Buying a new car: Top Tips

Article Hugo Griffiths
Jan 29, 2016

Buying a new car is an exciting prospect, but keeping a cool head can help get you the best deal possible. Our guide explains all.

If you’re buying a new car from a dealer, a broker or even online, taking a practical approach to the procedure will pay dividends when it’s time to take your new pride and joy home. Read on for our practical advice and industry insights. Our guide should help you get the right car, in the right specification and at the right price.

Work out a budget

It goes without saying that how much money you have to spend is one of the largest determining factors when it comes to the type of car you’re going to buy.

If you’re buying outright, it’s easy to set a budget. But with as many as 75% of new cars bought on finance, calculating how much you can afford to spend on a monthly basis is vital if this is how you’re paying it.

Don’t forget to take into account things like petrol, insurance, road tax and servicing when working out your budget. You may be able to afford a particular car’s purchase price, but running costs like these can vary wildly depending on what model you buy. It can help to set up a separate ‘car fund’ bank account to help you manage these costs more easily.

If you’re buying a used car, remember that if you couldn’t afford to run it when it was new, you definitely can’t afford to run it second-hand. A 10-grand Porsche can be very alluring; its servicing costs may be less so.

Look at resale values

Some cars depreciate faster than others. It may save you money in the long run to buy either a more expensive car or one in a lower specification – whichever is going to lose less money when the time comes to sell.

Cars from premium brands like Audi typically hold their value well, but the market has changed recently and models like the Nissan Qashqai are also known to be solid investments. A Volkswagen Polo is more expensive to buy than the similar Kia Rio, but you’re likely to see a better return from the VW when it’s time to sell or trade in.

Be careful with optional extras

It’s tempting to get carried away ticking boxes on the options list, but think carefully about what extras you really need or are likely to use. Similarly, try to specify your car in keeping with what kind of car it is: leather seats in a city car like the Fiat 500 may be nice, but the used market doesn’t expect a car like this to have leather, so this expensive option is unlikely to make your car worth more in years to come. Fail to specify a BMW 5 Series with leather, however, and you may find it harder to sell, as buyers expect executive saloons to have it.

Our comprehensive guide to choosing car options has more insight on this subject:

Consider the car's purpose and practicality 

Thinking carefully about what you’ll use the car for should guide your selection. If you have a family, you should consult them, as they may think of things you haven’t. If you have small children, for example, can you have two child seats in the back of the car without having to pull the front seats forward too far?

If you regularly carry bulky items like golf clubs or musical instruments, will these fit in the boot easily? Boot space is a crucial factor in determining a car’s practicality. Plus, how easy a boot is to load, as well as how hard-wearing the materials it’s made out of are, can be as important as outright carrying capacity. Check out how easily the rear seats fold and if they fold totally flat as well. If you’re a keen DIYer or regularly need to have the back seats down, a well designed folding system can make day-to-day life significantly easier.

The amount of driving you do should dictate whether you buy a petrol or diesel-engined car. Diesels are more expensive to buy, yet have better fuel economy than petrols. If you do a lot of miles annually, a diesel may be the most sensible option. If you’re more likely to use the car as a runabout and typically do fewer miles, petrol is usually the best choice.

Think carefully about what bodystyle you want. Part of the reason for the popularity of SUVs is that their high ride height and seating position make getting in and out of them easy – this is especially helpful if you have a young family, or have mobility issues.

If you have an active lifestyle and regularly go on excursions – walking, surfing or mountain-biking, for instance, you may want a four-wheel-drive car to help you tackle poor road surfaces or access walking routes and beaches. If you’re more of a city dweller, think about how easy the car is going to be to park – a nippy hatchback may be all you need. Drivers who head into central London frequently might also consider getting a car that’s exempt from the capital’s congestion charge.

It’s well worth looking at the safety options that come as standard – or are available as extras – on new cars. All have to meet tough safety legislation, but some manufacturers offer systems like autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring to supplant mandatory requirements.

You should check out how well your car performed in its Euro NCAP safety test – this is the independent body that judges how well cars perform in crashes. Cars are rated out of five stars and any model that achieves fewer than four stars is considered sub-optimal.

Where to buy your new car

A range of methods exist for buying a new car. Buying a new car online is a growing trend, but traditional dealers remain popular, too. If you’re after a new car in a particular specification, or an unusual colour, you may even want to order it directly form the manufacturer. This can take a long time, but is does give you the appealing feeling that you are commissioning a manufacturer to build you your very own vehicle.

Buying from a dealer

Franchised dealers have knowledgeable staff and (usually) offer strong aftersales support. Because many franchised dealers specialise in one, or maybe two, manufacturers, they usually employ mechanics with expertise in these specific brands. Franchised dealers also offer the opportunity to see cars up close and make comparisons between models and specifications. This can prove extremely helpful when choosing.

You should be aware that dealers have sales targets and targets for optional extras, too. This can mean there’s pressure to order options – or even a car – that you don’t really need. Some pushier salespeople may also try to add in extras without explaining their true cost until the last minute. Do your research before going to a dealer and make it clear you’re not an easy sales target – but do so politely so as to keep them on your side. You may find you get a tank of petrol or similar extras thrown in if you ask nicely.

Check out our car dealer advice article

Buying from a broker

These days, car brokers mostly work online and take a large amount of the hassle out of buying a new car for you – particularly if you aren’t too fussed about its specification or optional extras. Many franchised dealers use brokers to get rid of unwanted stock and they can get you a significant discount when buying a new car. They’re a good option if you don’t have an old car you need to trade in.

If you order through a broker, you have to do without the expert advice and ability to see cars in the metal offered by a dealer. Brokers tend to make the buying process transparent, though, and you won’t have the same pressure that dealer staff sometimes put customers under. Using a broker can be a great way to bag a bargain, if you don’t mind ‘buying blind’ and waiting a while to see your car.

Check out our car broker advice article

Check the small print and documentation

Whatever avenue you use when buying a new car, read the small print – this isn’t like downloading a bit of software and clicking ‘accept’. The terms and conditions involved in buying a new car may make for tedious reading, but they clearly set out your rights and obligations, as well as letting you know what to expect from the company supplying the car.

Make sure you have a clear and final price – both for the complete car and the monthly payments, if you’re buying on finance. If you’re buying a used car, make sure you have all its relevant documentation: past MoTs, the service book and the complete owner’s manual. If you’ve negotiated any specific deals with the seller, make sure these are in writing. If they’ve promised you a set of car mats or a tank of petrol and these haven’t materialised, you won’t have any recourse if there’s no proof of the agreement.

If you’re buying a car on finance, GAP insurance is well worth considering. This will make up any shortfall between what your car is worth and what you owe on finance should it be written off. Dealers often charge quite a lot for GAP insurance, but you can pick up a three-year policy for £100 or so from a third-party organisation.

Be aware of extra costs and final price before you buy

Be wary of hidden costs. Dealers will often charge for number plates and delivery, so make sure you’re aware of these and that they’re included in the final figure before you sign.

The time and effort spent you spend prior to and during the buying process will pay off exponentially when you come to drive home for the first time. Cars bought in haste can be regretted for years; your next car need not be.

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