How to buy your first new car

By Stephen Corby, 18 Nov 2015 Car Advice

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How to buy your first new car

Buying your first new car is a bit like taking that first big bungee jump; a heart-bobbling experience that’s invigorating, intimidating and almost always more expensive than you’d prefer.

Purchasing your first car is less likely to detach your retinas, of course - unless your budget is unlimited and your eyes are properly assaulted by a Ferrari 458 in a showroom - but it does take a lot longer, particularly if you’re doing it right. 

Yes, we’re talking that word so beloathed of high school students; research. The simple fact is that you’re crazy, and financially foolish, if you don’t do your due diligence before buying something as pricey, and potentially life-saving, as a new car, but the good news is, it’s never been easier. 

Not that many decades ago, the only way you could gauge for yourself what might be a good first motor for you, personally, was asking your friends, relatives and people you met at barbecues who seemed like car nuts, or poring over hard-core motoring magazines, which, if you’re not nutty about the subject yourself, could be like reading 50 Shades of Sanskrit. 

The modern world is vastly more consumer friendly, with websites like WhichCar providing views, reviews and access to the kind of specification and pricing information that used to only be available by enduring a visit to your local car dealer, where you’d often leave with a salesman holding on desperately to your ankles. 

People who actually turn up at a showroom today are generally so well informed about not only that brand but all its competitors, thanks to the ease of use of the internet, that car salesmen actually start behind the eight ball. 

What makes it still a fair fight is that we all tend to wander into buying our first car in a kind of excited, slightly brainless daze. Car company folk will tell you that the way a car looks is the single most important factor in people’s decision making, and designers will tell you that styling can account for as much as 80 per cent of a buyer’s choice. (Just think about how much more beautiful expensive cars are than cheap ones.)

This, clearly, is madness, and something you should resist. No one’s saying you have to buy a Ssangyong, no one would be so cruel, but as nice as it is to have a pleasant car to look at is, one that’s safer, better to drive and better value is far more practical.

Size

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What you should think about first is the size and segment of car you want to buy, and consider it very carefully. If you’re like most Australians, for whom faux SUVs are now the biggest growing market, you’ll probably want a Mazda CX-5, or something very much like it. 

But ask yourself, why do you want an SUV? Did you want one a decade ago when they were still properly huge and driven mainly by blokes with beards and short shorts? Or is it just trendy? 

Yes, a small front-wheel, rather than four-wheel, drive vehicle is very popular, and makes its driver feel tall and omnipotent on the road, but the fact is it’s not as good to drive as a hatch or sedan. 

Driving enjoyment, if you value it at all, is helped enormously by your vehicle having a low centre of gravity, which means rather than rock and rolling around corners, you can groove your way through them. 

Think about how much vehicle you genuinely need, because the bigger and heavier it is, the more it’s going to cost you in fuel and tyres in the long run. Sure, if you’ve got a young family, you’ll have to choose an SUV, or a sedan, just to carry all your attendant flimflam, but if you don’t, then something smaller and lighter is always going to be better. 

Fuel

Filling up at Petrol Station

Speaking of fuel, the economy figure of your new vehicle is one you should pay close attention to, because petrol is already extremely expensive, and generally headed in only one direction. You’ll never quite match the number you see on the sticker, because it’s achieved in laboratory conditions, so when you do the math be sure to add about 20 per cent on. 

If you’re going to drive a lot of kilometres, you really should consider diesel-powered cars, because the savings are significant, although you may feel morally muddled by what we’re now hearing about oil-burning engines, nitrogen dioxide and Volkswagen in particular. 

Brand

Honda Steering Wheel

Once you’ve decided on the kind of car you like, try not to fall too hard for any one particular brand, because that’s basically taking you back to buying on looks. Test drive all of the competitors you can, including cars just slightly smaller and slightly bigger than what you think you want. 

Which ones do you feel more comfortable in and enjoy driving more, and are they attractive enough for you to take home to Mum? 

And if you’re buying a sports car, are you going to make the sensible, enthusiasts’ choice and get a manual gearbox? Because you really should. Everyone else is going to buy an automatic these days anyway, so there’s no point preaching to the converted. 

Safety

SRS Airbag

When you think you’ve got your choice down to the final few, really run a ruler over the spec sheets of each, looking at safety first. Getting a five-star NCAP rating used to be the kind of merit badge worn by brands like Volvo, but today just about  every car has one, so if yours doesn’t, walk away. Safety is never something you should cheap out on, so if you’re looking at a Chinese car brand, just stop it. 

Look very carefully at what active safety features; things like Automatic Emergency Braking, which will prevent you from having a rear-ender with the car in front, at city speeds, even if you doze off. 

Fortunately basic forms of ESP (Electronic Stability Program) and ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) are now mandated by law, but the more computer-controlled safety gear your car has - including systems that can spot if you’re getting drowsy, just from the way you’re driving - the better.

And you don’t have to spend European money, either, because brands like Subaru, with its EyeSight system, are making the high-tech stuff affordable. 

And remember, if it only saves your life once a year, it’s a good geek idea, and if it costs you a tiny bit more, it’s money well spent. 

Maintenance

Car repairs

Speaking of money, you can save yourself quite a few dollars by choosing the car that offers the best, and longest, service plan. Some companies are offering six and even seven-year unlimited kilometre warranties with their new cars, which is a large financial temptation when you do the math on potential costs.

An offering that comes with roadside assistance included for the warranty period is a very good idea as well.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a detailed breakdown of the cost of servicing through your dealer, because what you learn might shock you, or even change your mind.

Price

Australian currency

When it comes to paying for what is generally a daunting purchase, you’ll probably have to seek some kind of finance and the best advice is to borrow the money rather than lease, unless you can claim the leasing payments as a business expense. 

Yes, leasing gives you a new car every three years, but you’re basically renting it, which will cost more in the long run. You don’t rent your television, do you? 

Most importantly, once your decision is made, get yourself a good deal and hopefully you can save yourself some money to spend on the first year’s fuel bills, or a bungee jump.