Finding the right car for your family and budget may seem intimidating—but with a little research, you can find a cost-efficient option to suit your needs.

Getting started

Before you ever set foot in a car lot, think about your needs and prioritize your “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Will you primarily use it for commuting to work, taking the kids to school and activities, running errands, or taking family trips? Other considerations may include:

  • Size: Number of passengers and amount of cargo space
  • Budget: What you can afford to spend monthly, and whether you have a trade-in
  • Features: All-wheel drive, fuel efficiency, entertainment, navigation system, a roof rack, and others

Also, think about parking, how long you anticipate having the car, and options for a new, used or leased vehicle.

Conducting initial research

Start your research online. It’s an easy way to learn about what’s available in your area.

Several websites can help you find options that fit your wish list and budget. You might try Pen Air’s Car Buying Service, powered by TrueCar. Other options include,,, and You may also decide to visit a local dealership or attend an auto show to get hands-on with specific car models and types.

Once you have some initial ideas, ask around. Personal reviews and referrals from people you trust can prove most valuable. You may ask: Which cars have you owned or driven? What did you like or dislike about the cars? Where did you purchase or lease your car, and how was your experience with the seller?

You’ll have more negotiating leverage with dealers or other sellers if you know exactly how much you can spend. So, consider getting pre-approved for a car loan from your local credit union or Pen Air before you start seriously shopping. Check out local rates and use a Car Loan Calculator to dial in your budget, and ask Pen Air for discounts that are available to you as a member of Pen Air Federal Credit Union.

Managing the search process—and the test-drive

Once you’ve narrowed your list to a few selected car types and models that meet your needs visit a few dealerships and test-drive any options you may be interested in. A visit to the dealership is an opportunity to learn as much as possible about before you make a major purchase, so don’t buy impulsively or feel pressured to sign on the dotted line.

After the test drive, take a few days to review your options. When you’re close to a decision, check for information on the new car’s price range or the used car’s value, based on its condition. This information will prove invaluable to you when negotiating the price. Both sites have apps, so download them and bring them along for instant access to this information if needed. You can also check Pen Air’s Car Buying Service, powered by TrueCar, for a no-hassle buying experience.

With some research, budget-planning, and money management, you can find the perfect car for you and your family.