How to Buy a Car: A Practical Guide

How to Buy a CarThis guide is mainly aimed at people who don’t go shopping for cars armed with a blunt screwdriver to check for rust spots or an LED torch to get underneath the car and examine the health of the drive shaft. You are, however, expected to do some homework and figure out what it is exactly that you want to buy. Car buying is an exciting process and it becomes even more enjoyable as you gain confidence.

Read the Reliability Surveys

I’m not suggesting you read online car reviews (or if you do, at least don’t base your final decision on them) because they are written by humans who, just like you, have their own preferences and a different view on things. Although, the figures and specs listed in car reviews can be helpful, it often comes to the “like vs. don’t like” emotions. Instead, look at the reliability surveys, which are free of emotions and are purely based on facts. There are two go-to sources depending on which side of the Atlantic you reside.

For Britain there’s the UK Reliability Index. It takes into consideration factors like cost of the parts and the frequency of breakages amongst other aspects. For the last few years it’s seen Honda consistently topping the chart. The famous luxury car brands surprisingly coming in at the “Bottom Worst” list. For America, it’s the famous J.D. Power. In a similar fashion to the UK charts, the J.D. Power chart is usually topped by the Japanese brands. In addition to the reliability, the American survey also looks at factors like customer satisfaction, dealer response times and other things.

Consider Depreciation

Oscar Wilde used to say that “moderation is a fatal thing” but I’m sure he didn’t mean the cars. Cars were not even in the equation when he wrote the famous words. No, really, with vehicle depreciation in mind, there’s nothing better than moderation. Let me put it this way – if you buy a super-expensive car, it will depreciate quicker.

Expensive cars with powerful engines like Ferrari or Aston Martin do tend to depreciate at an alarming rate. Same goes for the cheaper low-quality cars. They don’t seem to hold the value because of reliability issues. So, if depreciation matters to you, it’s better to be looking at the medium range cars like Volkswagen and Audi. They’re well-built, and they always attract high demand in the used car market. If you’re looking for some additional in-depth insights on depreciation, there is a useful blog post on Credit Plus.

Three Main Factors: Mileage, Year, Price

If you’re looking to buy a used car, your buying decision should be based on these three factors: mileage, year and price. The rule of thumb is that you have to try to buy the best possible car you can afford. The trick is to get the newest car with the lowest mileage at the best possible price. If you’re taking out car finance, make sure you’re happy with the monthly repayment and ask yourself, whether you’d be as comfortable with this monthly expense even 2 years down the line? Would you still be ok paying this amount should your financial circumstances change?

This is the moment you have to be honest with yourself. It’s not very savvy to be over-optimistic and take on a car finance that you cannot really afford, or can afford only by making sacrifice. On the other hand, On the other hand, buying a lower-cost, less-reliable car is not a good option either. It will mean you’re going to spend more money on repairs and when it comes to selling it on, the car will have depreciated too much.

Visit Specialised Forums

Now that you’ve shortlisted the cars you want to buy, it’s time to visit the online forums dedicated to your possible choices. Typing something like “audi a4 forum” in your favourite search engine will reveal a list of websites where the enthusiasts of the particular car gather. Since there’s even a forum for BMW Isetta enthusiasts, you won’t have a problem finding the necessary interest group. Browse or search for discussions related to the common faults or buying advice. That way you’ll learn which parts of the car you have to inspect during the test drive.

A List of “Don’ts”

* Don’t buy a car without a service history. There’s no need to be desperate even if you think you’ve found a perfect car. Especially if we’re talking about 3 – 7 year old cars, there’s no valid explanation to why a car wouldn’t have a full service history. The dog ate it? Come on, mate, you could certainly invent something a bit more plausible!

* Don’t buy without thoroughly reading and understanding what faults are mentioned in the service history book and the MOT reports. The “advisory” section of the latter is very important – this should give you an idea of the potential failures that might cause you problems in the future.

* If you’re buying from a private seller, don’t buy a car with a warm engine. If upon arrival you find that the car has been warmed-up, either go away or reschedule the appointment. You want to hear the engine start from cold without a hitch.

* Don’t buy without checking the vehicle identification number (VIN) in these four crucial places: engine block, car body (usually the front end but good luck finding it), service history book and MOT certificate. It goes without saying that all four places should match.

* Don’t buy a car without checking its status. There are plenty of SMS-based services that let you receive a short report costing just a couple of pounds. The report should confirm that the car is not stolen and that it hasn’t got outstanding finance on it.

Keeping all these factors in mind will ensure you thoroughly enjoy your new purchase. Have you got more tips? Please share by adding a comment below.

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