America has a long-standing love affair with the automobile. If you're shopping for a new one, there are plenty of places to find the wheels of your dreams. These seven tips can help make sure you and your four-wheeled friend drive happily into the sunset.

Goldilocks had it made. When it came time to pick out a bed, she had only three options. Unlike today's car buyers, she didn't have to agonize over an endless number of makes and models.

With so many vehicles to choose from, there's always the opportunity to slip up and buy a lemon-if you don't do your homework. Here are seven tips to help you find a car that will be with you for the long haul, without a sour taste in your mouth.

  • 1. Match your personality. Everyone says that a dog looks just like its owner; an automobile isn't all that different. Take time to think about what you want in a car. What will you feel comfortable driving every day?
  • 2. Consider theft-prevention. Check with the National Insurance Crime Bureau to find out which cars are most often targeted by criminals. While it shouldn't be the sole basis for your final decision, the data may serve as a tiebreaker when you narrow your choices.
  • 3. Lemon aid. Check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ( to find out which makes and models have the most consumer complaints.
  • 4. Think ahead. You've analyzed your current lifestyle but where will you be in five years? Are you planning to expand the family in the near future? If so, you may want to consider a bigger car, with plenty of room for baby strollers and playpens.
  • 5. Keep an eye on the pump. Americans have always enjoyed extremely low gas prices. However, as the price tag at the pump continues to soar, you may want to think about fuel efficiency with your next purchase.
  • 6. Value added. You and your car are in this for the long haul. But if the day comes when you need to go your separate ways, you'll want a car that will do well on the resale market. To see how well a used-car holds its value, consult Consumer Reports and Kiplinger's.
  • 7. Narrow your options. As you get close to the date of purchase, peruse all the options on the car. See if you can whittle away at the sticker price by cutting out the options you don't need.

You're about to enter a long-term relationship. These seven tips can prevent you from making a big mistake, so use them as you search for the car of your dreams. Make sure that your heart's desire agrees with your brain's decision. If the car makes sense and makes your heart beat faster, say "I do" to a new car purchase.

Published on June 1, 2007