a five-star safety rating and pay for it.

Cameras: Back-up cameras are now an option in many larger vehicles, and a good idea. They can be costly, though. Do you really need the parking assistance that 360-degree cameras and bumper-mounted radar offer?

Performance

How fast? Top speed is irrelevant in Canada, but higher horsepower and torque provides quicker passing acceleration and fewer downshifts when driving through hills and into the wind, not to mention more comfortable cruising at highway speed. Take a test drive if you’re not sure how much you want.

How fast, really? If you’re a “sporty” type, compare performance data, and then drive the car. Differences of tenths of a second by professional drivers under ideal conditions won’t reflect your own style and ability.

How big a wheel? Larger tires look better and usually perform better, but increase rapidly in cost with size. Budget for winter tires, too.

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