So, you’ve decided that you’re going to buy an awesome new car. Congratulations! It’s an awesome and empowering feeling to get your hands on a new car, but as you start your search, you’re faced with the immediate problem of how to choose the right one.
As you open up different websites and smartphone apps, inventories of thousands of cars start to open up: different makes, models, and trim levels; different colours; different specifications…the list goes on and on.
So what help can you get when you want to be sure that you choose the right new car? We’ve prepared a list of points that we think you’ll find helpful.
- The starting point of your journey to pick the right car has to be thinking about what kind of car you really need: an SUV, minivan, compact, crossover, pickup truck?
Too many people fail to think carefully enough about what kind of vehicle it is that they really need when buying a new one. They’re drawn to particular brands and perhaps to certain models they’ve seen on TV or in movies, or perhaps they’re driven by some nostalgia for a make or model of car that resembles something from their childhood. At any rate, none of these people are thinking clearly about what they really need.
How many people will regularly use your car? Is it mostly just you, or will you have regular passengers like your spouse, kids, your kids’ friends, or other family members like grandparents, uncles and aunts? What kind of weekly and monthly mileage do you cover? How much cargo space are you likely to need? What safety and driver assistance features would benefit you? These are all critical questions.
Here are some examples of ways you might consider the above questions and more:
- I have 3 school-age kids who regularly attend sporting events and activities with friends — a minivan or 3-row SUV is something you likely need.
- Gasoline is expensive where I live and I have to commute 42km each way to work and back — a hybrid model with excellent fuel economy is what you need.
- I’m a single professional working in the city but public transport is too unreliable so I drive everywhere — subcompact hatchback or crossover SUV with solid fuel economy that’s easy to park anywhere.
- Think carefully about what you can really afford when making your budget. Remember that besides the car, there are many other expenses to put into the mix.
The most common trap people fall into when it comes to making a budget is only taking into account the monthly car finance payments, and weekly gasoline. You also have an annual insurance premium to pay, sales tax when you buy the car, maintenance and servicing each year, as well as car cleaning products (or washing/detailing fees if you don’t plan to do that yourself). The expenses go on and on.
A car is a big financial liability when it comes down to it. You have to budget very carefully when considering what you can afford. When you come up with a sensible ceiling number to act as your purchasing budget or monthly cost, always keep it conservative and under the max. Ceiling level. One rule you can follow is 20/4/10. The “20” refers to how much deposit you put down on the car, 20 percent. The “4” is the maximum number of years to finance the car. And “10” refers to 10 percent of your gross monthly income. Your monthly costs shouldn’t exceed that percentage.
That rule doesn’t always work for everyone, but you at least need to be shopping well within your means.
- Remember that there are many ways to pay for a car and the right car for you might not be one you buy outright, but instead lease or buy with an auto loan.
Following on from our previous point, you need to think carefully about how you will be paying for the right car for you. If you have the cash to pay for a car outright, it’s the easiest way to do it, and that leaves you with a much smaller financial burden to bear month to month after you’ve acquired it.
If you don’t have all the cash you need, but still need a car, the good news is that there are plenty of options.First of all, you could consider leasing the car. This is where you take the car, pay monthly for it over an agreed period — most often 3 years — and then at the end of that period you either hand the car back, trade it in for another lease model and a new contract, or pay a final balloon payment and then own the car. Leasing is flexible, and usually means lower monthly payments, but there are other conditions like limits on annual mileage.
The other main choice is to get an auto loan and repay it month to month. Auto loans can be acquired via dealerships, banks, credit unions and other specialist lenders. If you have a strong credit rating, a loan is a good option because it will continue to build that credit rating, but also mean you can enjoy very low interest rates. With an auto loan, you pay more monthly than when you lease, but there’s no balloon payment at the end, and no conditions on mileage.
- It’s okay to cast a wide net early on and explore widely among different makes and models, but your ultimate goal should be to narrow it down to a workable shortlist.
When you’ve considered the type of car you want — SUV, minivan, sports car, etc. — you can start to cast a wide net and look at all different brands, makes and models. As you do, however, try your best to build a shortlist of no more than 5 models maximum. Ideally, you’ll narrow it down to just 2 or 3 models.
Remember to consider your needs, your budget, and what finance options come with each choice of car. Don’t surrender to temptation and break your budget boundaries or compromise on your needs in order to get a car that you think is more attractive. There are always more years in the future to buy other cars. Focus on the here and now and what you really need.
- Even if you’ve never owned or considered a hybrid or electric model before now, don’t rule them out. They boast a growing list of benefits in a changing world.
Some people are quick to write off hybrid and electric models, perhaps because they’ve never considered buying one or they’ve never driven them before. They’re nothing to be scared of! Hybrid models are ideal for those who need a mixture of city-friendly efficiency but also regularly travel longer distances on the highway. Plug-in hybrids also meet these needs, but they offer much greater electric-only range, allowing many to complete their commute, school runs and daily errands all within their single-charge electric range.
Pure electric cars like the Tesla Model 3, Chevrolet Bolt, and the VW ID.4 are currently among the most expensive models on the market relative to their size and features. While there are still some financial incentives available, they don’t make electric cars anywhere near as cheap as gasoline or diesel models. These electric models are, however, cheaper to run as electric costs are far more stable than oil and gas prices. They also help clean up the air, and you can even charge them at home if you have room for a wall charger. No more visiting gas stations!
- Don’t just settle for what you see at an OEM brand dealership or other dealerships in your immediate area. Explore different channels: apps, private sellers, online channels and more.
Your first instinct might just be to visit a local dealership, but it’s 2022 and there are so many channels at your disposal now. There are smartphone apps, private sellers, online platforms like Auto Trader and more all with hundreds of models for you to choose from. Don’t limit yourself to a single channel. Be open minded but always take care to learn everything you can about any vehicle before you make a purchase. The best way to learn, of course, is through a test drive, which brings us to our final point.
- A short test drive covering a few city blocks is never going to be enough. You need to test a car as thoroughly and as meaningfully as possible.
Have you done a test drive on a car before? If you did, where did you take the vehicle? Did you try it out on different road types? Did you get to sample all the features on offer? If not, then what you did could hardly be called an effective test of the vehicle.
You should only test drive the cars that have made it onto your shortlist. Each test drive should include the following things:
Before You Drive:
- Walk around the car and look at it from different angles. Does seeing it up close disappoint you, or is it as nice as you expected?
- Try all the doors, sit in the front and rear seats to see how much leg, shoulder and head room you have. Open up the trunk and see how the space looks.
- Sit in the driver’s seat and test how easy it is to get into your perfect driving position. Don’t forget to position the steering column, too.
- Ask the salesperson to go through all the controls and features with you. Test out as many as possible, especially windshield washer and wipers, turn signals, headlights, horn, air conditioning/heater and infotainment system.
During the Drive:
- Try to get onto as many different road types as possible: residential, city avenues, highway, smaller country roads – all that you practically can.
- Test the features like windscreen washer and wipers while you’re driving.
- Observe how good visibility is from your driving position, are there pillars getting in the way? Is it hard to see clearly when at junctions?
- Test the brakes thoroughly, and run the car at different speeds, taking note of acceleration.
- Bring a passenger with you to test the experience of sitting in the back seat.
After the Drive – Reflection:
- Was it fun to drive? Did it feel safe, stable, dynamic?
- Were all the features you hoped for there?
- Was it easy to feel comfortable driving and operating the pedals?
- Do you feel like you want to drive that car again?
When you test this thoroughly, there’s very little that can go wrong. If your budget allows for it and there’s a budget and supply near your home, you might even consider renting a car of the model you like and using it over a couple of days to see how well it fits in your routine. Some dealers or car retailers might even lend you the exact model you like to see how you like it over a couple of days — for a fee, of course.
Good luck with your car hunting!