Researching a New Car

Getting a new car is an exhilarating experience, but the responsibility involved in picking the best new car for you can be overwhelming. Luckily, there are a number of websites, databases, and companies dedicated to making the process of buying a car much easier.

New Car Quality Ratings

“Quality" is a broad term, and can be interpreted in many ways. J.D. Power and Consumer Reports are industry leaders in quality studies and test the quality of new cars from a number of different perspectives, listed below.

Types of New Car Quality Assessment

  • Customer satisfaction.
  • Customer dissatisfaction.
  • Dependability.
    • The J.D. Power Dependability Ratings takes a longer view on owner-reported problems by vehicle, seeing which cars hold up better over time.
  • Fuel economy.
    • Consumer Reports has tested for the most—and least—efficient cars when it comes to gas mileage.

New Car Safety Ratings

For many new car buyers, safety is one of the most important issues to consider. You are precious cargo, and your family, friends, and pets are, too.

There are a few different agencies out there doing major safety tests on new cars—most prominently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA ) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Both groups can be great resources when doing research on a vehicle's safety.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a government agency that issues a 5-Star Safety Rating based on how a new car performs in a crash test. The rating examines, among other considerations:

  • Front crash.
  • Side crash.
  • Rollover resistance.

Starting in 2011, the NHTSA tweaked their tests to incorporate differently sized dummies and collect different crash data. They typically test new cars that are predicted to sell in high volume.


The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a private nonprofit organization that was founded by auto insurance agencies. They issue Top Safety Pick designations for new cars based on how they perform in crash testing.

Specifically, the agency examines:

  • Crashworthiness—how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash.
  • Crash avoidance—how a car's technology can help prevent or mitigate a crash.

New Car Features

A new car will come in different versions, depending on the number and type of features it incorporates. Most manufactures will offer a base model, which includes just the basic necessities of a car.

Typically, the more upgrades made to the base model, the higher the price of the car. Some features that may ratchet up a new car price include:

  • Leather interior.
  • Heated/air conditioned seats.
  • Built-in entertainment systems.
  • Sun/moon roof.
  • Latest technological trends.
  • Push-start.

When considering how the features you want in a new car may affect its cost, it's best to check the manufacturer's website for the most accurate price estimates.

The New Car Market

Supply and demand wields a huge amount of influence over the price of everything, including new cars.

A new car will be the most expensive right after it rolls onto the market, especially if it's a popular model. But there are a few ways to skirt around paying a premium price for a new car:

  • Buy an out-of-season car.
    • E.g. purchasing a convertible in the winter.
  • Wait until the end of a “model year" to buy a new car.
  • Seek out new car incentives and rebates.
  • Buy a new car on the last day of the month.
    • Most dealers have monthly sales quotas.
  • Buy a new car at the end of the calendar year, when many dealers are trying to clear their inventories.

For other tips and tools to ensure you're getting a good price, check out our guide to buying a new car.

New Car Reviews

Another good way to research a new car is by learning from the experience of others. There are plenty of expert reviews online to choose from. Two good sources are the Kelley Blue Book and Consumer Reports.

Hearing what actual new car owners have to say is another great way to get perspective. User reports often highlight the quirks of a specific car that you won't hear about from a dealer or read on a manufacturer's website.

You can scan the web for thousands of new car owner comments. Edmunds provides a database to search what people have to say not only about their new car, but about new car dealers, as well.

Where to Buy a New Car

You don't just have to rely on the dealership down the street for your new car purchase. Once you've decided on which car you want, there are several ways to begin the hunt for it, including:

  • Direct buying services.
    • New car buyers can enlist the help of an expert. These professionals will take care of everything from finding a new car to delivering it to your house.
  • Manufacturer's websites.
    • If there's a specific type of car you have in mind, the manufacturer's site may include a dealer referral service, which will point you in the direction of a specific dealer in your area.

You can also use programs like the Kelley Blue Book quote tool to get an idea of which dealers within your zip code have the make and model you want.

It's recommended to visit several dealers to get the best price quote on a new car. If you want to buy a car on a subsequent visit, it's recommended to call ahead to ensure the dealer still has the vehicle you want.

Test-Driving Your New Car

Everyone has different preferences, which is why an important part of researching a new car is your own experience, feelings, and insights. The best way to acquire these traits is by test-driving a new car you're interested in buying.

Some key factors to keep in mind during your test drive include:

  • General fit and comfort.
    • Does the car feel comfortable for your specific body type? Does it have enough legroom? Can you easily reach all pedals and controls?
  • Visibility.
    • Check to make sure you can read every gauge and easily see in the rear and side view mirrors. Make sure to test for any potential blind spots.
  • Acceleration and pick-up.
  • Engine noise.
  • Steering and handling.
  • Suspension.
  • Breaking ability/smoothness.

Once you've applied your research to make the best possible choice, check out our guide to buying a new car to learn how to bring your perfect new vehicle home.

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