How to buy a car: Top tips
You've got your eye on the new car of your dreams, but what should you do next?
You might have your heart set on your perfect car, but there are lots of things to consider before you lay your cash on the table. We've got all the tips and advice to ensure the process is as smooth and stress free as possible.
The most important thing to consider when you’re thinking about buying a new car is how much you can actually afford to splash out. It's simple to work out what you can afford if you’re buying the car outright with cash, but if you’re not able to hand over a wad of money, you’ll probably purchase on credit.
Working out exactly how much you can afford each month will help keep you grounded. It's all too easy to get carried away by adding extras and little luxuries when the keys to your new car are clutched in your hands.
But this doesn’t just mean the cost of the car. You need to consider how much you think you’ll be paying for fuel, servicing, insurance and road tax. Dealerships are good at giving you an idea of how much you can expect to pay for servicing, while online comparison sites can give you a free quote for insurance.
It could also be worthwhile asking your dealer how much replacement bits and bobs will cost if your new car needs hard to find parts at a later date.
It's a good idea to tot up these costs and take them with when you’re shopping around. Instead of looking around showrooms and being bamboozled by different offers and figures, you’ll already have a breakdown of realistic overall costs and a budget for monthly repayments.
Once you’ve got an idea of the cars you’re interested in, it's a good idea to take a look at predicted resale values and see how much money you could make back when you come to sell your car in a few years time. Premium brands tend to hold their value better, but that trend is changing – with good-value superminis and mini SUVs boasting impressive residual prices.
Avoiding gaudy colour schemes and expensive non-standard options like heavily tinted windows will help, as these add nothing to the value of the car, and could even make it worth less in the long run. Options are notorious for bumping up the list price for little financial return when the time comes to sell.
Other things to think about before you start hitting the showrooms is what kind of car you’d like, and how much use you’ll get out of it.
What's your lifestyle like and how often are you likely to drive the car? Does your job mean you spend most days on the road, or do you need a smaller runaround to do the school run and get you to the shops? A diesel model is going to be more fuel efficient for those long hours on the road, whereas a petrol model would be cheaper for shorter local journeys.
It's also good to consider what size and bodystyle would be practical for your typical daily use. If you have a family to ferry about and need a reliable car with plenty of space, it might be best to consider an estate. However, if you’re a sports-freak and regularly need to pack a lot of equipment into your car you’ll think differently – maybe a crossover or small 4x4. Take a look at how easy it’ll be to get bulky items in, fit child seats or fold the seats flat. Alternatively you might be a city dweller and need a nippy little hatch that can easily handle narrow streets and slow moving traffic.
Bootspace is a crucial concern for many buyers, too. Do you need to store a big weekly shop in there, or need enough room for a pair of folding buggies? Hard-wearing materials will mean you can get more life out of your car, especially if you’re carrying lots of sports equipment or a dog.
Take a look at the safety equipment in the car before you sign on the dotted line. There are high standards that cars have to live up to, and many cars come with extra equipment such as electronic stability control (ESC), blind spot monitors, and emergency brake assist. But also check out the car's European NCAP rating. NCAP is an independent service that crash tests vehicles to give them an official safety rating out of five – most cars these days achieve at least four stars – with anything less considered seriously below par.
These days there are so many different places, dealers and outlets to buy a car from, that punters are simply spoilt for choice. You can pick up a new or used car from traditional showrooms, franchised dealers and brokers, while it's increasingly common to buy online, direct from the manufacturer, too. Each method has its own merits and downfalls, so you need to decide which one suits you.
Lots of people chose to buy from a franchised dealer because they have knowledgeable staff and lots of aftersales support – and because many are linked to manufacturers, their mechanics often specialise in a specific brand.
They also offer a good opportunity to see the car you’re thinking of buying up close, and you can easily test drive one to get a sense of how it drives. It's also common to get a good deal on your car if you’re willing to haggle with the salesperson.
However, you can often find yourself paying higher prices, and pushed into buying something that doesn’t quite fit your bill. Be firm with sales staff – while many are friendly, they often have their own agenda and monthly targets they need to hit. Many have been known to avoid sneak in expensive extras before asking the customer, that you may not be aware you have to pay for. If they know you’re not going to be pushed around, they won’t try it on.
Brokers are usually found online, and buying from one means they will take control of the purchase process – you are effectively paying them to buy a car for you. If you don’t have a car to part-exchange, it can be a good way of keeping your costs down, so long as you aren’t too worried about compromising on specification.
Cars bought from brokers will often be much cheaper than dealerships, and it's possible to get a really good deal when they’re selling off unsold stock. Deals are usually very transparent, with no hidden clauses and it's a good way of shopping for a car without feeling the pressure of sales staff.
The flip-side of this, of course, is that there's a lack of expert advice and opinion. Buying from brokers also means it's harder to check the particulars of a model and you can be left waiting a long time before you see your car.
Whatever and whichever you decide is the best method for you, make sure you read all the small print – even if it's really boring. You need to be presented with a clear and final price before you agree a sale, and make sure you get a copy of all the necessary documents including service history, previous MOTs and a comprehensive owners manual. If there are any special agreements you’ve made, be sure to get them in writing so you’ve got proof if the dealer doesn’t deliver.
It's worth noting that when buying a new model, all sorts of extras can be added to the price, including VAT, number plates and delivery costs – so make sure you’re aware of these additions, or ensure these are included in the price you’re quoted.
Lastly, be sure to buy with your head and not your heart. While it's very tempting to opt for the car of your dreams, you could end up throwing your money away on something that doesn’t realistically fit your lifestyle and needs. You’ll only regret it in the long run!