4 tips to help college grads buy the perfect vehicle

(BPT) - Congratulations, college graduates! You’re all set to enter the job market, but do you have what it takes to get to and from interviews or work? It might be time to move on from worn-out, hand-me-down vehicles for your fresh start in life.

“Safety ratings and affordability are important considerations when it comes to purchasing a vehicle, but you should also know that you’ll need to budget for additional costs in your monthly expenses once you become an owner,” said “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buying or Leasing a Car” author Jack R. Nerad.

Buying a car doesn’t have to break the bank, and grads should factor insurance, fuel and maintenance costs into their purchase decision.

Here are four things to consider when shopping for a car.

1. Vehicle safety

Vehicle safety ratings are evaluated based on crashworthiness and crash preventability.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a 5-Star Ratings program, with more stars meaning the vehicle is safer, while the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) tests vehicles for crashworthiness, and crash avoidance and mitigation.

“I recommend looking at both the IIHS and NHTSA ratings to identify vehicles that are crashworthy and, importantly, have equipment that will help drivers avoid a crash, which is preferable to surviving one,” said Nerad.

Many modern vehicles are equipped with Adaptive Driver Assistance Systems like lane departure warning, blind spot information systems, and braking assistance technology to help prevent a collision or lessen its severity.

2. Insurance costs

Insurance should be top-of-mind when picking a car because it’ll protect you and your vehicle. Its role in the shopping process is two-fold: it can give you a sense of your monthly premium based on the car you select and it also lets you find the right company for your insurance needs ahead of making either purchase.

“Younger drivers generally have higher premiums because of their inexperience, and statistics show that driving experience has a significant impact on accidents,” said Mercury Insurance Chief Claims Officer Randy Petro. “We recommend that you speak with an insurance agent to help ensure you get the right amount of coverage at the best possible rate.”

Mercury recently examined model-year 2015-2018 vehicles with high ratings from NHTSA and IIHS to compile a top-10 list of the most affordable vehicles to insure for college grads. The list is based on a national average of the price for full coverage, but other factors can push that rate up or down. The 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe ranked first, while other Hyundai models, Kias and Hondas also made the list.

3. Fuel economy

Fuel is a recurring expense for vehicle owners. A tip to determine how much it’ll cost each month is to factor in the size of the vehicle’s fuel tank, average miles driven and gas prices. Speeding, rapidly accelerating or braking aggressively burn through fuel at a faster rate, so it’s best to follow the speed limit and stay away from aggressive driving behaviors to save money on gas.

4. Maintenance and repairs

Vehicle ownership includes being financially responsible for wear-and-tear and general maintenance, like oil changes, and tire and brake replacement. Owners manuals provide information about recommended services and frequency, and many are available online to help with your car-buying research.

It’s a good idea to start a repair fund early on to protect against potential rainy day blues once the manufacturer’s warranty expires.

“An extended warranty, like Mercury’s Mechanical Protection plans, helps extend the life of a vehicle for up to seven years or 100,000 miles,” said Nerad. “This is something to consider to help cover the cost to repair your vehicle if it breaks down.”

Finding a safe, reliable vehicle will keep you moving forward in life’s journey, and these tips will help make it more affordable. Good luck, and enjoy the journey!