I just bought a new car. I wanted something with better gas mileage so I got a smaller vehicle; now I'm starting to regret my decision. It saves me on gas, but it's not very comfortable and is a little sketchy while driving on the highway. How I can I avoid this mistake next time?

People come to me everyday asking for vehicle suggestions, but too often their requests have a very narrow focus - "I need a car with good gas mileage...I want something fast....I need four-wheel-drive." These may be very legitimate but it is important for car buyers to take a broader look at their vehicle needs.

On the premiere episode of theCar Matchmaker, Spike Feresten was helping a guy select the perfect muscle car. The dude was quite clear in the beginning that he wanted a convertible. I thought for sure he was going to pick the Mustang GT drop-top, but he didn't. He went with the Challenger, which is coupe only. The reason he went with the Dodge is because of how the car sounded and felt.

This scenario is similar to many others that I have encountered when someone says they really want one thing, when in fact there are other factors they may have not considered. More often than not when buyers have a specific request, there is a bigger picture that should be addressed. If this larger issue is not taken into consideration someone could end up with a vehicle they aren't really happy with.

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Before we get into the interesting stuff, you must determine how much car you can afford. You don't want to get in over their head and risk having to roll negative equity into your next loan.

Once that budget is established, here are a few questions that can help you avoid the trap of one dimensional car shopping.

How much do you drive?

Even with fuel prices at reasonable levels, most buyers are concerned with their gas mileage. However, far too often they get hung up on the difference of a few MPG and in their quest for maximum efficiency end up making unnecessary sacrifices. This is why it is important to examine how much you drive and do the math.

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You are probably going to be happier with a car that gets only 30 MPG but has a few more features than the smaller more basic transportation that gets 35MPG.

What do you need your car to do?

If you are several transporting people around on a regular basis figure out which vehicle will serve this purpose best while balancing out the other factors. I've argued before that minivans are probably the best choice for a people mover, but you may have other requirements as well. For example if you have to tow something or move a lot of gear a truck or SUV may work better. On the flip side, if you pretty much drive solo with passengers occasionally, you can save money by getting a smaller vehicle.

Do you find yourself often driving poor weather or off-road? If so, and AWD/4WD vehicle may be necessary. If most of your driving is on paved roads and those nasty snow storms only come around once or twice a year, a two-wheel-drive vehicle is probably fine.

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Knowing how this vehicle needs to function in your environment with your practical considerations is crucial. Do not sacrifice function for features or fuel economy.

What are your must have features?

The number of gadgets and gizmos available on modern cars is amazing but can also be overwhelming. You can get telematics systems that read your email to you and even give you traffic and weather alerts. Every ad touts the latest technology as "must have." This is especially true when it comes to some advanced safety features such as blind-spot monitoring and collision avoidance systems. While all these features are great, what do you really need?

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Again this comes back to how much and how far you drive. If the majority of your commute is from home to work and around town, chances are you don't need an expensive navigation unit. If you consider yourself a vigilant driver, you can probably save money and pass on those expensive electronics that pay attention for you.

What you should do is make a list of things you absolutely must have. Personally I could care less about a sunroof, but heated seats are a necessity. Think about your day to day drive and what features would make that travel better.

What kind of driving/ownership experience do you want?

This one is tricky because it is incredibly personal. But it is important that you be really honest with yourself. Do you really want a street-legal go-kart on your 50 mile commute or would do you really need something that is relatively comfortable yet can still devour and exit ramp? Are you prepared for the inevitable maintenance costs of that bargain luxury car you got for the price of a Corolla or are you the type that really can't be bothered with issues beyond basic maintenance? Are you concerned about your status and/or the assumptions that others may or may not have of you based on what you drive? Does the vehicle match with your personality?

Remember, purchasing a car is not a logical process. We would like to think we bought something based off safety ratings, fuel economy, and practicality. But we want something that looks nice, something that makes us feel good when we drive it and there is nothing wrong with that.

Actually Drive The Damn Thing

Once all of these deeply probing practical and psychological questions are answered, you should have narrow down the field a little bit. But remember, a great car on paper still can be the wrong car. A good test drive will allow you to nit-pick and find the little things that may hamper your enjoyment.

If you want to avoid buying the wrong car you have to be honest about your practical needs, your usage, the psychological baggage you impose on your vehicle, and above all your budget.

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If you have a question, a tip, or something you would like to to share about car-buying, drop me a line at AutomatchConsulting@gmail.com and be sure to include your Kinja handle.

image: shutterstock