• What kind of car do you really need?
• How much can you afford?
• Consider all the options
• Ensure you take a test drive
• Take your time
If you’re buying a car for the first time, or haven't bought one for a number of years, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to start because, whether you are going for something new or looking on the second-hand market, finding one that suits your needs takes serious thought.
Unless you are making a purely emotional purchase, you have to consider your day to day needs as much as what it looks like and how much you can afford to pay, so here are some practical points to consider:
• How many people do you regularly need to carry?
• Will you be using child car seats?
• What’s your normal type of driving – motorway, rural, urban etc?
• What’s the length of your daily commute?
• Is fuel economy important?
• Do you need all-wheel drive?
• What are your must-have features?
• What safety features are important – blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking etc?
• Where will it be kept?
Unless you're buying it outright, you'll need to think about how to finance your purchase and how much can you really afford. So, before taking on something that will seriously affect your monthly finances, consider your existing obligations, such as the mortgage/rent, utility bills and weekly shopping, as well as your mobile phone and home entertainment packages etc.
A helpful guideline is that your monthly car payments – including fuel costs – shouldn’t exceed 15% of your monthly take-home pay.
Despite the fact that you might have your heart set on a specific car, new models are always being introduced or are entering the used-car market, so keep an open mind and consider similar options from other manufacturers, as well as whether an electric vehicle could work for you.
Using the internet, it’s quick and easy to find detailed information on specifications and features, as well as prices, so model by model comparison is straightforward, and this will allow you to draw up a realistic shortlist before you commit to visiting the dealership or arranging to view a second-hand car.
Alongside the actual purchase price, you should estimate the long-term ownership costs, including things like its depreciation, the annual insurance premium, maintenance and fuel/recharging costs over the period you would anticipate owning it.
Homework like this can help you make a sensible buying decision and potentially save you a lot of money over the long run because, although one car might appear cheaper than another, it could end up being more expensive to own. Even if two cars cost about the same, one might lose value more quickly or cost more to insure and maintain, for example.
Once you’ve narrowed down your search to the car, or cars, that you think you want, it’s time to arrange a test drive because you’re about to make a significant investment and there’s nothing like driving a vehicle to really find out whether it’s one you can live with.
Try to arrange a few back to back, as it will not only make comparing the cars easier, it also gives you a genuine reason why you cannot be forced into making a hasty decision by a pushy salesperson or the current owner wishing to sell their car on quickly.
Once behind the wheel, take your time and get comfortable, and as you set off, make sure you drive it as you would do normally because only then will you get a true impression of it. So, if you commute to work, then drive the car in traffic and at dual carriageway/motorway speeds, and likewise, if your normal journey is rural, then try to drive it in the countryside, but irrespective, make sure it inspires confidence when cornering, the gear change is smooth and the brakes are reassuring.
In addition, think of the practical things that you do daily. So, get in and out of the car several times and try the back seats, especially if you plan on carrying passengers. If you have children, then bring your child seat to check that it fits. Also, don’t forget to check the boot, is it big enough and is the space useable?
Finally, remember it’s your money you’re spending, so don’t let anything distract you, take your time and look over everything at least once.
After you’ve test driven your chosen cars, your decision should be much easier, but if it isn’t, it’s more sensible to take a few steps back and reconsider in the cold light of day, rather than just jumping in, only to regret it later.
If you opt for a second-hand vehicle, it would be wise to ask someone with some mechanical knowledge to take a look at it too, or if you’re a member of breakdown organisation such as the AA, RAC or Green Flag etc, then it’s sensible to take advantage of the second-hand vehicle check services they offer.
Buying a car generally means investing serious money and making a long term commitment, so it’s important to take your time and get it right.