What Car Should I Buy Guide

Seven Steps to Find the Best Car For You

How to Find the Best Car for You

Written by
July 28th, 2020

First, there’s online research, then you visit the car seller for the test drive, and maybe you hesitate before finally saying ‘yes.’ It’s a process for sure but the car buying process is all worth it when you finally find that great value used car or leave a dealer showroom with new car smell wafting through your nostrils.

With over 60 years of experience selling cars in the USA, we at Nissan have learned a thing or two about the rights and wrongs of car buying and want to help (not blatantly tempt you into buying a TITAN, Sentra, Altima or LEAF, we swear...).

Whichever brand you’re interested in however, it’s vital to recognize that the right vehicle for you may be wrong for somebody else. This is a decision that shouldn't be rushed, so let us guide you how to find the right car:

STEP 1

Set your budget

The car market can cater to every kind of budget, but it’s important to make some simple calculations on how to budget for a car of your own. Here’s what we recommend at Nissan.

What Car Can I Afford

Most financially shrewd analysis of car buying states that you should budget about 10-15 percent of your monthly net income (after tax) on car repayments. To some, this may seem like a low estimation. Bear in mind however that this figure doesn’t factor in insurance, fuel and maintenance costs.

The stronger your credit rating and larger your down payment, the better the budgeting scenario. This can potentially reduce the length of your repayments as well as the loan interest rate. Setting out a viable financial outlay for your car purchase is an important starting point. Now you can fine tune your search to the vehicles that match your needs and budget.

We’ve also developed a few tools to make it easier to set your budget, like figuring out how much you can get for your old car with our Trade-In Value Tool, or assessing your financing options using the Nissan Payment Calculator or Estimate Credit Score Tool. Feel like thanking us for our insight? Simply consider our great new vehicle options in the Nissan range. Visit Nissan’s Shop@Home to find everything you need from payments estimates to delivery options all in one place.

The stronger your credit rating and larger your down payment, the better the budgeting scenario.

STEP 2

Decide on a new vs used car

Budget will largely dictate the right avenue to take here, with new cars carrying a premium price because of their factory freshness and potentially stronger warranty protection.

Buying a used vehicle, especially a certified pre-owned vehicle from a dealer, is a great option if you just don’t have the budget for a new vehicle, it only means that you aren’t the first person to own it. Click ‘Learn More’ to find out about the pros and cons of buying a new vs used car.

New

Nissan Maxima Sedan

Used

Nissan Altima Sedan

Advantages of buying new cars:

Short history

Buying new means the vehicle’s only significant journey in its short life has been from the factory to the dealer showroom. The vehicle hasn’t had any other owners so you can be confident in its capability as soon as you take it on the road.

Stronger warranty

The optimum build quality of a new vehicle means that car manufacturers and dealers have great confidence in its capability (That’s why Nissan dealers are like proud parents in the showroom discussing their engineering offspring). This usually means that warranty coverage is much more comprehensive for new vehicles. Certified Pre-owned vehicles are a nice middle ground because they often have the balance of the original warranty remaining. And used cars may seem like great value at first but the potential for increased repair costs could quickly offset that initial saving.

Evolving car technology

Car manufacturers are constantly working to make driving safer and more convenient, so newer vehicles are much more likely to contain the latest safety technology.

Advantages of buying used cars:

Less expensive

When you’ve done ample research and end up buying a reliable second-hand vehicle, then you’re likely to save money in the long run. There are many vehicles out there with relatively little mileage on the clock that have depreciated significantly simply because they’re not brand new. Therefore, you can quite easily pick up an almost new vehicle, for great used car prices.

Certified Pre-Owned vehicles

Some car manufacturers, including Nissan, have recognized the growing appetite for reliable used vehicles. That’s why they’re offering great deals on Certified Pre-Owned vehicles, which have passed rigorous testing to be deemed worthy of such a status. Look out for vehicles that come with an array of post-purchase benefits too, including limited warranty and emergency roadside assistance (Hint: Check out Nissan!).

Disadvantages of buying new cars:

More expensive

The most obvious downside of buying new is that you’re paying for the premium of that increased reliability, updated technology and new car smell. New car prices can often fall outside of a buyer’s budget limit, but be aware that the listed price could have some flexibility.

Depreciation

Once you drive that new car off the lot, it is now longer new and over time the price you can sell it, or trade it in before the value begins to go down. The longer you intend to hold onto this vehicle however, the less this will matter.

Disadvantages of buying used cars:

More unpredictable

A used vehicle is something which somebody else decided they didn’t need in their life anymore. This may have been for simple budgetary reasons, but many others are putting their car on the market because they are fed up of dealing with its problems. No matter how much research you put into the vehicle history, it’s difficult to be 100% confident about its health.

Increased repair costs

The age of a used vehicle, allied with a weaker warranty package, often means that you’ll be spending more time as well as more money at the mechanic. This may end up costing you more than a new vehicle in the long run.

Limited market

You might have your heart set on a vehicle that simply doesn’t exist on the used car market. Even if you find the model you desire, it may not have the transmission, engine or even color that you want.

New

Nissan Maxima Sedan

New

Advantages of buying new cars:

Short history

Buying new means the vehicle’s only significant journey in its short life has been from the factory to the dealer showroom. The vehicle hasn’t had any other owners so you can be confident in its capability as soon as you take it on the road.

Stronger warranty

The optimum build quality of a new vehicle means that car manufacturers and dealers have great confidence in its capability (That’s why Nissan dealers are like proud parents in the showroom discussing their engineering offspring). This usually means that warranty coverage is much more comprehensive for new vehicles. Certified Pre-owned vehicles are a nice middle ground because they often have the balance of the original warranty remaining. And used cars may seem like great value at first but the potential for increased repair costs could quickly offset that initial saving.

Evolving car technology

Car manufacturers are constantly working to make driving safer and more convenient, so newer vehicles are much more likely to contain the latest safety technology.

Disadvantages of buying new cars:

More expensive

The most obvious downside of buying new is that you’re paying for the premium of that increased reliability, updated technology and new car smell. New car prices can often fall outside of a buyer’s budget limit, but be aware that the listed price could have some flexibility.

Depreciation

Once you drive that new car off the lot, it is now longer new and over time the price you can sell it, or trade it in before the value begins to go down. The longer you intend to hold onto this vehicle however, the less this will matter.


Used

Nissan Altima Sedan

New

Advantages of buying used cars:

Less expensive

When you’ve done ample research and end up buying a reliable second-hand vehicle, then you’re likely to save money in the long run. There are many vehicles out there with relatively little mileage on the clock that have depreciated significantly simply because they’re not brand new. Therefore, you can quite easily pick up an almost new vehicle, for great used car prices.

Certified Pre-Owned vehicles

Some car manufacturers, including Nissan, have recognized the growing appetite for reliable used vehicles. That’s why they’re offering great deals on Certified Pre-Owned vehicles, which have passed rigorous testing to be deemed worthy of such a status. Look out for vehicles that come with an array of post-purchase benefits too, including limited warranty and emergency roadside assistance (Hint: Check out Nissan!).

Disadvantages of buying used cars:

More unpredictable

A used vehicle is something which somebody else decided they didn’t need in their life anymore. This may have been for simple budgetary reasons, but many others are putting their car on the market because they are fed up of dealing with its problems. No matter how much research you put into the vehicle history, it’s difficult to be 100% confident about its health.

Increased repair costs

The age of a used vehicle, allied with a weaker warranty package, often means that you’ll be spending more time as well as more money at the mechanic. This may end up costing you more than a new vehicle in the long run.

Limited market

You might have your heart set on a vehicle that simply doesn’t exist on the used car market. Even if you find the model you desire, it may not have the transmission, engine or even color that you want.

Summary

Buying new is the right decision if it falls within your budget (We don’t mean to be pushy, but here’s the full range of new Nissan vehicles again). The increased reliability and warranty coverage may offset a lot of the initial savings of a used vehicle. If you’re on a limited budget and you want to buy from the used car market, it’s important to scrutinize vehicle history reports so you know exactly what you’re buying. If you do plenty of homework, you could quickly find yourself a bargain.

Learn More
Buying New vs Used Car
STEP 3

Decide what type of car to buy

Early in the car buying process, take a step back and ask yourself a question, ‘what kind of car should I get?’ Basic though it may seem, it’s a complex web of considerations.

How many passengers?

If you’re looking for a family vehicle, then car specs such as passenger volume and trunk volume become much more important.

Highway or city driving?

A smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle may be perfect for you if it’s simply being used for the daily work commute to a downtown office.

Work or play?

A sleek sports car will get the pulses racing but will it suit your work and social commitments, like simply having the trunk space to load your sports gear?

In love with the great outdoors?

If you like to take the road less travelled, look out for off-road capability, including vehicle towing and payload capacity, to make sure you can haul your equipment with ease.

If you want to learn more about the different vehicle body styles to choose from and figure out which one meets your needs, check out our Types of Cars page. Scroll down for further information on available engines, drivetrains and transmissions too, so you can develop your knowledge of critical car engineering.

Once you’ve found a car model that fits your needs, you might also begin to hear about ‘trim’ levels. Trims are the different versions of each model, starting off with the least expensive ‘base’ trim and gradually increasing in cost as additional standard features are added. Take a close look at exactly what features you want before deciding on a high-level trim. Higher trims bundle features together and in combination, are a better value than trying to add the individual features to a lower trim.

If you’re not sure where to start, you might want to check out our handy Compare Tool where you can compare the specs and key features of almost any brand and model. There, you can see why we’re so confident about the Nissan range.

What Kind of Car Should I Get
STEP 4

Choose your drivetrain

As part of the car buying process, you’re likely to hear a lot about drivetrains. This vital engineering component isn’t visible to the naked eye, but it’s crucial to consider which type of drivetrain you need to complement your driving habits.

AWD

All-Wheel Drive

4WD

Four-Wheel Drive

2WD

Two-Wheel Drive

All-Wheel Drive vs Four-Wheel Drive (4x4) vs Two-Wheel Drive (4x2)

Go for a Two-Wheel Drive system for the most cost-effective option, but beware of its downfalls. All-Wheel Drive is a far better option for snow, rain, icy conditions, and Four-Wheel Drive is what’s needed for off-roading adventures.

All-Wheel DriveFour-Wheel DriveTwo-Wheel Drive
Cost
Snow/Ice driving
Off-roading
Towing
Handling
Gas mileage

What is All-Wheel Drive and how does it work?

All-Wheel Drive (abbreviated as AWD) vehicles are equipped with a center differential, composed of gears that split power from the transmission to both the front and rear axles. This helps to provide grip to all four wheels at the same time, which is particularly helpful if you live in colder areas where ice and snow is more prevalent. This automated system can also choose to send all the power to just the front or rear wheels, increasing efficiency when at greater cruising speeds.

Nissan offers Intelligent All-Wheel Drive technology, so visit nissanusa.com to explore the complete range of vehicles with this available system.

Pros of AWD:

Automated system

let the technology dictate when power needs to be sent to all four wheels.

Light off-roading

you’ll often find AWD technology in crossovers, which offer everyday comfort and some off-road capability.

Cons of AWD:

Cost

You should expect to pay a little more for vehicles with AWD technology, compared to those with a Two-Wheel Drive system.

Limited off-roading capability

AWD technology is usually the preserve of mid-size vehicles such as crossovers. If you want optimum off-roading capability, then trucks with Four-Wheel Drive technology, like the TITAN and TITAN XD, are better options.

Pros of AWD:

Automated system

let the technology dictate when power needs to be sent to all four wheels.

Light off-roading

you’ll often find AWD technology in crossovers, which offer everyday comfort and some off-road capability.

Cons of AWD:

Cost

You should expect to pay a little more for vehicles with AWD technology, compared to those with a Two-Wheel Drive system.

Limited off-roading capability

AWD technology is usually the preserve of mid-size vehicles such as crossovers. If you want optimum off-roading capability, then trucks with Four-Wheel Drive technology, like the TITAN and TITAN XD, are better options.

What is Four-Wheel Drive and how does it work?

Four-Wheel Drive (abbreviated as 4x4) is generally featured on trucks, which need the capability to traverse the roughest terrain. Similar to AWD, most 4x4 systems have an Auto mode which automatically monitors and adjusts the balance of power between the vehicle’s front and rear wheels. With this system however you can also make that decision yourself, allowing you to shift between Two-Wheel Drive and Four-Wheel Drive in anticipation of changing conditions or terrain.

Come to think of it, Nissan also knows its way around 4x4 technology. Here’s the full list of Nissan vehicles with available Four-Wheel Drive.

Pros of Four-Wheel Drive:

Great off-road capability

4x4 technology is used in trucks, such as the Nissan TITAN or TITAN XD, to give motorists supreme ability to cover the roughest ground, whether it’s snow, gravel or everything in between.

Flexibility

Enjoy the efficiency of 4X2, with the potential for full 4x4 capability when you need it.

Cons of Four-Wheel Drive:

Limited stock

4x4 technology is most beneficial when allied with greater ground clearance, chunkier tires etc. Therefore, Four-Wheel Drive will usually only be found on trucks and other larger vehicles.

Cost

Like AWD, Four-Wheel Drive vehicles carry a premium price on the car market and can also hurt you at the fuel pumps with a slight reduction in fuel efficiency compared to Two-Wheel Drive vehicles.

Pros of Four-Wheel Drive:

Great off-road capability

4x4 technology is used in trucks, such as the Nissan TITAN or TITAN XD, to give motorists supreme ability to cover the roughest ground, whether it’s snow, gravel or everything in between.

Flexibility

Enjoy the efficiency of 4X2, with the potential for full 4x4 capability when you need it.

Cons of Four-Wheel Drive:

Limited stock

4x4 technology is most beneficial when allied with greater ground clearance, chunkier tires etc. Therefore, Four-Wheel Drive will usually only be found on trucks and other larger vehicles.

Cost

Like AWD, Four-Wheel Drive vehicles carry a premium price on the car market and can also hurt you at the fuel pumps with a slight reduction in fuel efficiency compared to Two-Wheel Drive vehicles.

What is Two-Wheel Drive and how does it work?

Two-Wheel Drives are simplified systems, directing all of the engine power to either the front wheels (Front Wheel Drive or FWD), or the rear wheels (Rear Wheel Drive or RWD). In trucks two-wheel drive systems are often known as 4X2. Most vehicles on the market are standard Front Wheel Drive, including the Nissan Altima and Sentra, meaning that those two wheels are responsible for both steering and power output. Despite the fact that power is transferred to only two wheels, two-wheel drive technology is still capable of dealing with the most common road conditions, just as long as the tires are in good condition.

Pros of Two-Wheel Drive:

Best value

It’s the easiest system to manufacture, and the most common on the market. If you do most of your driving on flat, dry roads, then 4x2 is the best way forward.

Weight distribution

Front-Wheel Drive vehicles are actually excellent at climbing paved hills because of the engine’s forward weight distribution.

Cons of Two-Wheel Drive:

Poor off-roading ability

Because the power is only transferred to two wheels, you could easily become frustrated on uneven ground or icy roads.

Compromised handling

These vehicles put the responsibility for steering and power output on the same two wheels. This amount of pressure can strain the handling of high-performance vehicles.

Pros of Two-Wheel Drive:

Best value

It’s the easiest system to manufacture, and the most common on the market. If you do most of your driving on flat, dry roads, then 4x2 is the best way forward.

Weight distribution

Front-Wheel Drive vehicles are actually excellent at climbing paved hills because of the engine’s forward weight distribution.

Cons of Two-Wheel Drive:

Poor off-roading ability

Because the power is only transferred to two wheels, you could easily become frustrated on uneven ground or icy roads.

Compromised handling

These vehicles put the responsibility for steering and power output on the same two wheels. This amount of pressure can strain the handling of high-performance vehicles.

Learn More

FWD

Front-Wheel Drive

RWD

Rear-Wheel Drive

Front-Wheel Drive vs Rear-Wheel Drive

If you’re not prone to off-roading, and don’t deal with ice or snow during journeys, then a Two-Wheel Drive system will do the job you’re looking for. Beware of two further sub-categories however – Front-Wheel Drive and Rear-Wheel Drive.

The differences between these 4x2 systems are notable, so let’s take a closer look at both.

What is Front-Wheel Drive and how does it work?

Front-Wheel Drive (abbreviated as FWD) is when the engine’s power is directed towards the two front wheels. This is the most common drivetrain type found on the car market, and it will probably be the best value system version of the model you have your eye on. You’ll find this system located in most cars designed for day-to-day trips, like the Nissan Versa or Sentra.

Pros of Front-Wheel Drive:

Best value

Vehicles with a FWD drivetrain are the most common on the market, and they are suited to most types of day-to-day driving.

Excellent traction

FWD vehicles are excellent at climbing paved hills because of the engine’s forward weight distribution.

Better in tricky spots

While FWD cars aren’t very good performers in cold weather, they fare better at getting out of snowy/icy spots than RWD vehicles.

Cons of Front-Wheel Drive:

Limited performance

Vehicles with a FWD system should be avoided if you’re looking for a vehicle with off-roading capabilities, or live in a consistently cold and icy climate.

Tire wear

The increased weight on the front tires can cause them to wear more quickly, meaning replacements can become more frequent.

Pros of Front-Wheel Drive:

Best value

Vehicles with a FWD drivetrain are the most common on the market, and they are suited to most types of day-to-day driving.

Excellent traction

FWD vehicles are excellent at climbing paved hills because of the engine’s forward weight distribution.

Better in tricky spots

While FWD cars aren’t very good performers in cold weather, they fare better at getting out of snowy/icy spots than RWD vehicles.

Cons of Front-Wheel Drive:

Limited performance

Vehicles with a FWD system should be avoided if you’re looking for a vehicle with off-roading capabilities, or live in a consistently cold and icy climate.

Tire wear

The increased weight on the front tires can cause them to wear more quickly, meaning replacements can become more frequent.

What is Rear-Wheel Drive and how does it work?

Rear-Wheel Drive (abbreviated as RWD) systems are commonly located in pick-up trucks, as well as high performance sports cars like the Nissan 370Z. As the name again would suggest, RWD is when the engine’s power is directed, via a driveshaft, to the rear wheels. RWD benefits sports cars by balancing out the weight distribution between the front and rear of the vehicle. The rear wheels also accept responsibility for propelling the vehicle, leaving the front wheels to concentrate on steering with supreme accuracy.

Pros of Rear-Wheel Drive:

Sports car performance

With more balanced weight distribution and front wheels solely responsible for steering, you can enjoy sharper handling in a RWD car.

Towing traction

Towing a trailer puts a lot of weight pressure on the rear of the vehicle, which is beneficial when the power output is through the rear wheels.

More powerful engines

The more balanced weight distribution of RWD vehicles allows for larger, more powerful engines to be placed under the hood.

Cons of Rear-Wheel Drive:

Wet road difficulty

RWD vehicles tend to have poorer traction in wet or snowy conditions, making them more difficult to control than FWD varieties.

Less rear space

RWD technology must direct power to the rear of the vehicle through a driveshaft which can create a hump in the middle of the vehicle, limiting interior space.

Less common than FWD

Vehicles with a RWD drivetrain won’t be as common on the car market as FWD, so you’re likely going to have to pay a premium if your heart is set on one.

Pros of Rear-Wheel Drive:

Sports car performance

With more balanced weight distribution and front wheels solely responsible for steering, you can enjoy sharper handling in a RWD car.

Towing traction

Towing a trailer puts a lot of weight pressure on the rear of the vehicle, which is beneficial when the power output is through the rear wheels.

More powerful engines

The more balanced weight distribution of RWD vehicles allows for larger, more powerful engines to be placed under the hood.

Cons of Rear-Wheel Drive:

Wet road difficulty

RWD vehicles tend to have poorer traction in wet or snowy conditions, making them more difficult to control than FWD varieties.

Less rear space

RWD technology must direct power to the rear of the vehicle through a driveshaft which can create a hump in the middle of the vehicle, limiting interior space.

Less common than FWD

Vehicles with a RWD drivetrain won’t be as common on the car market as FWD, so you’re likely going to have to pay a premium if your heart is set on one.

Learn More
Snow Gas Mileage Off Roading Drivetrain
STEP 5

Choose your engine

The cost of a new or used vehicle is the most significant financial expense, but it’s vital to consider the ongoing running costs attached too. The most primary of those is, of course, the means of powering the vehicle. Gas vehicles have dominated this market since the invention of the motor vehicle, but the growing appetite for fuel efficiency and electric vehicles is increasing.

Electric vs Hybrid vs Plug-In Hybrid vs Gas Cars

The market is still dominated by gas powered vehicles, but there is an ever-growing number of electric and hybrid options available. So, how do these engines work and which is the right one to complement your driving habits and environment?

Let’s take a closer look.

What is a gas car and how does it work?

Gas cars are powered by gasoline added to the fuel tank and burned within the engine to provide power to propel the vehicle forward. This type of engine is the bedrock of the motor industry, and they have been fine-tuned through the decades for optimum efficiency, performance and reliability.

Pros of Gas:

Cost

The high prevalence of gas cars on the market makes them great value to buy and should also reduce maintenance costs because of the mechanical industry’s familiarity with this type of engine.

Convenience

Right now there are more gas stations than there are public charging stations. You find one and fill up the tank again. But that is rapidly changing and coupled with faster charging times means it may not be a pro for much longer.

Cons of Gas:

Fuel costs

Up-front costs for a gas-powered vehicle may trump an electric equivalent, but this could quickly be offset by the increased cost of fueling up a gas vehicle on a daily basis.

Gas emissions

Gasoline is a non-renewable energy source.

Pros of Gas:

Cost

The high prevalence of gas cars on the market makes them great value to buy and should also reduce maintenance costs because of the mechanical industry’s familiarity with this type of engine.

Convenience

Right now there are more gas stations than there are public charging stations. You find one and fill up the tank again. But that is rapidly changing and coupled with faster charging times means it may not be a pro for much longer.

Cons of Gas:

Fuel costs

Up-front costs for a gas-powered vehicle may trump an electric equivalent, but this could quickly be offset by the increased cost of fueling up a gas vehicle on a daily basis.

Gas emissions

Gasoline is a non-renewable energy source.

What is an electric vehicle and how does it work?

Electric vehicles, such as the Nissan LEAF, are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to gas vehicles. Electric vehicles are propelled forward by battery power, which is charged up using a plug socket at home or on the road at public charging stations. This battery supplies power to the electric motor which drives the vehicle forward.

Pros of Electric Vehicles:

Low running costs

By plugging in your electric vehicle at home, rather than paying for gas on a weekly basis, you’re likely to make significant savings on running costs.

Alternate energy option

Electric vehicles can receive their battery power direct from renewable energy sources if your household is powered by solar or wind energy.

Cons of Electric Vehicles:

Up-front costs

Electric vehicles still only make up a relatively small portion of the car market, so you could end up paying extra for this exclusivity on the new or used market.

Range

Planning ahead is much more important when you have an electric vehicle. Most electric vehicles will run out of charge more quickly than a gas powered equivalent, and you may not find a charging station as easily as you would a gas station.

Pros of Electric Vehicles:

Low running costs

By plugging in your electric vehicle at home, rather than paying for gas on a weekly basis, you’re likely to make significant savings on running costs.

Alternate energy option

Electric vehicles can receive their battery power direct from renewable energy sources if your household is powered by solar or wind energy.

Cons of Electric Vehicles:

Up-front costs

Electric vehicles still only make up a relatively small portion of the car market, so you could end up paying extra for this exclusivity on the new or used market.

Range

Planning ahead is much more important when you have an electric vehicle. Most electric vehicles will run out of charge more quickly than a gas powered equivalent, and you may not find a charging station as easily as you would a gas station.

What is a hybrid car and how does it work?

A hybrid electric vehicle (abbreviated as HEV) combines the performance benefits of a gas-powered engine with the efficiency of an electric vehicle. They are conventionally powered using gas, but this fuel is used instead to power an electric motor that drives the vehicle forward. It can’t run on electric power alone, but the hybrid engine increases efficiency by supplementing engine power with additional energy recaptured during braking.

Pros of Hybrid Vehicles:

Fuel efficiency

The HEV is well suited to stop-go driving in cities, providing better fuel efficiency than gas powered competitors.

Gas performance

HEVs are powered using gas at the fuel pump, so you can enjoy driving longer distances and topping up the tank at a nearby gas station.

Cons of Hybrid Vehicles:

Gas powered

Typically, the battery in a HEV can only supplement the power needs of the vehicle and can rarely be driven using electric power alone.

Price

HEVs are generally more complex to build than a gas-powered vehicle, increasing their cost in the market as well as ongoing maintenance expenses.

Pros of Hybrid Vehicles:

Fuel efficiency

The HEV is well suited to stop-go driving in cities, providing better fuel efficiency than gas powered competitors.

Gas performance

HEVs are powered using gas at the fuel pump, so you can enjoy driving longer distances and topping up the tank at a nearby gas station.

Cons of Hybrid Vehicles:

Gas powered

Typically, the battery in a HEV can only supplement the power needs of the vehicle and can rarely be driven using electric power alone.

Price

HEVs are generally more complex to build than a gas-powered vehicle, increasing their cost in the market as well as ongoing maintenance expenses.

What is a plug-in hybrid car and how does it work?

Plug-in hybrid cars are hybrids in the truest sense of the word because they can be powered using gas or electricity alone. The battery can be recharged using a plug, providing a greater capacity to drive on battery power than the conventional hybrid, albeit much greatly reduced capacity than a full electric vehicle. When the battery runs out of power, the gas engine can step in to propel the vehicle forward.

Pros of Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles:

Greater EV capacity

Drive short distances using the battery power alone.

Gas performance

There’s no need to worry about finding a public charging station when driving outside of the city. Simply refuel and continue driving with the hybrid power generated by the gas engine.

Cons of Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles:

Cost

Plug-in hybrid cars tend to cost more than a conventional hybrid due to the added complexity of the power system.

EV performance

Full electric vehicles have a greater range than a plug-in hybrid running solely on battery power.

Pros of Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles:

Greater EV capacity

Drive short distances using the battery power alone.

Gas performance

There’s no need to worry about finding a public charging station when driving outside of the city. Simply refuel and continue driving with the hybrid power generated by the gas engine.

Cons of Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles:

Cost

Plug-in hybrid cars tend to cost more than a conventional hybrid due to the added complexity of the power system.

EV performance

Full electric vehicles have a greater range than a plug-in hybrid running solely on battery power.

Learn More

Diesel vs gas engines

Gas-powered vehicles are most common on the market, but diesel options are well worth considering if you’re looking for a truck with plenty of pulling power. Let’s take a closer look at how gas and diesel engines differ under a variety of performance headings.

GasDiesel
Vehicle price
Fuel price
Maintenance costs
Mileage
Life expectancy
Towing capacity

How do gas and diesel engines work?

Gas and diesel engines work very similarly, with both types of fuel used to generate power in the engine. The main engineering difference involves how the fuel and air is added to the engine pistons to instigate combustion. In a diesel engine the air is compressed first, and then the fuel is added. On a gas engine that happens at the same time a spark plug creates the fuel combustion. Diesel engines don’t use spark plugs, so don’t worry if you’re told they don’t exist in your desired diesel vehicle.

Towing & horsepower

Diesel engines tend to enjoy better torque figures, which means they have greater acceleration and pulling power. As you can imagine, this is particularly helpful for heavier vehicles like trucks which need additional help getting up to speed, especially when they’re towing a trailer. Gas engines are more likely to produce greater horsepower however, which means they often enjoy higher top speeds.

Fuel costs

Diesel contains a greater amount of energy per unit of weight than gas, which means you need slightly less fuel to cover each mile. In simple terms, this means that diesel engines produce greater fuel efficiency than gas engines, particularly when cruising for longer distances. This is offset, however, by the slightly higher prices you’re likely to pay at the pumps for a gallon of diesel..

Noise

Diesel engines tend to produce a distinctive rumble when running, compared to a flat sound in a gas engine. You won’t notice the difference much when you’re behind the wheel. Car manufacturers are generally keen to limit the engine noise to add comfort to every journey, but many sports cars will roar that bit louder due to larger engines and adapted exhaust systems.

Availability

Diesel engines are generally found in trucks, where the benefits of additional torque and fuel efficiency are more greatly felt. Gas-powered vehicles are the most common on the new and used markets, and most dealers will probably take it for granted that you’re looking for that type of engine. So, make sure to specify that you’re looking for a diesel-powered vehicle if that’s what you’re seeking.

Price

Diesel-powered vehicles tend to be more expensive than gas versions because of their exclusivity. It’s important to consider the ongoing running costs, because diesel engines are generally built for trucks and other large machinery. Diesel fuel gels in cold weather so you need to rely on a block heater more and may require additional additives. This means they’re built to be rugged and dependable, so diesel engines are often more reliable than gas versions. This could end up saving you money and time by avoiding regular trips to the mechanic.

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Electric vs Hybrid vs Plug-In Hybrid vs Gas Cars
STEP 6

Choose your transmission

The engine can’t just direct power to the wheels on its own. A regulator is needed to dictate that the right amount of power is distributed depending on the road conditions. This is the job of the transmission, and in many ways it mirrors the engineering when shifting gears on a bicycle.

Automatic transmissions are most popular in the US, and you’ve guessed it, this is when the car automatically decides the right gear to initiate during a journey. Driving can be a much easier experience with an automatic transmission, but this comes at the expense of occasionally clunky gear changes and reduced fuel efficiency. Modern advances in automatic transmission technology have seen the development of the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

Manual transmissions require you to do the work of changing up and down gears, using a ‘stick shift’ and clutch. This can be a frustrating experience, requiring more driving skill to get the car moving, but it provides a more satisfying sense of control particularly in high performance sports cars.

Both types of transmission provide a very different driving experience so it’s important to assess the pros and cons before deciding which one to opt for. Scroll down for further transmission information to help find the best car for you.

Manual vs Automatic Transmission

Automatic transmissions take a lot of the hassle out of driving by shifting through gears instinctively. Manual transmissions require use of a clutch, adding some additional work but usually with a correlating positive impact on fuel efficiency.

What is a manual transmission?

You’ll often hear manual transmission referred to as ‘stick shift’ because this component to the driver’s right-hand side is needed to shift into your desired gear. The gears will be numbered on the stick from 1 to 5, 6 or 7, depending on the amount of gears in the transmission. You’ll also have a reverse gear accessible through the same stick.

Manual transmissions put the responsibility on the driver to shift up or down the gears, depending on the speed or terrain at/on which they’re travelling. These gears can only be shifted while the clutch is compressed - this is a third pedal which is only available on ‘manual’ vehicles. This means that drivers need to use both feet while driving – the right foot for acceleration and braking, and the left foot for the clutch.

Pros of Manual Transmission:

Fuel efficiency

The primary benefit of a manual transmission is that you’re using your own judgment to decide when to shift up or down a gear. An automatic transmission will make this decision based on a variety of different driving factors, but it can get it wrong sometimes, like shifting up a gear when driving up a hill. Manual gear shifts also tend to be slightly quicker and smoother.

Maintenance

The engineering technology in an automatic can be quite a bit more complex, making it a more expensive trip to the mechanic if things go wrong. In theory, manual transmissions should be an easier, less expensive fix, but this won’t be the case if you have a driving style which includes rough gear changes and a tendency to ride the clutch a little too much.

Pros of Manual Transmission:

Fuel efficiency

The primary benefit of a manual transmission is that you’re using your own judgment to decide when to shift up or down a gear. An automatic transmission will make this decision based on a variety of different driving factors, but it can get it wrong sometimes, like shifting up a gear when driving up a hill. Manual gear shifts also tend to be slightly quicker and smoother.

Maintenance

The engineering technology in an automatic can be quite a bit more complex, making it a more expensive trip to the mechanic if things go wrong. In theory, manual transmissions should be an easier, less expensive fix, but this won’t be the case if you have a driving style which includes rough gear changes and a tendency to ride the clutch a little too much.

What is automatic transmission?

This is a more common drivetrain type than the ‘manual’ in the US market, and it contributes to a much easier driving experience. An automatic transmission decides when to shift gears, leaving the driver to concentrate solely on acceleration, braking and steering. There’s no clutch in ‘automatic’ cars, so you only need to use your right foot for the gas and brake pedals, but you will still have a ‘stick’ to maneuver between the ‘Park (P)’, ‘Drive (D)’, ‘Neutral (N)’ and ‘Reverse (R)’ settings.

There are a couple of different types of automatic transmission you might come across while checking out the car market. These include a 6-speed transmission (six forward gears), semi-automatic transmission (the driver is prompted to shift gears or can choose a manual mode that lets them shift when they like) and Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT). This type of transmission doesn’t include any gears and provides optimum efficiency. Click here to learn more about CVT.

Pros of Automatic Transmission:

Ease of use

It’s much easier to go from driving a ‘manual’ to an ‘automatic’, than the other way around. You don’t need to worry about stalling the vehicle when taking off from a stationary position, and the monotony of repetitive gear changes and clutch compressions is avoided. This is particularly helpful when driving in built-up areas where stop-start traffic is most common.

More options

Supply of vehicles with automatic transmission is excellent in the US, whether you’re looking in the new or used car markets. While automatic vehicles tend to be slightly more expensive, the variety of models will be much broader so you’re more likely to find the vehicle that you desire.

Pros of Automatic Transmission:

Ease of use

It’s much easier to go from driving a ‘manual’ to an ‘automatic’, than the other way around. You don’t need to worry about stalling the vehicle when taking off from a stationary position, and the monotony of repetitive gear changes and clutch compressions is avoided. This is particularly helpful when driving in built-up areas where stop-start traffic is most common.

More options

Supply of vehicles with automatic transmission is excellent in the US, whether you’re looking in the new or used car markets. While automatic vehicles tend to be slightly more expensive, the variety of models will be much broader so you’re more likely to find the vehicle that you desire.

Which cars have manual or automatic transmissions?

Your transmission choice is one of the most important factors to consider while buying a new or used car. If you’re prone to driving in built-up areas and on busy highways, then an automatic transmission is probably the right choice. Luckily, there is a great selection of vehicles available, whether you’re looking for a small sedan, a mid-range SUV or a large pickup truck. The 2020 Nissan TITAN features a 9 speed automatic transmission, while the efficient CVT transmissions feature as standard on the sleek Nissan Altima sedan and the sturdy Kicks crossover, among many other models.

Manual transmissions, while requiring a bit more work, can be a joyous experience. Driving enthusiasts love the autonomous thrill of shifting up through the gears, and that’s why they tend to feature on so many sports cars, including the Nissan 370Z. You can also find manual transmissions as standard on popular everyday road vehicles like the Nissan Versa.

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Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) Pros and Cons

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is an adaptation of the traditional ‘automatic’. Its engineering is focused on generating much smoother acceleration and fuel efficiency, but it can often be a slightly more expensive option.

What is Continuously Variable Transmission?

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) has been around for a few decades, but the technology is still the subject of ongoing tweaking by car manufacturers. Similar to an ‘automatic’ transmission in the way that it negates the need for a clutch and traditional ‘stick shift’, CVT is nevertheless drastically different in the way that it helps to accelerate the vehicle.

Rather than shifting through individual gears, CVT uses variable-diameter pulleys around which a belt rotates. This creates a much wider virtual-gear range so it’s better able to adapt to whatever speed the vehicle is travelling at. Rather than boring you with too much tech-talk, CVTs are, to put it bluntly, designed to MPG (Miles per Gallon) figures and additional capability during hill acceleration.

Want to learn more about the science behind CVT? Check out this video.

Pros of CVT vs Automatic Transmission:

Fuel efficiency

The more gears available in the transmission, the more capable the vehicle is of finding the right one to suit the speed of the vehicle. And in effect, CVT has an unlimited amount of gears. This makes CVT much smoother than a traditional ‘automatic’, allowing it to accelerate at a more consistent rate. By comparison, acceleration is briefly curtailed during every gear change in an ‘automatic’. All these small margins make a difference to fuel efficiency, and CVT produces more impressive figures as a result.

Hill driving

One of the most common criticisms about a traditional ‘automatic’ is its tendency to choose the wrong gear when driving up hills, often choosing to shift up when a lower gear is required. CVTs are better able to capture the middle ground between these gears so the vehicle can accelerate on tricky terrain with ease.

Cons of CVT vs Automatic Transmission:

No shift points

One of the thrilling aspects of driving a high-performance vehicle is when you hear the vehicle shifting through the gears. The shudder as it moves from 2nd to 3rd can get the pulses racing, something a traditional CVT simply can’t match. Advances in CVT technology has seen these ‘shift points’ incorporated in some versions however, thereby mimicking the gear shifting sound of a traditional ‘automatic’.

Specialized servicing

As specified above, CVT is a very different type of transmission from a conventional ‘automatic’. It’s also a relatively niche offering, so mechanics are less likely to possess the expertise to mend it if things go wrong. CVT requires special oil and parts, so it could end up costing a bit more to get it repaired too.

Pros of CVT vs Automatic Transmission:

Fuel efficiency

The more gears available in the transmission, the more capable the vehicle is of finding the right one to suit the speed of the vehicle. And in effect, CVT has an unlimited amount of gears. This makes CVT much smoother than a traditional ‘automatic’, allowing it to accelerate at a more consistent rate. By comparison, acceleration is briefly curtailed during every gear change in an ‘automatic’. All these small margins make a difference to fuel efficiency, and CVT produces more impressive figures as a result.

Hill driving

One of the most common criticisms about a traditional ‘automatic’ is its tendency to choose the wrong gear when driving up hills, often choosing to shift up when a lower gear is required. CVTs are better able to capture the middle ground between these gears so the vehicle can accelerate on tricky terrain with ease.

Cons of CVT vs Automatic Transmission:

No shift points

One of the thrilling aspects of driving a high-performance vehicle is when you hear the vehicle shifting through the gears. The shudder as it moves from 2nd to 3rd can get the pulses racing, something a traditional CVT simply can’t match. Advances in CVT technology has seen these ‘shift points’ incorporated in some versions however, thereby mimicking the gear shifting sound of a traditional ‘automatic’.

Specialized servicing

As specified above, CVT is a very different type of transmission from a conventional ‘automatic’. It’s also a relatively niche offering, so mechanics are less likely to possess the expertise to mend it if things go wrong. CVT requires special oil and parts, so it could end up costing a bit more to get it repaired too.

Which cars have a CVT?

CVT is increasingly in vogue but some manufacturers, like Nissan, have been ahead of the curve for quite a while. This is a popular transmission option, so you’ll be able to find it standard or available on a variety of very affordable cars.

For instance, check out the sleek 2020 Nissan Altima sedan or the more spacious Kicks crossover for the smooth driving experience of a standard CVT.

What is Dual-Clutch Transmission?

The dual-clutch transmission is primarily found on top-of-the-line sports cars, providing rapid gear changes and optimum acceleration as a result. This technology sees one clutch responsible for the odd-numbered gears (1, 3, 5) and the other in charge of the even digits(2, 4, 6). This means that one clutch can already have the next gear pre-selected, thereby sharpening up the gear changes when you decide to shift up or down.

Did you know that the Nissan GT-R’s sequential dual-clutch transmission can snap off lightning-quick gear changes in R-Mode?

So, what’s the downside? I’m sure you can guess. This technology doesn’t come cheap, and it’s only placed in the vehicles that truly need it most – high-performance sports cars like the thrilling Nissan GT-R.

Learn More
Manual vs Automatic Transmission
STEP 7

Plan your purchase

Once you’ve got a better idea in your head about what you need from your new car, whether it’s the preferred transmission, engine or interior features, you can then begin a deeper search into the type of vehicle that suits you best.

Hatchbacks and sedans differ greatly from trucks and SUVs, but each of these vehicle types have a distinct set of characteristics that should match your own wants and needs. Visit our Types of Cars page to get a better understanding of some key car buying lingo.

Maybe you already have a car in mind but need some help in assessing whether it’s up to scratch or if you can finance it within your means? Visit the Car Buying Tips page for help considering whether Leasing or Buying is the right route to take, or check out our Test Driving Tips to find out how to ensure you’re making the right vehicle choice.