With thousands of cars and trucks available on the Canadian market, buying a new vehicle can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t need to be.

A simple narrowing-down process – most of which can be done with a handheld device from your couch – can take the guesswork out of car shopping and get you into the new vehicle that’s right for you in no time.

The first step is to be realistic about your needs. Do you live in a busy urban area, where smaller is better? Do you need to be able to get Jimmy and four of his friends to soccer practice on the regular? Do you have a young family that’s growing, or are your kids moving away to school within the next couple of years? (And when they go, how much stuff are you going to need to move out with them?) An honest and earnest look at these factors will leave you with a list of one or two vehicle segments where you can focus your attention.

Next, analyze your budget and what you hope to get for what you spend. If you need a mammoth people-mover but can’t spend much more than $40,000, you can focus your attention on the mainstream consumer brands. If you have a little more money to play with, you might consider whether it’s worth downsizing to step up into a luxury brand. This is also the stage for analyzing how important performance is to you. If you value having more gumption available under your right foot, you’ll want to factor a few thousand dollars for an engine upgrade into your budgetary balancing act.

Then it’s time to think about the features you’d really like to have. Heated front seats are increasingly becoming standard on Canadian vehicles, but do you also want a heated steering wheel, or maybe a panoramic sunroof for soaking in more oft-elusive rays? Is in-car tech and smartphone app compatibility important to you? Do you want to have the very latest safety systems? Is there a particular convenience feature that you’re drawn to, such as active cruise control?

Once you’ve drafted a rough outline of your ideal vehicle, it’s time to do some research. autoTRADER.ca’s Comparison Tests are among the best tools around for helping consumers quickly assess and analyze multiple vehicles at a time in a single segment. Expert Reviews also offer an in-depth look at an individual car’s pros and cons in comparison to its competition. If the vehicle you’re considering isn’t being hailed as completely redesigned, a search through online owners’ forums may shed some light on whether you’d potentially be in for some recall-related repairs or reliability issues.

Using these tools, you’ll be able to narrow your options down to a short list of two or three cars that are worth heading to your local dealership to test drive. Be sure to visit the brand and dealer websites before you go – you might happen upon a sale you can ask about once you’re there that would be enough of a price difference to seal the deal.

And once you’re driving the car for yourself, take the time to be mindful of whether the driver’s seat is comfortable, the layout of the centre stack is usable, the back seat is spacious enough for your needs, and the cargo area is easy to access and make use of all of the available space.

As you walk out of the dealership with your new keys in hand, you’ll leave confident that you’ve made the right decision and bought a car that will serve your family for years to come.