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Buying a first car is both a significant expense and a big impact on your daily life. One of most common questions facing new buyers setting their budgets is, "What kind of car do I really need?"

It's important to weigh the options on whether to buy or lease, and figure out how much an auto loan is going to cost. Let's look into which features offer the most value for first-time buyers.

Ask the "Me vs. We" Question

Think about the years to come, and the next decade in general — the average age of the modern car is around 11 years old. Will this be a solo car that you use on your own? These "me" cars can generally be smaller sedans with a greater focus on entertainment or off-road features.

Or maybe your car will need to pull double duty with a spouse or help transport a family. In this case, room and safety features are generally more important when you begin your hunt for the right model.

Ask the "Town vs. Country" Question

Town refers to largely urban driving where you can expect tight corners, higher traffic, small parking spaces, and shorter trips where you may use your car frequently — but rarely for long periods of time. Country refers not only to rural use, but to any situation where you can expect long commutes and rougher roads. Let your driving situation guide your decisions.

Pay Attention to Fuel Economy and Mileage

Always check the fuel economy numbers for any vehicle you inspect. This can be a good indicator of efficiency, longevity, and long-term auto costs. The best fuel numbers offer around 40 to 50+ MPG (miles per gallon). However, keep in mind that many of these models are hybrids like the Toyota Prius or Ford Fusion, which are great first-purchase vehicles but may not work for everyone.

Remember that if you have a choice, try to pick front wheel drive (FWD) over rear wheel drive (RWD) cars. Front wheel vehicles tend to get better traction and better gas mileage. Rear wheel drive, while offering better handling around curves and more towing power, is more dangerous in rain or snow and tends to lower gas mileage.

Instead of Worrying About Horsepower, Test Drive the Acceleration

Generally, horsepower numbers don't mean much for a first vehicle, unless you're consistently towing other equipment or vehicles (the average horsepower is around 170 to 190).

Instead, take the car for a test drive and pay attention to how well it accelerates. When most buyers think about vehicle power, they are primarily concerned with how the acceleration feels and how easily the car speeds up. Since these feelings can be relative, it's important to form your own opinion.

Consider Collision Warnings and Similar Safety Upgrades

When looking at extra features and safety tech, pay particular attention to collision warning/collision detection systems, which warn you when you might back into something or when you're veering off the road. These systems offer excellent value for money and can save you a lot of headaches to fix bumps and scratches.

And if you get a lot of winter weather in your area, look for features designed for snow and icy roads. That includes four-wheel drive/all-wheel drive, extra traction modes like the Subaru X-mode, and higher ground clearance. You should also budget for winter tires and other ways to winterize your car.

See If There are Features That Can Lower Your Insurance

Certain vehicle features can help lower your insurance rate as well. A higher safety rating helps, as does a low theft rate. There are also newer features like OnStar and OnStar's Smart Driver program that can net you insurance discounts.

No matter the vehicle you buy, ensure that it's the kind of car that will best fit your needs — whether that means a smaller sedan for you to get into tight city parking spaces or something large enough to transport your entire family.

This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

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