Whenever I see one I’m caught off guard. I’m driving somewhere, minding my own business, and there it is. A forest green Mazda Miata with a tan rag top and tan leather seats (Standard transmission of course. Why would you have such a car with an automatic transmission?) My dream car. But I don’t own one. As far as sports cars go, it is modestly priced, so I could own one, but I don’t because it doesn’t fit the formula. Several years ago I came up with a formula, an equation, if you will, for getting a vehicle: moving me, my people, and my stuff, from point A to point B, safely, reliably, economically, and comfortably. The formula has served me well and I’ve taught it to others. Perhaps, it can help you.

First off, who and what am I moving? If I have a family of six, a vehicle with only five seats will not do and is immediately removed from consideration. If I work construction and am constantly moving building materials a pickup makes more sense than a sub-compact. But if it’s just me on a daily commute to the office that sub-compact hybrid or EV (electric vehicle) might be just the ticket. If I am 6 foot 6 inches tall (which I am not), I need a vehicle that I can fit into comfortably. If I’m in sales and often have clients in my vehicle (think real estate agent), I need a ride that exudes a certain level of success so that I attract rather that repel clients.

The second consideration is the distance I am moving. As a general rule, the longer the trip the more comfort and interior space needed. Three kids in a cramped back seat with no air conditioning does not make for a fun trip to grandmothers house. Do I frequently make trips that are several hours in length or are most trips just a few minutes? If much of my driving is on roads that are not well maintained, I need a vehicle that can handle the bumps without falling apart.

Safety is not usually the first thing we think of when contemplating a new car but it is vital. Few of us have been through life without being involved in at least one auto accident. Thankfully, most of these accidents are relatively minor. But some are catastrophic. Years back, my wife was stopped to make a left hand turn and was rear-ended by a driver not paying attention. The car was totaled but it performed exactly as the engineers had designed it. The crumple zones crumpled but my two kids in the back seat had only minor scratches and some sore muscles. Human beings are precious cargo and we should strive for the safest car we can afford.

If your car spends more time in your mechanic’s garage than your own it’s not worth keeping. You don’t need the worry of wondering if the car will start in the morning. With regular maintenance most cars today should last for two hundred thousand miles or more. But car makers still turn out vehicles that won’t last this long. Do your research and pick a car that has a track record of dependability.

For most people, after their home, the car they drive is the most expensive purchase they make. Paying cash for a car is great but this usually takes discipline and planning. The rest of the population ends up financing a car purchase. Where 48 and 60 month financing used to be standard, now loans have ballooned to 72 or even 84 months. When you add insurance, fuel, maintenance, and repairs it becomes a major chunk of your budget. Drive a brand new car off the dealer’s lot and you’ve already taken a depreciation hit. Used car prices spiked during the COVID crisis but are now stabilizing and may provide better value. Before making a decision on your next vehicle you need to do a thorough analysis of what it will actually cost you.

Finally, comfort is a consideration. Seats and headrests that adjust to the contours of your body reduce the stress of driving, making you a more alert and safe driver. A good entertainment system can bring a calm to your daily commute in bumper to bumper traffic. If you suffer from poor circulation you need a vehicle that assists rather than hinders your condition. For my wife, heated seats are a must. A remote starter can keep you from having to scrape frost off the windshield in the morning.

Every one of the pieces of the equation is on a sliding scale. I may not be able to afford the car with the latest safety gizmos. The car with great reliability may leave my body aching after a three hour trip. The key is to weigh every part of the formula as you consider your next vehicle. For the past several years my wife and I have lived in the Northeast where considerable snow is a regular feature in winter. I also spent several years as a volunteer fire fighter. Thus, both vehicles we own are four wheel drive. As for my Miata, there may come a day I own one. But not until if fits within the equation. Strange as it may seem for a wealth management firm, vehicle purchases are one of the ways we help clients with their financial lives. Let us help you think through your next vehicle purchase.