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How-to: Pick the Right Car for You!

How-to: Pick the Right Car for You!

How to Pick the Right Car for You – Opinion

A little background on me – I am a car enthusiast. If you didn’t know, go back and read my previous blog post, “In Defense of the Car Enthusiast” (another plug!). But in addition to this, I went and got my BS in Mechanical Engineering from a Big Ten engineering school. While there, I took various auto-related courses, including engine theory and off road vehicles. (Editor’s note: this is a class?! Why isn’t this marketed better?)

I competed in the Shell EcoMarathon Americas competition, and our team won our class (urban prototype hydrogen cell vehicles), and at the time, held the Americas record.

From there, I continued my passion and went to go work in the automotive industry, on the manufacturing side. I have worked with multiple products, across multiple plants and multiple platforms. From performance engines to A-to-B engines.

I have had 7+ daily drivers, and have driven over 15 vehicles of all different types.


This is all to say – I get asked about what car people should buy all the time.

Car buying should be fun. And not in a large, car dealer-conglomerate commercial type of way. You are picking out your CAR! A place, outside your household and work, that you will likely spend the most time in! You get to hopefully drive a bunch of different ones, hit a bunch of touchscreen buttons, talk to people in ties. It’s all amazing.

So, dear reader, I wanted to share with you my tips for buying new cars. These are purely my opinion, and are not all inclusive. Yes, I can give you more detail if you need it. But trust me, you probably don’t.

What do I want out of life?

Okay, not that dramatic. But really, what do I want to DO with my life - with my car? If I just want my car to go from home to work and the occasional grocery trip, I do not need a full size SUV or truck. Is this a second vehicle, tailored for weekends and sunny days? If so, go for gold! Get the convertible! Get the vroom! Do I plan on having enough kids to field a baseball team? Probably best not to pick the two seat sports car….

Look deep inside and ask – am I a (insert car brand) person?


Once I have established that you are an adventure seeker, who skis, snowboards, base jumps, plays soccer, baseball, basketball, volunteers on weekends for the underprivileged, and tows full size yachts, I ask you -  what cars are you looking at? This mainly accomplishes one task – I get a good feeling of what your brand loyalty may be.

If you want a pickup, I may direct you towards an F-150 : best selling truck for 40+ years (calm down Chevy fans, I know, it’s the F-series and they’re cheating). You may say, “but what about the Silverado?”. And I will say, “If you wanted the Chevy, and you want a pickup, what are you doing asking me? It’s also 3 in the morning, get some sleep!”

I will go ahead and give some free, quick, non-data funded advice. Ford makes good pickups. GM makes great large SUVs and affordable sports cars.  Honda makes great CUVs, sedans and small cars. Can’t go wrong with any of the German cars if you like wearing furs. The Italians make good coffee and shoes.

Ignore the awards!

I can’t stress this enough – for every award one company wins, another has won a similar award by a different publication. Cars these days are fairly reliable, and issues tend to be random. Systemic issues do not happen often, and rarely carry through vehicle classes. There is a reason one car company really hasn’t won the same award, every year, for the same vehicle. And I am not talking about a “10 best” or a “Safety award”, because multiple cars win those.

Also, understand what these mean – initial quality does not mean the car will be great 4 years from now. It is the cardboard façade of quality.  

If you want to do your research, look up for pervasive, persistent problems with the vehicles that interest you. Ask people you know. Look up TSBs or recalls (which need to be discussed as their own topic entirely). And finally, if you want to get fancy, look up estimates for total cost of ownership. This gives you a fully rounded, good idea of how “good” a car is compared to other cars. We could right a whole article on total cost of ownership, but I’ll save that for later.

But the absolute, most important piece of advice I can give you is…



Nothing any publication, social media, or nosy person down the street will convince you that your car is good. Cars are subjective to a large extent. You won’t know whether your Big Gulp will be within arms reach until you put a Big Gulp in the cup holder. You can’t know whether the I4 is peppy enough for you until you pep the thing! Dealers have no issues letting you test drive the car, once you let them scan your birth certificate and promise them your firstborn. But it will be worth it.

Take your time. Drive it on the street. Drive it on the highway. Drive the all cars and variants you think you may like. Think to yourself, “Is this a place I wouldn’t mind getting thrown-up on by the baby in the backseat? Is the backseat easy to clean once said baby has been sick? Do I have enough cargo to hold wipes and other cleaning supplies? Or can I train to baby to throw up over the side of the vehicle like a drunk college kid?”

In summary -  do some introspection, check your family tree for brand logos, ignore your research, and hit the pavement. If you’re not sure, just do what all other Americans do these days – lease it and get a new one in 3 years.

Oh, and you can always check in with us both on this website,, listen to our podcast, or watch our YouTube Channel. They tell me Mike makes things on there. Hopefully it’s cookies…

~Sal Palafox

Fair Weather Pony

Fair Weather Pony

Who Are You? - Based on Your Car

Who Are You? - Based on Your Car