Buying a new car can be exciting, but it can also be difficult or stressful. You need to take the time to shop around, compare prices, and figure out a budget. Whether it’s new-to-you-but-technically-used or fresh off the factory floor brand new, choosing a new vehicle requires time and effort, every step of the way.

Assuming you have a significant other that lives with you, that adds an extra wrinkle to the mix. Will your partner also be driving this car? Will you both share duties in paying for it? Are their needs different from your own? There are a lot of questions. If you’re looking to buy a vehicle and aren’t sure what questions to be asking, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll give you five that you and your partner to consider together before you buy.

Here’s our first question for you both:

1. What will we be using the vehicle for?

It might not be the first question that popped into your head, but this one is definitely worth taking the time to consider. Of the slew of cars available on the market today, there are certain “segments” or families of vehicles, if you will. Most popular these days are SUVs or smaller crossovers. Choose from any one of them if you plan on driving off-road, or if you have children (or plan on adding some in the future). If you want to haul all your toys during adventures, choose a truck for its towing abilities and versatility. The “green” segment has you covered if you’re looking for hybrid/electric. And never fear, the good-ol’ sedan hasn’t died — yet.

While you won’t necessarily have to do any research right after asking this question, you will want to make sure the main purpose of the car leads the selection of possible contenders. In fact, it helps to list three-to-five of the main uses of the vehicle, so write them down! Is it merely for commuting to work and getting groceries? Or taking the kids to baseball practice and dance lessons? Maybe it’s for a camping road trip? Some situations will require a specific type of vehicle, while others can be more fluid in their demands.

2. How will we pay for the car?

Making a living these days means keeping an eye on your spending — and by extension, your credit. Depending on the type of purchase you’ll be making, you’ll need to figure out where the funds are coming from. The most important thing is to make sure you have a game plan. After all, it’s a bit like putting the cart before the horse if you go out and find a car before even considering your financial situation.

Research for this question may include speaking with a professional lender or even family members. Banks will charge you interest on any loans you take out, but family might be more forgiving. At the same time, you’ll want to know both your credit scores if you plan on financing the car through an outside lender or the dealership. If you do speak to a lender, ask them: would it be better if just one of us submitted for the loan, or both? Depending on how you manage your personal credit score, your options will vary accordingly.

3. What qualities/features do we want?

You might be thinking that this question and the very first one we asked are similar, if not basically the same. However, knowing what the car will be used for and what qualities said car has to possess are two very different things. One of you might need the car to get to work every day, but does that mean you want it to be as small and fuel efficient as possible? Not necessarily.

This question directs both of you towards listing characteristics that will begin to discriminate one option from the next. Perhaps safety is a shared goal between you both. You might want a vehicle you can take out to the trails, along the foothills, and up winding mountain roads. Or maybe you live in a place with snow and ice for six months of the year. If so, four-wheel drive might make your feature shortlist.

Individually, come up with five-to-seven features you want on or in the new car. They don’t necessarily have to be ordered by importance. Maybe you desperately need GPS navigation to avoid getting lost, or a DVD system for the little ones in your back seat. Once you’ve both created your lists, share them your partner. Discuss why you wrote down the traits you did, and which you feel you can be flexible on. Together, create a list of the top three-to-five features you both want in a car. Once you’re on the same page, shopping will get a lot easier.

4. What’s our budget?

Thus far, you’ve both come up with (1) the use for your new car, (2), where you’re going to source the funds, and (3) what you want in your new ride. If you didn’t like talking about money before, we’re sad to say we have to go back to the subject. However, part of making an informed decision is knowing your boundaries and sticking to those limits. Smart financial decisions in the present make for a better future.

There are a lot of ways you can figure out your budget for your new car. One of the easiest is to take the last year’s expenses for your current vehicle and use that as a guide. For example, you’ll need to pay for things like registration, license plates, maintenance, insurance, gas, repairs, and of course, the rainy-day fund. Purchasing a car from a dealership will inflate these numbers due to overhead and profit margins.

Proper budgets, when respected, will represent how much you can spend without cleaning out all your accounts. Leave yourselves a cushion when it comes to your overall budget because it might seem like a good idea to splurge a bit or spend just a few thousand dollars more now, but you’re likely to regret that decision later. Don’t get yourselves financially underwater just because you wanted a more power engine, the flashy sunroof, or leather seats. Crunch the numbers before hand, and then stick to the budget.

5. Which brands do we prefer?

Beginning with brands you like is a good way to get started. A lot of people pick a brand name and stick with them for the rest of their automotive purchases. Then there are others who don’t really care either way about brand loyalty. It’s likely that there are certain manufacturers that will have the features you prefer, but that’s not always the case.

Depending on when you last purchased a car, the various major automakers might have changed significantly. Research the models you like, from any manufacturer you prefer. Which models have your favorite features? How will they fit with your budget, financial situation, and lifestyle? These are just a few more questions you can begin to ask yourself — and your partner, of course.

Test drive, test drive, test drive!

The five questions we listed above are great for jump starting your car-purchasing journey. But the most important question of all is: “Do I see myself driving this car?” Only you can answer this one correctly. Typically, buying a new car means you’ll be behind the wheel of it for the next five-to-ten years. So make sure it’s a model you really love! Test drive your top three picks. And then test drive them a second time. One last word of advice? Sleep on it before you buy, because some salespeople will say anything to close the deal immediately.


Rebecca Henderson has a Master's in German and a Bachelor's in Creative Writing. She alternates her time between writing and working on a variety of motorized projects. Most recently, she and her boyfriend have been building a custom drift trike. Rebecca believes that language, love, and a life worth living are only the first ingredients to happiness.