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Buying a car shouldn’t be an emotional purchase

By Anna Kantilaftas, 17 Jan 2017 Car Opinions

couple shopping for a car

A summer holiday playing spotter for family and friends taught Anna some very important lessons on impulsive purchases.

Making a major financial decision can be an emotional rollercoaster ride, and at times, a little impulsive. But buying a new car shouldn’t be.

Unlike buying a house or dabbling in the stock market, most cars are unlikely to make you money. In fact, from the moment you drive it out of the dealership, you’ve lost money. Then, there’s the bunch of practical stuff that needs to be consider before putting ink to a contract.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to you if you’re loaded to the brim in cash and prepared to throw a few extra zeros at your car collection.

But for everyone else, making the decision to buy a car should be about as emotional as posting to Facebook after a fight with your partner. They just shouldn’t coincide. 

I spent a lot of my holiday period strolling through car dealerships in search of a new set of wheels for myself, my parents and my best friend. And emotions played a surprisingly significant part.

I consider myself quite a level-headed consumer. As the daughter of a CEO, the sister of an accountant and the granddaughter to the generation who lived through the depression, ‘cautious spending’ (aka being tight) is hardwired into my very being. So when it came to replacing my Toyota Yaris with a new car, I thought I’d have it sorted.

2016 Subaru Outback

As an almost-30-year-old with no children or pets, living in the city, I figured I wouldn’t need much. Four wheels, a working engine, air-conditioning, steering wheel and no rust were my basic criteria. It wouldn’t be too hard to find that for my budget. I could probably even save myself a few coins.

But then I started my search.

The major turning point arrived when my grandfather told me I was getting on in age and if I was spending money on a car, I may as well consider a family car. For my future children. Who were currently about as much a consideration as my retirement fund. Bless.

But his advice stuck and before I knew it, I was saying “oh hey” to my emotions and started looking for a car with all-wheel drive, a big boot, reversing camera and digital radio. In my defence, I can drive anything from a Holden Spark to a Nissan GTR in a week, so I’ve become more accustomed to out-of-my-league features than I care to admit.

But I wasn’t alone. My best friend, who is also an almost-30 getting around a city in a Toyota Yaris, called me one day from a friend’s Mazda CX-9 and declared that she was going to buy one.

Her Yaris is only six years old, in great condition and spends a lot of time in the city. Though she does drive across the country a couple of times a year and is a couple of steps closer to nesting stage than me (she bought a cat with her partner. We all know what happens next), so I can understand her desire for an SUV. But a seven-seater? “Oh, hey, there you are, Emotions!”

My friend, like so many, probably didn’t need a car, but had got so excited to be driving a brand new Mazda CX-9, her Yaris seemed expired in comparison.

Mazda CX-5

When we went for a test drive, I suggested maybe taking a look at the Mazda CX-5 instead. Still an SUV, still plenty of space, but not so large… or expensive. I had two jobs to do that day: ask the right questions and prevent her from impulsively buying a car before shopping around.

From the moment she finished test driving the diesel CX-5, I could tell she was excited. Her dialogue went something like: “It’s so good to drive. I love it. And it’s got a reverse camera. And USB port. And it’s so shiny and new”. When her trade-in offer came back, it was so good that even I wanted to seal the deal.

Had she not checked in on her emotions and practicality, she would have walked away from the dealership spending $15,000 more than she needed, on a car bigger than she needed. Instead, she gave herself a five day come-down period, wrote out the pros and cons and walked away with a new under-budget CX-5, with a few extra features.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with buying a car you like. And in some respects, emotions do play an important part: the way a car feels to drive is important. You have to enjoy driving it as much as you enjoy looking at it. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s where the buck stops.

If I’ve learned anything about the car buying process, it’s to create a list of essential features and another for ‘nice to haves’, don’t budge on a budget and have a list of three cars you want to test drive. Once you’ve got the offers on the table, give yourself a few days to think it over, and then make your decision based on safety, practicality and a tiny little bit of emotion.

As for me, I’m still on the hunt for a new car. But if you happen to be giving away a Subaru Outback, you know where to find me.