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Buying a Car
Consider the safety features offered in a car. More and more auto makers are offering air bags on the front passenger's side, in addition to the driver's side. Air bags automatically inflate on impact to provide a cushion. Having this feature may also affects insurance rates. Other optional safety features include built-in child safety seats, anti-lock brakes (ABS), and traction control. ABS (Anti-lock) brakes keep the wheels from locking up and going out of control when the driver slams on the brakes suddenly, or hits a slick spot in the road. Also, consider whether the car has good outward visibility, and whether or not the gauges on the instrument panel are easy to read.

The U.S. Department of Transportation runs a crash test program, comparing how well each vehicle protects the driver and front-seat passenger in a frontal crash, at a speed of 35 mph. The results of these tests can be used to compare cars within similar weight classes.

A number of sources compare maintenance costs on vehicles and have compiled information about repairs that are likely with particular models. Information is also available on the number of complaints filed about particular cars.

Remember that if you buy a "lemon" that needs constant repairs, you may be protected by "lemon laws" in your state. The car manufacturer may be required to refund your money or repair the vehicle. Maintain a file of every repair order, receipt, and letter of complaint.

General Features
Consider your personal needs when comparing different vehicles. Example, if you need a lot of trunk space for equipment, groceries, or supplies for your office, choose models with larger trunks.

Will others be riding in your back seat? You may want to choose a four-door model over a two-door one. What size engine do you need? Smaller engines may give better fuel economy, but larger engines may give better performance.

When looking at different makes and models of cars, consider the standard features. All the cars of a particular make and model come with a standard package of features. Optional features usually add additional costs to the car. Some models have more standard features than others. For instance, some models include anti-lock brakes as a standard feature, but for some they may be an option for an additional cost or they may not be available at all.

Fuel Economy
Mandated by federal law, fuel economy has improved over the years. The average fuel economy is now more than 28 miles per gallon. Federal law requires an Environmental Protection Agency label to be placed on the window of every new car, listing average fuel economy for city and highway driving according to EPA tests. The ratings are intended to be a comparison between models. Depending on how (city or highway) and where you drive, your actual mileage may not match the estimates.

Compare each vehicles warranty coverage, which may vary widely among car manufacturers. Consider the length of the warranty, mileage limits, and deductibles. Some cars have basic warranties which cover the entire vehicle, while others have limited warranties.

When buying a used vehicle, warranty coverage can be very important. Be sure to clarify the vehicle warranty information. Vehicles sold in "as-is" condition do not include a warranty. Dealers usually offer the purchase of an after market warranty for used vehicles. It is important to know where the after market warranty is accepted and the details of the coverage.

Operating Costs
A number of publications offer estimates on what it costs to operate a car for a one year period. These costs vary greatly from one model to another, luxury cars cost more than economy cars. The factors included in operating costs are fuel, oil, maintenance, and tires. Other costs associated with ownership, which also vary greatly, are insurance, depreciation, licensing and taxes.

Theft Rates
Anyone is susceptible to car theft, but certain cars are more popular with thieves. The primary reason for considering the theft factor is the affect on your insurance. Insurance is higher for those cars at higher risk of being stolen.

Numerous options are available for cars, in any number of different packages, or they can be ordered separately. One option may be so important to you that it determines the type of car you buy. Consider what items contribute to the resale value of the car. Items which may enhance the value of a used car include: air conditioning, automatic transmission, power steering, more power in the engine, anti-lock brakes, driver air bag, passenger air bag, side airbags, four-wheel drive, traction control, CD/AM/FM stereo, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, remote-adjustable mirrors, sunroof, theft protection, tilt steering column, and alloy wheels.

Weigh the cost of these options with their usefulness. Add up the options to determine generally how much they will cost you. Evaluate the different options that are available, and point out details that are important to you. Many car makers offer "option packages," which include popular options, such as air conditioning and power windows, but also may include some features you may not want or need. To get the option you do want, you may have to buy those you do not want.

Decide ahead of time what features you want in a car to avoid being swayed by package deals which may add to the price, but not to the car's usefulness.

Consider your needs. Air conditioning may be necessary for your situation and climate. If you do a great deal of long-distance driving, you may want cruise control.