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Find the Car That Fits

Like trying on a pair of shoes, slipping into your new car should be a perfect fit. But many factors from your budget to your desire for safety, might require a few alterations to your dream car, says Lauren Fix, aka The Car Coach®.

Fix, who appears frequently on Oprah, Today, CNN, Fox, and other TV outlets, is the spokeswoman for USAA’s new Auto Circle™. The program helps you research, find, finance, and insure a car online or from an iPhone. Fix is the perfect person for the job. The daughter of an automotive engineer, she learned about cars at an early age.

“Most girls were playing with dolls, but I was helping my dad replace clutches and bleed brakes,” she says. “I was a jeans, baseball cap, and t-shirt kind of girl.”

Today, she touts the importance of auto safety, maintenance, and smart car-buying decisions.

What People Want
Fix says most people shop for the kind of car they imagine themselves driving. In her third book, Lauren Fix’s Guide to Loving Your Car, the former racecar driver confesses she could never own a minivan or station wagon. She prefers sporty and says “arrest-me red” is her color of choice. But she hasn’t always gotten exactly what she wanted.

She bought her first car, a 1976 Camaro, at fifteen, before she even had a license. But what she longed for was actor James Garner’s Firebird from the TV show The Rockford Files. She learned early that compromising to balance what you want, need, and can afford is key to finding the perfect fit. “What you want and what you need will always be two different things,” she says.

And she has seen car shoppers make mistakes. Many people consider only whether they can afford the monthly payments but don’t calculate the true cost of ownership, which includes insurance, depreciation, and maintenance, she says. They also don’t prioritize what they value in a car, whether it’s sporty lines, performance, environmental impact, or safety. “The buying decision should really be about what you value,” Fix says.

A Perfect Fit: Safe and Comfortable
When you’re searching for a car that fits your budget, lifestyle and personal taste, don’t overlook your actual physical comfort in the vehicle. Get in the car and drive it. Fix says you’d be surprised at how many people buy cars sight unseen and suffer discomfort later. “We’re all built differently,” she says. “Big, small, wide, skinny. There are different cars that will fit you better than others.” Here are the top three things on her checklist for finding the best physical fit:

1. Seating position. No matter what your height, the air bag in the center of the steering wheel should be at least twelve inches away from the center of your chest to avoid injury if it deploys.

2. Visibility. You need to be able to see where you are on the road. “If you can’t see out the window and you can’t align the mirrors to get an all-around view, look for something else,” Fix says.

3. Easy-to-use controls. “Can you reach and operate all the controls safely?” she asks. Can you turn on the radio without leaning? Is the dashboard display distracting? Can you reach the pedals easily? Fix says some carmakers offer adjustable pedals, so shorter people should make sure to ask about that option.

Crash test ratings, vehicle performance, and fuel economy should be key factors in your purchase decision, she adds. Check websites such as and Or visit and look for cars with the USAA Preferred designation, which indicates they meet USAA standards for value, safety and more.

Buyer claims: “I want to help the environment.”
The Car Coach says: “Without driving in rush-hour traffic, you might not use the electric mode often enough to save the emissions you’re hoping to save. Also, can you afford to pay a premium on the car to be a model environmental citizen?”

Yes to all of the above. I really want to buy a hybrid.
Be realistic about how much you’ll save on gas. While more fuel-efficient than conventional equivalents, the difference may not be as much as you think, Fix warns. You may pay $3,000 to $6,000 more for the car, and it could take five to seven years to make that up at the pump, she says.

Not for you, after all?
Re-evaluate what you want to drive, and seek good fuel economy. Look for other ways to help the environment.

Economy Cars and Clunkers
Buyer claims: “I just need something to get me from here to there.”
The Car Coach says: “Really? Can you truly be happy with no frills or a car that lacks modern safety features?”

Even if it’s not your first choice, perhaps your budget demands you seek the cheapest car possible. But don’t trade safety for price.
Forgo power locks, power windows, and other options on an economy car. Or buy a quality used car, checking for previous flooding, major accident damage and more through a CARFAX® Vehicle History Report. USAA members get 20 percent off CARFAX reports for used cars. Log on to
and search CARFAX.

Deep down, you don’t want your car to reveal that you’re on a tight budget.
Consider a certified pre-owned vehicle, a used car that’s been inspected and given a warranty, or a used car that gets good gas mileage with positive safety ratings.

Sports Car
Buyer claims: “Speed and style are my top priorities.”
The Car Coach says: “I can relate! But make sure you don’t have a family that has to squeeze inside.”

You have budget to spare, your personal style screams sports car, and you don’t have a family that has to cram inside.
Have fun test-driving. Research technicians in your area who specialize in the make and model you’re looking at so you’re not stuck with a great-looking ride that doesn’t run well.

It would be a budget buster to buy new, but you think you could swing payments if you found a good deal on a used sports car.
Even buying used sports and luxury cars can mean high repair, maintenance and insurance costs. So double-check your math. And take advantage of the USAA discount for CARFAX reports.

Which vehicle should you prefer? Ask USAA
What makes a good car a great value? USAA posed that question to its team of auto insurance experts. The goal was simple: Create a better way for you to get more bang for your buck—safe cars at a great price.

The result? The patent-pending USAA Preferred program2—a new vehicle-rating system that identifies cars with the highest overall value for the price. To earn this seal of approval, vehicles must meet USAA standards for a good value based on vehicle attributes, safety, reliability, savings, fuel economy, insurance costs, and depreciation.

“It’s a challenge to navigate the landscape of choices when you’re in the market for a vehicle,” says Steve Thompson, assistant vice president, USAA Bank. “With USAA Preferred, we’re able to help our members find a vehicle that meets their needs, keeps them safe, and provides an excellent value for their money.”

Here are just a few reasons to consider a USAA Preferred vehicle:

Lower Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price
The average vehicle savings is $4,508 over other vehicles in the same class.

Better Overall Reliability
USAA Preferred vehicles consistently have lower warranty costs. This means they are less likely to break down, making them more reliable.

Better Safety Rating
USAA Preferred vehicles must achieve a “Good” or “Acceptable” mark as reported by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Higher Fuel Economy
Good gas mileage means you’ll pay less at the pump and reduce your carbon footprint as well.

Lower Insurance Costs
Your premiums will be lower compared to average insurance costs of all other vehicles.

Originally published on