• AutoTrader.com's Jessica Stafford provides car shopping advice on The Talk
  • Show guest Erika Barnathan shares her story
  • AutoTrader.com and The Talk hand Barnathan the keys to her new Toyota

Americans are keeping their cars longer than ever. On average, we hold on to a new car for about six years before selling or trading in for a new one. But Erika Barnathan, a California mom and preschool special education teacher, has had the Toyota Tercel that she bought new for much longer. She's had her 1997 model for 17 years, and would love to replace it but worries about the costs.

Jessica Stafford, an AutoTrader.com marketing expert, caught up with Erika on CBS's The Talk to offer her some car shopping advice. Erika explained why she needs a new vehicle, and the obstacles that are holding her back from making that purchase.

"I love my little green car and wish it could go on forever. However, I have had to put quite a bit of money into it lately, including today," Erika said. "And the mechanic, who I trust completely, wants me to return next week so he can check on the strange sound it's been making before I take my daughter up north [for an educational tournament]."

In addition to the costs of maintenance, Erika says she's worried her old car will strand her if it breaks down. Still, she's concerned about the costs of a new car, too -- payments, insurance and gas. Her family lives on a tight budget, so she needs to choose her next vehicle wisely. She'd like to have a car that's economical yet comfortable for her family. Reliability is an important consideration, as well. Erika wants her next car to last her to retirement.

Jessica not only helped Erika determine which style of car might best suit her needs, but he surprised her with the keys to a brand new Toyota to replace her old one. The 2013 Toyota Prius is comfortable but not too big for Erika, who is 4 feet and 9 inches tall. With an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) combined fuel economy rating of 50 miles per gallon, the Prius is definitely thrifty on gas. And like her old car, this one comes with Toyota's stellar reputation for quality and reliability.

The practical and efficient Prius is a sensible vehicle for Erika, who'd rather spend her time helping others than earning a big salary. The CHIME Preschool where Erika works is a nonprofit, so it doesn't pay as well as some other employers. But Erika loves her job and is passionate about doing it well. Now that she has a new, more efficient car, she can spend more time doing the things she loves, without worrying about an unexpected breakdown or repair bill.

What it means to you: AutoTrader.com is the only website with more than three million vehicle listings. This huge selection allows shoppers like Erika to find the ideal vehicle to suit their needs.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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