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05/14/2018 11:04 EDT | Updated 05/15/2018 08:54 EDT

Here's What To Know Before You Start Searching For A New Car

Purchasing a car can be a time consuming and intimidating experience, even for relatively car-literate people.

I grew up in a small town and owned my first car at 16. I loved that car and drove it to its last kilometre.

Living in a rural community meant lots of time in the car for my friends and me. Our parents quickly grew tired of driving us around, so I became the de-facto chauffeur. During that time, I became a confident car owner. I learned how to check and fill fluids, change a tire and jumpstart an engine. Owning a car at a young age gave me both a sense of freedom and responsibility. I felt like an adult.

You don't need to be a mechanic to know the basics and feel confident around cars. But I know through my own network that there are a lot of women who feel some anxiety when making vehicle-related decisions.

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When it comes to car ownership and maintenance, there are just as many capable women as men; we just don't always talk about it or share our experiences. And the reality is people are still using cars as a major mode of transportation, particularly women and millennials.

Purchasing a car can be a time consuming and intimidating experience, even for relatively car-literate people. It's a big expense, so it's no wonder why people on average spend more than 14 hours on the purchasing process. That time is spent researching online, comparing different models, getting advice from friends and family, and visiting dealerships.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to make sure you're getting the car that's right for you. Here are a few helpful questions that I asked myself before making a recent purchase.

What will you use it for?

This sounds obvious, but it's one of the most important questions you should start with. Are you mainly using it to travel back and forth to work? Are you transporting kids and gear? Are you the type to go for a fun Sunday drive? The right car is the one that best meets your needs.

A sleek two-door sports car may look appealing, but if you're in and out of the back seat a lot, it may be too much of a pain. Similarly, a five-seater may seem like ample room for a family of four, but don't forget that once those seats are occupied, there's little room for hockey bags or camping gear. Make sure you really think through all the scenarios that are most important to you.

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How do you feel about driving?

A vehicle is generally the largest purchase we make outside of buying a home. Are you a car enthusiast and love to drive even when you're not in purchase mode? If so, it may be worth it to splurge on something that brings you joy. But, if you are strictly using it to get from point A to point B, be wary of getting caught up in the shopping excitement so you don't end up with buyer's remorse.

How much can you afford?

Take a look at your budget — if you don't have one, now's a good time to start — and figure out how much money you have left after basic needs and all of the discretionary or "fun" expenses you don't want to give up. Come up with a monthly figure and go from there. Using an online calculator that can break down your monthly financing costs will help.

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Also, don't forget that cars depreciate quickly; about 20 per cent in the first year alone. They're not an investment! There are also plenty of expenses that come with owning a car, such as insurance, maintenance costs, gas and parking, so make sure you're committed. If you're financing and need to sell a car in the early part of your loan, there's a chance that the car will be worth less than what you owe, and that's a situation no one wants to be in.

Have you done your research?

Once you figure out the type of car you want and how much you can afford, you're ready to go deep into the research, including the fun part: the test drive! There is a lot of material out there, so in a future post I'll go into more detail on some important research questions you'll need to ask yourself.

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