Buying your first brand-new car from a dealer – the dos and don’ts

Buying a brand-new car from a dealer can be a daunting experience, so here's a few pointers

2020 Suzuki Vitara
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Snapshot

  • Do your research before you start shopping
  • Don't take a toddler with you – they're no good at haggling
  • It's your money, make sure you're happy with the deal

Three months’ back, I was in a position I’ve never been before in my life – I had the cash at my disposal to buy a brand-new car.

I’m no snob when it comes to buying a used car at all and would have done so again. My first car after passing my test was a 1995 Hyundai Excel, quickly followed by a 1997 Citroen Saxo when I moved to the UK at 18 years-old. The problem is, thanks to Covid, the used car market in Australia has gone crazy and buying a second-hand motor which was only a few years old, in my price-range, with limited kilometres on the clock wasn’t looking feasible, especially if it was European.

So, while I had the chance to buy new, I took it. Who knows when I will be able to do that again, at least not for a few years.

With a budget of around $25,000 to $30,000, I wanted a small to mid-sized automatic SUV that would be a genuinely useful family car to cart my two-year-old around in and get us all from A to B safely. There weren’t too many options on the table but a few suitable prospects interested me.

2020 Suzuki Vitara 4
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Certain models I considered, like the Subaru Forester or Outback and Suzuki Jimny, unfortunately had to be ruled out as the cost was just a bit too high for my budget, and others such as the Hyundai Kona and Tucson or Nissan Juke and Qashqai I dismissed because I either didn’t like the look, wanted more creature comforts or didn’t want to live with a CVT. They’ve improved massively in the last decade but I still find them to generally feel quite strained and gutless, especially since I’ve become used to driving DSG gearboxes for the last few years.  

That left the Mitsubishi ASX, MG ZS and the Suzuki Vitara for me to test drive.

At the time I was based in Adelaide, so if you’re reading this in Melbourne (where I live now) or elsewhere, please bear in mind your experience may differ slightly.

The first vehicle I tested was the Mitsubishi ASX ES 2.0-litre petrol, priced at $27,240 drive-away. Despite being a CVT, I liked the styling and equipment levels enough to put it on the shortlist and give it a chance. The steering was good and the ride was comfy, but the model is pretty old now, having not been properly refreshed in well over 10 years, and furthermore that CVT did make it sound too whiney and strangled around town, especially when pulling away from a standstill. It also felt surprisingly small inside and the boot was pretty tiny if you take into account it needs to have a buggy, grocery shopping and lord knows what else stuffed in it 24/7.

2020 Suzuki Vitara 2
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But I have to say, what made up my mind Mitsubishi wasn’t the brand for me was the dealer himself. While many, especially colleagues in the industry, would probably base their verdict wholly on the car, a very real part of my decision-making process was about how well I was treated and whether I felt like I was being taken care of and valued as a customer.

At this particular dealership, the salesman did not take me seriously and was definitely a lot friendlier to my husband than he was to me. I hate being talked down to as a woman or made to feel stupid. Money should talk at the end of the day and they either want it or they don’t. Not even the promise of an industry-leading 10-year/unlimited km warranty was enough to get me over the line.

Next up was MG. Initially I wasn’t interested in the brand at all, but my hubby convinced me to give it a try as I might be pleasantly surprised, especially given the prices. Sadly I was not.

2020 Suzuki Vitara 3
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First I drove the MG ZS Excite with its N/A 1.5 petrol auto. It comes with an impressive seven-year/unlimited km warranty but no fixed price servicing as yet. Jeepers, the noise from it was unbelievable though, and not in a good way – in the way I’d have to turn the radio up stupidly high to drown out the screeching of the car killing itself whenever I put my foot down. Its lowly four-speed auto gearbox really made the whole driving experience feel unnecessarily laboured too.

Still, in the interest of saving a few bucks (in Excite trim, the MG ZS 1.5-litre petrol is priced at just $21,990 drive-away, making it the cheapest SUV currently on the market) I came back the next day to give the Essence 1.0-litre turbo a go. This version is also a petrol auto, but you get a six-speed instead which is much better suited and feels faster than the bigger capacity version. It does however add another $4,000 to the price tag. The result was a slightly better, marginally quieter, performance but not convincingly so. Long story short, although I liked a lot of the aesthetics of the ZS (the exception being the door cards being made of very flimsy plastic) and its overall size, it just wasn’t up to scratch.

Lucky last though, the Suzuki Vitara came out shining amongst the four. Compared to its competition, it had a cheeky growl which made me smile, and putting pedal to the metal from a standstill actually made the car respond even if it was after a slight lag (which could not be said of either of the MGs), the steering was nice and fluid, and what can I say, it just felt right. Oh, and crucially no CVT. More on that later…

2020 Suzuki Vitara 5
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The model I opted for was the 2020 Suzuki Vitara 1.6-litre VVT petrol mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. I liked its boxy shape (not as funky as the Jimny but also much easier to get a toddler in and out of the back seats) and also the fact that while it’s relatively common, it’s not as prolific on the roads as a Camry or Hilux.

Features include digital climate control, cruise control, keyless entry and start button, a responsive seven-inch touchscreen with satnav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration (although I should say my one major gripe is CarPlay is sometimes reluctant to activate if you plug your phone in before turning on the ignition – meaning you have to restart to get your maps up which isn’t always practical). The boot has an adjustable floor and feels big, holding 375 litres, while both rows are spacious enough for a young family’s needs (stay tuned for an update soon on how it handled moving the four of us interstate) if not quite as cavernous as some sedans.

Officially Suzuki says its fuel rating is 6.0L/100km but it can do better  – most of the time mine’s quoting around 5.5-5.8L/100km on 91ULP fuel, and it comes with an impressive five-year/unlimited km warranty, five-year fixed priced servicing and five-years roadside assist.

When it came to dealers here it was a whole different experience. And not just for Suzuki because, in Adelaide, MG and Suzuki are both under the same roof. The sales manager I bought from was a woman. There may be something in that, there may not be. Who knows? But she made me feel like she understood what I wanted and needed from a car as a mum (but not in the ‘we’re all girls in it together’ kind of way) and didn’t pressure or try to up-sell me something else.

All up the $27,990 drive-away price quoted to me was right at the top end of my budget, and still conscious that it was ‘just’ a Vitara at the end of the day, I wanted to knock the bill down a bit more.

2020 Suzuki Vitara 7
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Now I do need to admit here that I wasn’t doing this solo. I had my husband with me to assist, but since he’s never bought a brand-new car either it was unfamiliar territory for us both. We also had our crazy two-year-old (who was obviously a bit younger at the time) with us who just wanted to run around the dealership and car park touching everything and throwing his toys about. Keeping hold of him near a busy road, plus haggling, was not easy, and basically involved my husband going back and forth while I said yes or no to various prices or add-ons until we were much closer to the lower end of my budget.

After a bit more negotiation and a decent cut in drive-away price, she threw in a tank of fuel and some genuine Vitara floor mats – I made sure they were rubber since it was going to be our family car and naturally would take quite a beating. A slight gripe was waiting a long time for these after repeatedly being told they would be in the dealership imminently, and also for the full tank of fuel we were promised when in fact it was given to us with a big shiny bow on top (you don’t get to keep it which was a bummer) yet barely a quarter of a tank in it, but they’re both pretty minor points and were rectified fairly quickly.

All in all I’m really happy with my purchase. After driving a number of company cars (although very nice ones!) for several years, it is nice to have a car to call my own and I love driving it around – even if it doesn’t earn me much street cred with my colleagues or neighbours. It’s my mum-mobile not a sportscar. 

It’s now been three months since I bought the Vitara. Stay tuned for updates on what it’s been like in the real world.

In the meantime though, here’s a few quick dos and don’ts when buying your first new car direct from a dealer:

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Do:

  • your research before-hand. Figure out what you can afford (and how much you really want to spend) before you go anywhere. WhichCar is the perfect place to do just that with our handy make and model pages
  • go during the week if possible, when there are fewer people, so you can have more of the dealer’s attention
  • ask for a discount, and be prepared to walk away if they won’t drop enough to a price you’re happy with
  • shop around different dealerships of the same brand in your area, the prices can vary and the dealers will too, so if you don’t click with one it doesn’t stop you buying the car you’ve set your heart on from another location
  • work out how you’re going to pay for the car. Will it be outright or through finance? Bank loans can often be cheaper in the long run than manufacturer offers
  • go towards the end of the financial year if you can when dealers are typically trying to off-load old stock and will get manufacturer incentives to do so (although this year is a bit different because global parts shortages have meant carmakers are running short on supply).

Don’t:

  • take a toddler with you, get a babysitter. You can haggle much more effectively sans-small child
  • leave yourself with a short deadline to get a new car, therefore making you more desperate. We had a rental car and were moving interstate soon after, so didn’t have time to mess around, but in better circumstances would choose to have more freedom to shop around 
  • buy a car without test driving it first. My husband initially wasn’t keen on the Vitara at all, but after a long test drive he agreed with me that it felt the best out of the four by a long shot
  • be afraid to walk away if you feel like you’re being ripped off or the person is rude/dismissive – it’s your hard-earned money you’re spending, not theirs, so you want it to go to good use.

 

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