Buying a car
Buying your first car
Making sure your first car is the right car
Getting your driver’s licence and buying your first car are rights of passage for any young person, but there are many considerations that should be taken into account before enjoying the freedom of the open road. Here’s how to identify good first cars.
To get the best first car, start with a budget
It may seem almost too obvious, but the first thing to establish is how much you can afford , and how much you want to spend.
Will you be paying the whole amount up front? Or taking out finance and making monthly repayments?
Your available budget may mean a new car is out of reach, even though prices have come down in recent years. Newer cars are generally safer than older cars, so keep this in mind. Sure, a slightly older, used version of the same car may mean you can buy a more up spec model, but you have to also consider wear and tear, warranty and general reliability. If you do decide to buy used, then a car with full service records is a good tip.
Once you have set a budget, make a list of what is most important to you and then match that to potential cars that meet these needs and wants. Try to resist the temptation to choose sports cars, luxury cars or large and heavy vehicles unless you are certain these types of cars will meet your needs and fall within your budget. Be realistic. Insurance and running costs need to be taken into consideration, so be aware if you are choosing a car that’s heavy on fuel and expensive to service. Online reviews by owners can also give you an insight into known problems with certain models.
Set the guidelines
Research online which vehicles have good reliability records. These days, many companies are offering five or even seven-year warranties, so many used cars will still be covered by the remainder of the manufacturer’s warranty should something go wrong. Check though to make sure the warranty is transferable and also be careful of aftermarket warranties that do not give you the same level of protection as the factory warranty.
As mentioned, list what is important to you, such as good fuel consumption, reliability, infotainment and connectivity and make sure the cars on your list meet your requirements. If safety is paramount, make sure the car scores at least four or preferably five, ANCAP stars.
Conduct a proper test drive
You need to know a lot more than you will learn from a short test drive around the block.
Before you take a car for a test drive, read as many reviews as you can and seek out the opinions of existing owners online. Are the seats comfortable? Is the ride quality acceptable? How reliable has the car been? Has the quoted fuel consumption been matched in real world experience? Sometimes, some opinions may not match your impressions when you take a test drive, but being aware of them will focus your attention on things you might otherwise overlook.
If you’re test driving a new car, you can take some things for granted, but if it’s a used car, look closely at its condition – has it been properly serviced? Has it led a pampered or tough life? It pays to have a second set of eyes to see things you may not, so take a friend along for the ride. Always inspect a car during daylight (and not on a rainy day) so you can see signs of previous repairs or repainting. Inspect everything closely, particularly inside the engine bay and under the carpet in the boot area. Make sure paint is a consistent colour when viewing the car from a few metres away. Check that panel gaps are even and doors and fenders line up. Even better, arrange a professional inspection to ensure the car is in the condition claimed by the seller.
Get the best possible price
Once you have satisfied yourself that the car you’re considering meets your needs and is in good condition, it’s time to start haggling. It can be overwhelming, so take your time and try to keep the emotion out of it. If you’re dealing with a professional car sales person, remember that their primary objective is to sell you a car. It’s what they do every day, so they are very good at negotiating, especially when dealing with inexperienced first-timers.
Dealing with a private seller is usually more straight-forward. Do your research online to establish the current wholesale (or trade-in) price for cars with similar options, mileage and condition. That is your goal, and you’ll probably end up somewhere between the trade-in price and the retail price.
Because you don’t have the same protection as buying from a dealer, make sure you check with your local registration authority that there is no money owing, or that the vehicle has been written off or involved in a serious accident.
Safety is an important consideration. . . New cars are rated by ANCAP and the higher the star rating the better. Many newer cars will have features such as anti-lock braking, electronic stability control and airbags (including side and side curtain). Desirable additional safety features include forward collision warning, auto emergency braking, rear view camera, adaptive cruise control, lane assist and many more. New safety technology is advancing all the time; take full advantage of it.
This article is written by Paul Murrell.
Paul Murrell has always had a deep interest in all things automotive. After a successful career in advertising, creating campaigns in Australia and overseas for many companies including Holden, Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Toyota, Volkswagen, Land Rover and Renault, he relocated to the Adelaide Hills and began writing car reviews, advice and opinion pieces for specialist motoring magazines (Survivor Car Australia, Australian Classic Car, Man & Machine, Classic & Sportscar UK, Unique Cars), lifestyle magazines (SA Life, Highlife, Tasmanian Life) and websites (Practical Motoring).
The information is intended to be of a general nature only. We do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss incurred as a result of reliance upon it – please make your own enquiries.
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