Making sure a car is right for you
It’s easy to get swayed by a sporty model or luxurious European car when all you really wanted was something to get the kids to school. There’ll be initial excitement with these of course, but if you’re on a limited budget, we recommend avoiding compromises of your most regular requirements. Here are some tips to ensure you’ll be satisfied with your next car purchase.
1: Start with a budget
Unless money isn’t an object, you’re best to start with the highest price you’re prepared to outlay for a car. Ideally you should be fairly firm on this. The ongoing burdens of blowing your budget, especially if you’re financing a vehicle, last long after the excitement of a slightly flashier car has gone.
2: Write a list
Sounds stupid, but before you start looking write a list of the most important attributes you require from a car and stick to it. If reliability is vital, put that at the top and work down with things like space for kids, size of engine etc. Conversely, if outright power and styling is what you’re after then start there and work out where reliability and comfort come into it. The list just helps the process of elimination and is a tangible voice of reason when the excitement of purchasing may otherwise push you into something less suitable. Remember to have that budget written down too.
3: Rural / Open road users
You might think a larger car is surplus to your requirements in terms of space and fuel economy, but medium or larger vehicles offer much improved drivability for the open road and importantly will present a safer option at higher speeds in that they’re more confident and well-planted on the road and typically offer greater impact protection. Because you won’t need to thrash a small engine to maintain 100km up hills etc., the fuel economy of a medium car versus a small one is actually negligible.
4: Urban users
If you don’t do high mileages, a smaller car may suit. Urban use is the least fuel efficient running you can do, so the more modern the vehicle you can afford will be best. Fuel economy consistently improves as new innovations are found.
5: New parents
(Some) Kids get car sick. Sitting in the back of a moving car, facing backwards in the early stages, and not being able to see out – it’s understandable. Something no one tells you though, is to look for cars with low belt lines (where the glass meets the bodywork); the lower this is, the better bubs can see out and car sickness is greatly reduced. Take a car seat with you to see how it fits. And avoid three doors – twisting and lifting the weight of a baby will kill your back before baby’s first birthday.
6: Safety First
If you’re buying a family car, safety is often a primary consideration. Kids sit in the back, and a lot of used vehicles have no airbag protection. Look for models with curtain airbags (typically available mid 2000s on), these offer rear passenger head protection in side impacts and roll overs. Also avoid rear lap-only belts. These have been proven to cause serious abdomen injuries in accidents, and remain very common in Japanese models. A three-point lap-sash belt is far safer. Also look for child seat restraint anchors. ISOFIX is a common global clip-in system that is foolproof and very safe, though it requires a specialist seat.
7: Less mobile than you used to be
A lot of older people prefer higher riding vehicles for their ease of entry and egress. This doesn’t always mean purchasing a soft roader or 4WD vehicle they may never fully utilise. Many modern vehicles have height adjustable front seats that often will provide the level of comfort necessary. Also, more and more soft roader vehicles are now offered without the 4WD, so you won’t have to pay for technology you don’t use.
8: First car buyers
You have to accept the fact as someone new to driving, that scuffs, dings and accidents go hand in hand with learning the ropes. While a nice, quick car may appeal, it can end up looking rough pretty easily and they can be costly to repair. You want to keep safe, and an affordable, newer car may be the best bet here. It’ll present the best resale residual pricing and you can aim for an upgrade a few months or a year down the track, trust us, you’ll appreciate it more after you’ve bashed up the first one.
9: Cheap, but for a reason?
Bargain buys exist. But you really, really need to know how to recognise one. Otherwise there are plenty of cars that for no real reason appear to be cheaper than similarly aged, mileage vehicles. Remember thousands of people have come before you and there will be some makes/models that just don’t command higher prices; don’t get lumped with troublesome or difficult to re-sell vehicles just because it appears to be a steal up front. It could end up costing you more over your ownership period.
10: Decisions decisions
Found two cars you just can’t decide between? Make another list and be ruthless. List the pros and cons of each vehicle then cross reference the relevance to your original ‘wants and needs’ list. It’s easy to lose sight of exactly what’s most important when you’re on the spot. Go away, sleep on it and take some time to make sure you get the closest solution to what you’re looking for. You won’t regret an extra day or two of consideration when you have to live with the car day to day for a long time after.
Catch up on previous car buying tips:
How NOT to be ripped off
Tips for buying a RELIABLE car
Ten checks YOU can do
Road testing a car