Family Picking Out Car

How To Decide Which Vehicle You Should Buy

12-minute readUPDATED: December 12, 2022


Buying a car is a big financial decision, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful one. Your expectations and priorities are bound to change over time. You may move to the mountains and need a car built for snow, or you may have children and prioritize the reliability and safety features of a family car. What’s important is what you need out of a car now.

The only way to know what kind of car you should get is by taking an inventory of what you expect out of a vehicle. We’ll help walk you through the different types of cars on the market today and how to decide which is right for you.

Table Of Contents

    What Kind Of Car Should I Get?

    Whether you're a first-time car buyer or you've, quite literally, been around the block a few times, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the variety of used cars out there. You may be in need of a car as soon as possible, or maybe you've realized you’ve outgrown your current vehicle.

    Either way, the most helpful way to narrow down your options is by taking an audit of your needs, budget, and expectations from a vehicle. Start by asking yourself the following questions.

    What's My Budget?

    To set yourself up with reasonable financial expectations, you’ll want to make sure you take a close look at what you can afford. Unless you’re planning to buy a car in cash, you’ll want to dig a little deeper into your monthly finances and credit score to select a price range you can live with.

    Since auto loans and leases alike are paid off in monthly installments, consider your monthly budget for vehicle expenses. A good guideline to follow is no more than 10% to 15% of your net monthly income should be going towards total transportation costs.

    The total cost of ownership for your vehicle will depend on how many miles you plan to drive, gas prices in your area, your driving history’s impact on car insurance and possible repairs. Remember that you can expect to pay around 10% more in taxes and lender fees, depending on your state, on any sticker price you see. Consider whether it’s worth waiting until you can save more towards a down payment to reduce the size of your loan.

    For example, let’s say you were to buy a 2019 Subaru Impreza. With Americans averaging 14,263 miles per year, a 3-year old vehicle is most likely to have around 42,800 miles on it. The Kelley Blue Book value suggests a fair market price of $21,800. However, you’ll see below that the projected 5-year cost of ownership is nearly double, at $40,665.


    Year 1

    Year 2

    Year 3

    Year 4

    Year 5























    Taxes & Fees




























    True Cost to Own®







    *Based on proprietary data from

    That said, you’ll find that by buying it at 3 years old you’re saving $6,388 in depreciation costs alone, which reduces year after year. It’s important to get a quote for your insurance and shop around for the best deal on a car loan.

    Should I Buy New Or Used?

    The difference between new and used cars often comes down to savings. If you’re feeling drawn to a new car smell, know that you’ll pay for that good feeling.

    New cars depreciate at much higher rates than used cars. reveals that the average new car's resale value drops by more than 40% over the first 5 years of ownership. Used cars have already gone through their early loss of value, so you can expect a better price and slower depreciation over the years.

    Consider: What Do I Need A Car For?

    When you envision your next car, where do you see it taking you? If you’re commuting often and plan to put over 12,000 miles a year on the car, you may consider researching vehicles that retain their resale value over time or vehicles that last the longest.

    Did you just score that remote job and plan on working off the beaten path? Drivetrain will be an important consideration for you. Make sure you buy an off-road vehicle equipped to handle rough terrain.

    Whatever the circumstances, really ask yourself what you expect out of your next car to help you pick the right one for your situation.

    How Many People Do I Plan On Hauling?

    You can filter out entire categories of vehicles based on how many passengers you plan to have and how frequently your car will be full. If you have young children that come with strollers and car seats, or want your teenager’s friends to feel welcome to come along for the ride, consider a reliable, safe family car.

    What Conditions Will I Be Driving In?

    The kind of road conditions you'll face has an enormous impact on which car you should buy. If your city gets a lot of rain, snow, slush and salt on your local roads, an all-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicle with high ground clearance, such as a Ford Explorer or GMC Yukon, would make good choices. Southern California, however, may be just the right place for convertible Mustangs or Corvettes with lower ground clearance and room in back for a surfboard.

    How Are Gas Prices Where I Live?

    With rising fuel prices, the cost of filling up the tank should be a serious consideration in your budget. If fuel economy is important to you, consider a car with good gas mileage. There are super-efficient models available in every category, although some are better than others.

    We'll Find It For You

    Rocket Auto can help narrow down your car options to help you make the right choice.

    Understanding Types Of Cars And What They Are Best For

    So, what type of car should you get? You certainly have a lot of options when you're looking to buy a car online. Here are some of the most popular vehicle types, along with a brief history of how they came to be and who they're likely to appeal to: 

    Electric Cars

    Electric Cars

    Best for:

    • City driving
    • Easy maintenance
    • Long-term fuel savings

    It may come as a surprise to most people that electric cars came out before gasoline-powered equivalents, and the first electric passenger vehicles were developed in Scotland in the 1830s. These were mostly gimmicks until 1841, when inventor Robert Davidson developed an electric vehicle to pull rail carriages. The Electrobat, the first commercially viable electric car, was released in 1894.

    Modern electric cars are worlds away from their slow and expensive ancestors. Some of today's all-electric vehicles deliver efficiency equivalent to 100+ mpg, and sportier electric cars can produce acceleration that's impossible for gasoline engines.

    Electric vehicles excel for efficient city driving. The growing variety of electrics makes them attractive to every type of driver from those who want to reduce their carbon footprint to those who want to feel their electric car go from 0 – 60 mph in less than 10 seconds.

    The Tesla Model S was our top pick from our Best Electric Car Roundup of 2021, though the Nissan LEAF hatchback makes for a good value option.



    Best for:

    • Sporty style
    • Limited expected passenger capacity
    • High power performance
    • Controlled handling

    Like many car styles, the two-door coupe began as a type of horse-drawn carriage. Early coupes were considered ideal vehicles for single people who lived in towns, as opposed to rural areas where bigger carriages (and later motor cars) were more popular. By 1910, the coupe de ville had developed into a lightweight car that typically had an open front end where the driver sat, and an enclosed passenger compartment in the rear. 

    In the 20th century, the coupe developed into a sporty personal vehicle that's popular with drivers of all ages. Coupes make fairly efficient grocery getters for daily driving. From something as small as the smart fortwo to a luxury powerhouse like the BMW M8, there is a wide range of coupes available for purchase today.      



    Best for:

    • Good cargo space
    • Small families
    • Fuel efficiency, when compared to SUVs

    Sedans are four-door vehicles that are nearly as old as coupes. Originally developed from the smaller coupe design, sedans typically weigh a bit more and get slightly lower fuel economy. That’s often because of the convenient extra set of doors in the back. It's quite common for passenger vehicles to come out in both coupe and sedan varieties, to appeal to somewhat different sections of the market. Sedans often appeal to smaller families, couples, or singles and those who are looking for great fuel efficiency or something convenient and sporty.

    Any one of the sedans on the used market will satisfy drivers who frequently have more than one passenger or who want more cargo space. The Honda Accord is top rated for its reliability and excellent fuel economy, whereas the Audi Model A8 L is a luxury sedan that doesn’t sacrifice a sporty look for the convenience of four doors.



    Best for:

    • Temperate climates
    • Sensory driving experience
    • As a second car

    Convertibles go back to the horse-and-buggy days, when open-top touring carriages were used for slow rides through the countryside and in cities during warm-weather months. Early cars had engines with limited power, so dispensing with the weighty metal roof for a lighter cloth was the sensible choice. Even in the 1950s, when engines were approaching modern power levels, the lighter weight of a convertible provided better performance or a little more room for passengers.

    Today, convertibles aren’t known for their sensible origin story, but rather for luxury and sportiness. Convertibles are right for those who want to enjoy the sunshine and wind in their hair, but don’t need it for everyday driving year-round.



    Best for:

    • Extra-large families
    • Customization
    • Commercial use

    Modern vans got their start in 1896, when the soon-to-be founder of Mercedes-Benz engineered the first iteration of a van for a customer in London.

    Today's vans have room inside for up to 15 passengers. They can be modified into delivery vans, ambulances and even into recreational vehicles. People with large families started favoring vans in the 1950s, with a peak in popularity in the 1970s. By the 1990s, their popularity for families had waned in favor of SUVs and more efficient minivans.

    Today, vans are great for the adventurous road trippers, extra-large families, or those that need to transport the team to their next tournament. The handling on the Ford Transit Connect will make you forget you’re driving a van. It’s an affordable option for tradespeople and people-haulers alike.



    Best for:

    • Long-distance fuel efficiency
    • Areas with high gas costs
    • Virtually any vehicle body type

    Like its electric older brother, the hybrid has a longer history than most people realize. As far back as 1897, the London Electric Cab Company was using a principally electric vehicle with a 3-hp gasoline engine onboard for recharging on the go. In 1899, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche designed the Lohner-Porsche petrol-electric Mixte.

    The story of modern hybrids begins with the Toyota Prius, released in 1997. Since its debut, most major manufacturers have developed their own line of hybrids. These cars appeal to the efficiency-minded consumer and businesses looking to shave a little money off their fleets' gas bills. Today, hybrid vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, from pickups and even hybrid Range Rovers.



    Best for:

    • Outdoor enthusiasts
    • Winter driving
    • Cargo space

    The station wagon started out, as did many other vehicles, as a modified Model T. As early as 1910, vendors supplying Ford with car bodies were modifying their design into depot hacks for use around train depots, where passengers and luggage frequently needed to be moved short distances. Early station wagons –the name refers to train stations – were registered as commercial vehicles, a practice that lingered on in Pennsylvania until the 1970s.

    In the 1950s, these roomy vehicles started catching on for families and young people getting involved with the burgeoning surfing scene. The iconic wood-paneled Woody wagon was one of the few vehicles that could carry a 10-foot surfboard. Wagons have declined in popularity from their peak in the 1970s, but they haven't gone away.

    Drivers can pack everything they need in a large wagon and go for long drives to almost anywhere. Consider a wagon or a crossover for a practical family car with just enough space to fit what everyone needs for the weekend.

    The Subaru Impreza is a popular choice for its standard all-wheel drive – making it a good option for winter climate drivers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Meanwhile, the luxury Mercedes E-Class Wagons offer advanced technology as the standard, such as a partially autonomous driving mode and the ability to enable rear-wheel drive.



    Best for:

    • Winner in cargo capacity
    • Towing power
    • High clearance driving

    Henry Ford himself coined the term pickup truck in 1925, to describe the modified Model T roadsters he left open in back for hauling cargo. The top-selling vehicle in the United States is the Ford F-150 truck, and its rivals are nearly as successful. GMC alone offered 12 trim and option packages for its line of trucks in the 2020 model year, and a lower-end Chevrolet line that was nearly as diverse. 

    Pickup trucks appeal first and foremost to people who need them for work. There are some jobs you just can't do without a truck, and a farm without a pickup truck is almost impossible to imagine. Small trucks are less popular than they used to be, and some of today's extended-cab models have as much interior space as a four-door family sedan, plus a large bed for hauling and a trailer hitch for towing. Even if you don’t need a truck for your business, consider one if you need to haul around the family camper or plan to do a lot of DIY home renovations.



    Best for:

    • Versatile interior arrangements
    • Large families
    • Entertaining passengers
    • City driving

    The first minivan seems to have been the oddly shaped Stout Scarab, introduced in 1936. These passenger vehicles are typically smaller and lighter than full-size vans, with plenty of room for riders in back. Minivans saw a boom in popularity in the 1980s and '90s, and they still compete with SUVs as family transportation today. 

    Consider a minivan if you need the space for a family and maybe a few pets too. Minivans are easy for the whole family to get in and out of, because they typically have a low profile. This makes them easy to pack and unpack as well. Choose a minivan for practical road trips and to maximize people capacity. The Honda Odyssey was our top pick for its multifunction interior, in-cabin camera to keep an eye on the kids, and its quiet, smooth ride for the whole family.



    Best for:

    • Convenient access to cargo space
    • Fuel efficiency
    • Utility

    The first car that could be called a hatchback was marketed by Citroën in 1938. It was originally offered to tradesmen in France and other European countries who needed easy access to the cargo compartment of their car for loading bread, flowers and other bulky goods.

    Easy cargo access appealed to the private car market, and by the 1970s, hatchbacks were booming in the United States. Even muscle cars like the Dodge Charger had turned into hatchbacks by the early 1980s. During this time, hatchbacks became known as extremely lightweight and efficient vehicles and appealed to gas-conscious and utility-minded consumers.

    The MINI Cooper is one of the best hatchback cars and is roomier than you’d suspect. Still, if you’re looking for more leg room, the Kia Niro makes for a good compact option.



    Best for:

    • Families
    • Off-roading
    • Winter driving
    • Towing capacity
    • Versatility

    The first true SUV was the GAZ-61, a Soviet design from 1938. Later developments included the Willys and International Harvester models from the 1950s.

    Real success began for the SUV in 1979, when AMC came out with the Eagle crossover, although the term wasn't coined until later. By the mid-’90s, the SUV market overwhelmed the older station wagon and minivan markets in popularity.

    SUVs are the new age family car. They offer space in a more sporty body than a minivan. They are high off the ground and have great safety features. An SUV is versatile and can meet many drivers’ needs.

    The Bottom Line: Simplify Your Car Choice By Taking Smart Steps

    With so many choices available, finding the ideal car can seem overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be a chore. As you start your search, think about what you need, what you can afford and what you like about the cars you're seeing.

    Above all, be sure to research each model you're considering, and learn how to buy a car online to expand your search options beyond your ZIP code and find just the right car for your needs.

    We'll Find It For You

    Rocket Auto can help narrow down your car options to help you make the right choice.