AAA Car Guide and vehicle purchasing tips help drivers make informed decisions

BOISE – (June 18, 2020) – In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rules of personal interaction have changed, including at the local car dealership.  More than ever, prospective vehicle owners want to do research to narrow their options before they set foot on the sales floor.

“With a strong focus on social distancing, it makes sense for potential buyers to tap into resources that they can trust, including the experiences of friends and family, and objective ratings from reputable organizations,” says AAA Idaho Public Affairs Director Matthew Conde.  “Doing your homework really pays off when you’re looking for a vehicle with advanced driver assistance systems or some kind of alternative-fuel model.”

The AAA Car Guide is produced by the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center to help buyers make informed purchase decisions.  This year’s guide contains comprehensive evaluations of 50 vehicles based on a variety of criteria, including acceleration, braking, handling, fuel efficiency, and noise levels.  To be eligible for inclusion, vehicles must be all-new or completely redesigned and include the latest automotive safety technology.

This year’s overall winner (and the winner of the Large Vehicle category) is the 2020 Volvo S90 T8 E-AWD R-Design, a plug-in hybrid.   The Small Vehicle category winner is an electric vehicle, the 2019 Nissan Leaf SV Plus, followed by the Midsize winner, the 2019 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE.  AAA’s highest-rated pickup is the 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 2WD Crew Cab SLT, and the SUV/Minivan category winner is the 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited.

AAA also selected winning vehicles based on the cost of ownership.  The best vehicle under $30K is the 2019 Honda Insight 4-door Touring Hybrid, while the best vehicle between $30K and $50K is the 2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium.  When money is of little concern, the best vehicle is the Volvo S90.

“Some buyers may not have experienced the latest technology for themselves, so it’s helpful to have something like the AAA Car Guide to point them in the right direction,” Conde explained.  “All of the vehicles were tested on a closed course and in real-world scenarios on public roads to make sure that the ratings are fair and complete.”

In a recent AAA survey, 1 in 10 consumers say that they are more likely to consider purchasing a new or used vehicle in the next six months due to COVID-19.  Low interest rates and dealer incentives are expected to be very attractive for the foreseeable future.


Shopping for a car in the ‘new normal’

Car buying will look different than what many people are used to, but AAA’s automotive experts say that there are plenty of ways to make sure you buy the right vehicle and protect your health.

  • Consider the car’s purpose. What does it need to carry now, and in the coming years?  How will the number and size of passengers change over time?
  • Do as much as you can online. You may be able to complete most of the transaction without ever having to visit a dealership.  If you’ll be taking out a loan to buy the vehicle, call your bank or credit union to get pre-approved for an amount and interest rate – this will simplify the conversations that come later.
  • Do the math. Look at the purchase price, depreciation, insurance, fuel, and maintenance costs to determine what makes sense based on your budget.
  • Stay flexible. If you can find two or three vehicles that will meet your most important needs and wants, you’ll have better room to negotiate.


When you’re ready for a test drive:

  • Ask about cleanliness. Find out how the dealership is handling in-person visits.  Are walk-ins still allowed, or is it best to make an appointment?  Ask about policies on test drives, and how vehicles are cleaned between test drives.  In some cases, the dealership may be willing to bring a vehicle to you to look over.
  • Inspect thoroughly. Make sure it’s the right size for your family’s needs.  Look for uneven gaps between panels, which may indicate that the vehicle was damaged at some point.  Look for signs of rust, including bubbling or pitting under the paint.  Check everything – doors, windows, electronics, etc.
  • Be a backseat driver. Ask the salesperson to start driving while you’re in the back.  If you’re not focused on driving, you can listen for unusual noises from the engine or other parts of the vehicle.  You can also use this chance to check the backseat’s comfort and legroom.
  • Test drive for real life. Select a route that reflects your commute, and that includes a variety of road surfaces, including city streets, hills, curves, and freeways.  Test the vehicle’s responsiveness when accelerating and braking.  Listen for excessive noise, squeaks and rattles at different speeds, and with the windows open and closed.


“When you’ve found the vehicle that’s right for you, remember that you control the deal,” Conde said.  “Only buy the car under terms that you can live with, and be willing to walk away if you aren’t comfortable with the offer.”