A study published by R.L. Polk & Co tells us that Americans are upgrading their new vehicles about every 6 years, which means it may have been a while since you visited the new car dealership. But no worries. Things haven’t changed that much. Even if it has been a decade, there’s a lot about the process that has remained the same. We can’t exactly say the same for the cars, though. New car innovation seems to change at the speed of light, so it’s important to do a little research to find the vehicle that’s right for you.

Here are some tips to help you choose your next car.

Set a firm budget

If this isn’t your first rodeo, you know how easy it is to get suckered into paying more money than you planned. Either the salesperson will upsell you on a more expensive car or on features you don’t really need. That’s why you need to figure out exactly how much you can spend before you visit the car dealership. Make sure your budget is for the life of the car and not a monthly budget. It’s too easy to add a thousand or two to your overall budget when you’re only looking at monthly payments.

Think about use

You may have a personal preference for a coupe over an SUV, but if you’re going to be transporting a family of 5, that coupe may not make sense. Think about your family’s needs and how you plan to use the vehicle before you even get to the test-driving phase. If you want something with off-road capabilities, start researching the best off-roading vehicles in your price range. Explore your car options, and try to narrow your choices down to about three cars that work for you and/or your family.

Consider used versus new

When you’re looking to upgrade your vehicle, remember that you have options. You don’t necessarily have to buy a new car if it’s not in your budget. There are pros and cons to buying used or new, so weigh them for your family before making a decision. For example, if you’re worried about overall price and depreciation, a used car is probably a better option for you. New cars depreciate quickly within their first year, and if you’re not placing a sizable down payment, you’ll instantly owe more than the car is worth. Onthe other hand, if you do have a sizeable down payment and/or you’re set on getting the latest safety and technological advancements, you’ll probably want to buy new.

Research pricing

You can use a service like True Car to find out what people are paying in your area for the same vehicle, or you can look up values on Kelley Blue Book or NADA’s websites. All will give you an idea of what you will spend on your car.

Test drive

Now that you’ve done all your homework, it’s time for the fun part. You get to test drive the vehicles that fit your needs and budget. This is when you find out whether the best car on paper is truly the best car in practice. You may be a bit disappointed in one of the choices that you thought was a sure thing, but you’ll probably find one that exceeds your expectations.

The process of buying a new car can be a fun one, but the key is to arrive prepared. Research the cars that best suit your needs, including how you plan to use the car for the next 6 years or so. Then, think about your budget and financing options. The best car for you won’t put you over budget, so keep that in mind as you start learning about all the cool new features. And finally, take a few cars for a spin to see how they handle the roads in real life. Your next car awaits!