Buying a car

Buying your first car

02 February 2020

Getting your first set of wheels is a big deal! It can also be a daunting process. This guide to buying your first car is designed to help you find the right fit for you — from kicking the tyres to figuring out your finances.

Start with a budget

First, establish how much you can afford, and how much you want to spend. If you’ve got a decent amount of money saved, you might be able (and willing) to pay for it all up front.

Or, you can look into taking out a loan to cover it, but you’ll need to figure out what you can afford in terms of repayments. Just remember, to take out a personal loan you might need to meet certain requirements, such as being at least 18 years old and earning a steady income.

Do some research

There’s plenty of great info online to help you compare car safety ratings, reliability records, and more. Before you do your research, you might want to think about what’s most important to you. That can include:

  • fuel consumption
  • size (ie, sedan, hatchback, station wagon, etc), and
  • features (ie, power windows, reverse camera, Bluetooth connectivity, etc).

Once you’ve determined what you can’t do without, you can use these non-negotiables to focus your research. For example, you might want a station wagon that you can drive your mates around in, with great fuel consumption so you’re not racking up the bills.

Remember, if you’re on your P plates, your state or territory might have restrictions about what kind of vehicle you can drive. So before you get too attached to the idea of cruising around in a hummer, check your local transport authority’s website.

Inspecting a car

Before you inspect a car or go for a test drive, you should conduct some further research about the specific vehicle you’re seeing. Read reviews and seek out opinions of existing owners online. Are the seats comfortable? Is the ride quality acceptable? How reliable has the car been? Some opinions may not match the impression you get when you take a test drive, but being aware of them will focus your attention on things you might otherwise overlook.

Always inspect a car during daylight (and not on a rainy day) so you can see signs of previous repairs or repainting. You should also:

  • 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 panel gaps are even and doors and fenders line up, and
  • check features are in working order, including power windows, air conditioning, and the sound system.

You can also arrange for the car to be inspected by a mechanic, to make sure you’re not missing anything.

Ask the right questions

So that you don’t walk (or drive!) away from an inspection with gaps in your knowledge, it’s important to ask the right questions. For a new car, most of your questions will probably be about the car itself — features, customer reviews, etc. — and what kind of deal you can strike.

When it comes to used cars though, there’s usually a lot more to ask. For example:

  • Why are you selling it?
  • How long have you owned the car? Do you know about any previous owners?
  • Has the car ever been in an accident?
  • Are the services up to date, and do you have a service history logbook?
  • Does the car have any major mechanical issues I should know about?
  • Are you still paying off a loan on the car?

Keep in mind, not everyone is going to be completely forthcoming about potential issues with the car. It’s still important to ask though, to give the seller an opportunity to explain problems before you or your mechanic find them.

For a cost, you can also order a car history report through the Australian Government’s Personal Property Securities Register.

Get the best possible price

Once you’re satisfied that the car meets your needs and is in good condition, it’s time to start haggling. The process can be intimidating, so take your time and try to keep emotion out of it. If you’re dealing with a professional car salesperson, remember 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 straightforward. Do your research online to establish the current wholesale (or trade-in) price for cars with similar options, mileage and condition. You’ll usually end up somewhere between the trade-in price and the retail price.

Make sure you’re insured

Before you go driving off into the sunset, there’s one more thing to consider: insurance. It’s not the most glamourous thing to think about, but it can be the difference between being covered if you’re in an accident that’s your fault, and having to shell out big bucks on repairs to your — or someone else’s — beautiful new car.

There are various levels of car insurance available, so understanding the differences is a great first step in choosing the best cover for you.

At a basic level, there’s:

  • CTP Insurance. Also known as a ‘Green Slip’ in NSW, this is a compulsory level of insurance that’s attached to your car registration. It only covers you for compensation claims made by people injured in an accident you cause. In some states, this is bundled into your rego and doesn’t need to be purchased separately.
  • Third Party Car Insurance. The most basic level of car insurance, this covers you for damage your car causes to other people’s vehicles or property.
  • Comprehensive Car Insurance. As the name suggests, this is a more comprehensive level of cover that usually covers you not only for damage to other people’s vehicles and property, but also to your own car.

Compare car insurance

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Insurance is issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 trading as Suncorp Insurance. Consider the Product Disclosure Statement  before making a decision about this insurance. This advice has been prepared without taking into account your particular objectives, financial situations or needs, so you should consider whether it is appropriate for you before acting on it.