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One of the coolest perks of being an automotive journalist is having the opportunity to drive a lot of different cars, from econo-boxes to luxury sedans, so it’s no surprise when people come to me for advice on which vehicle they should buy (or lease) — I’ve basically done the legwork of test driving almost every new car in recent years.

But learning about a car through someone else’s experiences might lead you astray, especially because your baseline exposure and what you value may differ greatly from that of your car-enthusiast friend (or online journalist).

Whenever I’m asked, “What’s the best car for me to buy?”, I always think of an episode of “Adam Ruins Everything” where Adam Conover explores gift giving and how it makes no economic sense.

Just like choosing a gift for someone, the only way for me to pick a “best car” for you is to take a guess based on what I think you may want, or go with my personal preferences and tastes. And unless we’ve been roommates for many years or you’re exactly like me, I’m probably not going to pick a winner on the first few tries.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t go to your friends for recommendations — the key to getting the most out of the exchange is to ask specific questions based on your own frame of reference.

If you have an active and adventurous lifestyle, you could ask for a list of vehicles with the best cargo room or off-road capability. Maybe you have a long daily commute in traffic — try asking which cars have adaptive cruise control with full-stop so you don’t have to keep standing on the brake pedal.

These types of questions will help you narrow down the candidates for your personal “best car” award, and once you’ve picked a winner, you can approach a purchasing decision with much more confidence.

I love helping friends choose cars, and it often involves everyone learning a lot about one another, because it’s an exercise in finding out what the real motivating factor is. I once helped a friend sift through a bunch of different cars, only to find out he’s always wanted a BMW (I wish he led with that important fact!). When he finally came to terms with his inexplicable yearning for the German brand, things got a lot easier. And it’s totally OK to want a car for seemingly irrational reasons — it’s your car after all, and if you can afford it, who’s to say you shouldn’t have it?

The most important thing to remember is that if the car you’ve chosen makes you smile every time you get in it, then you’ve found the “perfect car,” and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. The best car for you is the one that you choose because no one knows you better than you.

So, what kind of car should you buy? Ask me on Twitter or check out my car shopping guide.

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