Buying a car — something you might spend years paying off and something you'll count on to keep you and your family safe — can be really intimidating.

There are a lot of choices. Only one in three people know the make and model they want when they start car shopping, and 61 percent of buyers say they need (rather than want) a new car, according to a Cox Automotive survey.

So that makes it that much more important to go to a dealership you can trust, and since I've purchased multiple cars with Autoland (including the one you see me with in the photo), I looked to owner Mark Montenero and his team for some help crafting my tips for hassle-free car-buying.

1) Keep an open mind about new vs. used. New cars include more features and the peace of mind that comes with being the vehicle's only owner, while used cars won't depreciate as quickly. Of course, depending on your needs, something a few years old might be both affordable and a nice upgrade from your current ride.

2) Focus on total purchase price, not the monthly payment. This might seem counter-intuitive, since the monthly payment is what will fit in your monthly budget, but longer loan terms mean more interest and more overall cost. Consumer Reports has a great article on how to determine how much car you can afford, and Autoland has a payment estimator that takes into account your downpayment or trade-in.

3) Don't be afraid of researching online before heading to the dealership. Most dealership websites make this easy. Autoland offers the features and prices on new models, plus used car listings that you can filter by year, model, body type, etc. You also can schedule a test drive, apply for financing (IE, spend less time in a dealership's office), and find the value of your trade-in.

4) During the test drive, think about how the details might affect your daily life. Will the cupholders support your coffee habit? Is there enough room in the back for your children and any car seats or sports equipment? Car and Driver has a great list of other questions to ask about how the vehicle will fit into your lifestyle.

5) Make sure you understand the bells and whistles. On average, the cars on the road are about 10 years old, so technology has likely changed a lot since you bought your last car, according to ABC News. If you're given options such as drive assist, lane keeping and turn assist, make sure you understand what they are so you can decide if they're right for you.

Taking it a step farther, Autoland offers sessions to help buyers learn how to work all the special functions on their new cars so they are sure to make the most of their purchase.

Bonus tip: Consider what specials you might qualify for. Autoland offers a Teacher Double Program and College Grad Rebate.