A car is one of the most expensive purchases most people will make in their lifetimes. Second only to the expense of a house, a vehicle is also a necessary expense for most people to get to work and complete the errands of life. To get the best car for your money you need to consider more than the initial cost of the vehicle.

The best cars for the money are not just the cheapest; there are many other intrinsic factors that add value to a vehicle beyond just the price tag. Safety and fuel economy should be factored into the true worth of a car. The following vehicles were selected because they meet these criteria, and other critical factors in each category.

Best Muscle Car for the Money

The Chevy Camaro Coupe is a remodel of a muscle car classic that has all of the swagger and horsepower of the original. It’s not going to win any contests for gas mileage at the highest equipment package level, but fuel economy is not the point of this vehicle. Many drivers are looking for a car that looks cool and goes fast, and this car fits the bill.

There are many similar competitors, as drivers really seem to like the revitalized muscle car concept. The Dodge Charger, Challenger, and Ford Mustang are similar-minded vehicles. When compared side by side at the higher-level trims, they all have big V8 engines and a lot of horsepower. However, the Camaro has a few things over on its competitors. For one, it has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of about $10,000 less than the others do. The Mustang, Charger, and Challenger all reach into the mid to high $40,000 price range for the highest trims, but the Camaro’s top two trims have an MSRP of $32,830 to $36,430.

Furthermore, the cars are similar in terms of engines and horsepower. Both of the Dodge vehicles have a 6.4L engine creating 470 horsepower, and the Camaro has a 6.2L engine that generates 426 horsepower; for $10,000 less, that’s a lot of power. The Mustang does have them all beat with a 5.4L supercharged engine that gets 550 horsepower, but it is the most expensive of the group. The Camaro beats the other two in gas mileage by one or two miles per gallon. Lastly, the Camaro was the only vehicle of the group to get a full five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Best Green Car for the Money

While there are those who are looking for power in a car, there are just as many looking for a fuel-efficient vehicle to cut down on gas prices or reduce emissions in the environment. Auto manufacturers are releasing just as many hybrid and electric vehicles as family sedans or sports coupes. There are just as many options available, and it’s enough to make your head spin.

However, Toyota’s lines of Prius hybrids have stood the test of time, and they are only getting better. The soon-to-be released 2012 Prius C is a compact that gets great fuel economy with a great MSRP. It is a hybrid without a plug, and it has a 1.5L, 4-cylinder engine. With a starting price of $19,500, it is about half the price of the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf. It gets 53 mpg in the city and 46 mpg on the highway with a combined gas mileage of 50 mpg. The overall gas mileage is the same as the original Prius, but the Prius C is about $3,000 less.

All three vehicles are Top Safety Picks for 2012 from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). While any hybrid, electric or alternative fuel vehicle is a good choice for the environment and fuel economy, the Prius C is the best car for the money.

Best Sedan for the Money

While hybrids might still be out of some driver’s financial reach, most are still looking for a four-door sedan that has a decent price, gets good gas mileage, and is safe for the entire family. The Honda Civic or Ford Focus fit the bill. While not full-sized sedans, they both still seat five. The Focus is available in four-door or five-door hatchback models, and the Civic is a four-door only; both can handle the hauling needs of most families.

Both have decent MSRPs as well. The base model of the Focus starts at $16,500 and goes to $22,700. That is over $5,000 less than the Chevy Malibu or Toyota Camry. The Civic is even better with a base MSRP of $15,605 and a high trim MSRP of $23,905. They both also get better gas mileage than other small, non-hybrid sedans. The Focus gets 28 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway; the Civic is comparable with 28 mpg in the city and 39 mpg during highway driving. Both have hybrid models for higher MSRPs.

Moreover, both models are Top Safety Picks for 2012 from the IIHS. They are both also well rated by the NHTSA. The Civic earned an overall rating of five stars and the Ford Focus earned four stars. The only decision between the two is decided by an affinity for an American or foreign vehicles.

How to choose the Best Car for the Money?

Buying a car should never be an impulse decision. Many factors go into finding the best vehicle value so you need to shop around and compare reviews, ratings, MSRP, warranties and more. The more time you spend comparing vehicles often results in a lot more value when its time buy a car.