Buying a car is one of the biggest investments you’ll make in your life. That means it pays to do your research before plunking down a huge chunk of money. But how do you compare cars beyond the specs and prices to find the perfect car?

Follow the steps below and you’ll be sure to find the right car for you.

How to Compare Cars

Each car is different from the next, so learning how to compare cars can be tricky. Each vehicle on the market offers something unique that may or may not meet your needs. There are a number of steps to take to compare cars.

New or Used?

The first step in comparing cars is to decide whether you want to buy a new or used car. This step is crucial because it will determine the budget range you have for your vehicle of choice. According to Kelley Blue Book, the average new car today costs around $37,000. The average price of a used car is around $20,000. That means that by buying a used car you could save around 45%! That’s a huge chunk of change.

There are pros and cons to buying new or used. Pros of buying new cars include:

  • You get the latest technology: Carmakers are constantly updating their systems. Buying a new car means you will get the latest and greatest technology available.
  • You will have less maintenance costs: Outside of regular maintenance a new car is largely covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. Should something go wrong, you will be covered. You’ll still likely need to pay for regular maintenance like oil and brakes, however.
  • They tend to be more fuel efficient: Most new cars have the latest and greatest fuel technology, too, so if you want something efficient, a new car might be right for you.

Some cons of purchasing a new car include:

  • They’re expensive to buy or lease: They cost considerably more than a used car and take a big hit of depreciation the moment you drive them off the lot.
  • They are more expensive to insure: Most new cars cost more to insure than used cars.
  • That new car smell isn’t so good for you: That coveted new-car smell is mostly volatile compounds off-gassing and it’s definitely not healthy to breathe in for long periods of time.

Some pros of buying a used car include:

  • They are a lot less expensive: You save as much as 45% by buying a used car.
  • Someone else already took the depreciation hit: Since someone else bought the car new, you will take a considerably smaller financial hit by purchasing a used car.
  • They will likely have pretty good tech and fuel efficiency: Most used cars that are the market are around 3-5 years old. That means that they will still have plenty of great technology and be relatively fuel efficient. Remember however, that most people hang onto their cars for around 11 years, so look for cars that are newer if you want to buy used.

Some cons to consider when checking out used cars include:

  • You could be buying someone else’s problem: Since used cars tend to have more miles on them, you could be purchasing someone else’s problem. That’s why it’s crucial to use a VIN decoder to identify the history of a used car and to run a CarFax or Autocheck on the vehicle before purchasing.
  • Repairs can start to get expensive: Repairs for older used cars with more mileage can get pricey since the used vehicle will likely not be covered by a warranty. As a car ages, larger things like transmissions and brake systems can start to go and need replacement. Consider this before you buy a used car.
  • You may not get all the options you want: Used cars were originally purchased by someone else so they were built to meet that person’s needs. When you buy a used car you can’t customize it to the exact specs you want, so you may have to compromise on some of your ‘must-haves.’

If you’d like to check out some used cars yourself you can visit AutoGravity’s used car page. If you’d like to take a look at some new cars, check out AutoGravity’s new cars.

What kind of car do you want and need?

Next you need to consider what kind of car you want and need. If you are hauling a family around, a van or SUV might be your best bet. If you are looking for something that is fun to drive and only seats two, you might want a sports car. If you want something that is very fuel efficient and green, you might consider a hybrid or an electric car.

Some important questions to answer when comparing cars include:

  • How far do I drive every day? How important is fuel efficiency?
  • What do I do with my car all the time? Drive clients? Haul kids? Run a business?
  • What are my space and function needs in a car?
  • What kind of performance do I want in my car?
  • Do I want a manual or automatic transmission?

How To Compare Cars Performance

That brings us to an important step in comparing cars beyond just the specs and prices to find the perfect car—the performance.

Performance is made up of a number of factors including:

  • Horsepower
  • Torque
  • Vehicle Weight
  • Acceleration (0-60 mph times, usually)
  • Handling

When you are comparing performance it’s important to look beyond just the horsepower and take all of the factors above into consideration.

While, horsepower is an important factor to consider, it doesn’t give you the entire performance picture. For example, a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 has 355 horsepower, but because it can weigh anywhere from around 4,200 pounds to nearly 5,200 pounds (and up, depending on how it is equipped), it only does 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds according to instrumented tests by Motor Trend.

F1 Car rounding corner

In contrast, a Ford Focus RS with 350 horsepower can do 0-60 in 4.6 seconds, according to Car & Driver’s instrumented testing.  You need to consider the torque and vehicle weight to really get a good idea of the actual acceleration performance. It’s also best to test drive any vehicle to truly get a sense of its performance.

When it comes to handling, there are a variety of factors that can contribute to the performance of a vehicle. Everything from the weight of the vehicle and the kind of suspension a car has, to the kind of tires it has affects how a car handles. Add in factors like how power is put down to the ground (All-wheel? Front-wheel? Rear-wheel?) and there are a number of things that can affect how a car performs.

In addition to handling considerations, you need to consider what the car is designed for–off-roading vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler tend to be rough and loud on the road because they are built for off-roading. The center of gravity is higher so that the car can clear large obstacles on a trail. That means that the Wrangler isn’t going to handle like a sports car on a twisting, fast, mountain road.  Thus, going off road in a Jeep Wrangler is great, but it may not be what you want if you are logging lots of miles on the highway.

It’s important to consider what kind of performance you want in your vehicle. If you take all of these factors into your reasoning, you should find the perfect car for you.

How to Compare Cars Online

To start your research the right way, once you have determined whether you want a new or used car and figured out how important performance is for you, you should compare cars online. The best way to do this is start by researching the year, make and model of the vehicles you are interested in by doing an online search.

If you are shopping for a new car, start by looking up the car you are interested in on the manufacturer’s website. Each manufacturer has a site for their entire line-up of vehicles. There you can get into the nitty gritty details of packages and warranties.  You can also use AutoGravity to check out our expert reviews in the Details & Specs link under each vehicle.

If you are shopping for a car that is a few years old and used, you can also search for the vehicle online. Read reviews and find out details and then compare the competitors and see how your vehicle of choice stacks up against others in the same segment.

To help, we’ve done some of the work for you. Our experts have put together comparisons of some of the most popular vehicles, including:

We’ve also made comparisons of some of the most popular brands, such as:

And for a little extra knowledge on the features of the cars you’re comparing:

There are tons of sites out there that help you compare cars online. All you have to do is Google them!

Where Can I Compare Car Prices?

Comparing car prices is one of the key pieces of comparing cars, and you can do it from the comfort of your own home! The best way to compare car prices is to search online for the car you are interested in and see what prices come up.  Some sites where you can compare car prices include:

  • Kelley Blue Book
  • Edmunds
  • TrueCar
  • CarFax
  • AutoGravity
  • com
  • And others!

Overhead view of multicolored cars parked in field

One caveat: Be sure to read the fine print for any of the price comparison tools you find. Some places don’t include items  like delivery fees in their pricing and it is something you will have to pay when purchasing a new car. It’s also likely that they won’t include the cost of taxes, so keep that in mind so you don’t get surprised. You also have to be sure that you are comparing the exact vehicle you want (with all the packages you desire) when comparing prices of new cars.

When comparing prices for used cars, you can also use a number of comparison tools found on the internet, including using the tools right here on AutoGravity’s site,  but be sure that you are looking at the right year, make, model and features for the exact car that you want. Mileage and wear and tear can greatly affect the prices of used cars so comparing apples-to-apples tends to be a bit more difficult.

How to Compare Between Two Cars

When comparing two cars you need to make sure you are comparing apples to apples. If you are comparing cars online, be sure that the cars you are comparing have matching features. As we mentioned before, not all cars share the same features, price points or technology, but if you dig into the cars specs, you can likely get the answers you need.

It’s best to start your search online when comparing between two cars. You should read a few professional reviews that will include both positives and negatives of the cars you are considering.

Be wary of owner reviews as they tend to be heavily one-sided. Take any consumer reviews you read with a grain of salt.

Once you have narrowed down your selection to two or three cars, it’s time to head to the dealership to compare the cars in a test drive.

When you go to the dealership to compare two cars, you should take detailed notes following your test drives of each car so that you can refer back to them when it comes time to make a decision. Note things like:

  • How the seats feel
  • How easy the infotainment controls are to understand and use
  • How the car feels on the road.
  • Sit in the back seats and notice how much space you have

Most test drives include a little bit of highway and some stop and go driving. During the drive, note the following:

  • How the car feels when you accelerate and stop
  • How it handles in corners
  • How it sounds and what it feels like to drive
  • What visibility is like – How well can you see

These are all important considerations to take into account when comparing between two cars.

What Car Specs Should You Compare When Buying a Car?

When buying a car you should compare the specs that are the most important to you. It’s best to consider things like:

  • How you’ll use it
  • What features are the most important to you
  • What kind of safety ratings the car gets
  • How fuel efficient it is
  • How much it will cost

Comparing two cars side-by-side by answering these questions can help you determine the perfect car for you.

How do You Compare the Power and Torque of Cars?

While power and torque are important numbers to consider when purchasing a car, they aren’t the only factors you should pay attention to. Manufacturer sites will list the power and torque rating of the new vehicle you are interested in. It’s important to understand these numbers so you can compare the power of two similar vehicles.

First, most manufacturers will list horsepower output as HP. Horsepower on it’s own doesn’t really mean much.

When taken into consideration with torque, however, you can start to get a better idea of the power of a car. Torque is listed as a certain pound-feet of torque at a specific RPM. That means that when the engine turns at a specific rate, it can generate so many pound-feet (or lb. ft.) of torque.

In layman’s terms, to get off the line quickly, or to tow something large, you need lots of torque at the low end of the RPM band. In most cases, gasoline cars with lots of low-end torque, are not very fuel efficient. Electric cars however, have tons of low-end torque.

How Do You Compare the Features of New Cars?

To compare the features of new cars you should strip away all the marketing speak and get to the heart of what you are trying to compare. Each car company calls its safety equipment something different. Each car company also calls its technology packages something different and puts them together in different ways.

In order to compare features on new cars you need to strip away all the packaging and marketing speak and understand what the technology underneath actually does.

Leather interior of car dashboard

For example, if you are looking for active cruise control and comparing two different cars with two different systems, you might want to consider details like the ranges of the active cruise control. One might only work down to 30 mph while another might go down to 15 mph.

Regardless of what the manufacturers name the feature, you should dig into the details to find out exactly how the feature works and any limits on it so that you can compare two cars fairly. Professional car reviews are also a great resource when it comes to comparing new car features.

How to Compare the Inside Dimensions of Cars

Comparing the inside dimensions of cars is relatively simple. Sites like KBB show you the dimensions of a vehicle (both inside and out) because they get data directly from the manufacturers. You can compare the legroom in a Civic to the legroom in a Camry, just by visiting each page and looking at the specs and details. You can also compare cargo space this way as well.

How to Compare Insurance Rates on Different Cars

One of the factors in choosing the perfect car is the cost of insurance on that vehicle. It’s really easy to compare the insurance rates on two different cars by simply calling your insurance company to find out.

When you call, the insurance company will ask you for the year, make and model of the vehicle you are considering purchasing and they will be able to give you a rough estimate of what insurance might cost.

If you are buying a used vehicle they will need the details of the mileage on the car to quote you a rate. Once you have compared insurance rates on different cars you can make a more informed and more financially savvy choice between two vehicles.

How to Compare Maintenance and Repair Costs of Cars

Maintenance and repair costs can vary widely based on the year, make, model, and mileage of the vehicle you choose to purchase. As a general rule, maintenance and repair costs go up with the price of a car. If you are purchasing a new car, many of your maintenance and repair costs may be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty which means that it won’t cost you very much.

If you are purchasing a used car, expect that maintenance and repair costs will be slightly more since you likely won’t have a warranty to cover you. A good rule of thumb is to estimate around $100 per month in maintenance costs for a car, depending on the condition and age of the vehicle.

By following these tips, you can ensure that you find the right car for your needs. While buying a car is a huge investment, if you compare cars beyond just their specs and prices, you will find the perfect car for you.

Compare Cars Beyond Spec & Price (Find the Perfect Car)
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Compare Cars Beyond Spec & Price (Find the Perfect Car)
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Abigail Bassett is an Emmy-winning journalist, video content producer, and manager who has covered a wide range of world-impacting events including everything from the invasion of Iraq to Katrina and the financial and housing collapse. She has covered premiere automotive and lifestyle launches and unveilings all over the world over the last 15 years. Abigail has also extensively covered personal finance for a variety of outlets and start-ups including CNN Business, Money Magazine, and LendingTree. She spent more than ten years as a Senior Producer at CNN in New York and was most recently the Senior Director of Photo, Video and Social Media at Edmunds. She currently lives and works as a freelance writer and content manager in Los Angeles. Her clips have appeared in top-tier publications including Autoweek Magazine, Forbes, Arstechnica, Motor Trend, TheDrive, Fast Company and Fortune. She is also a U.S. juror for the World Car Awards.

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