First time buying a car? Here’s what you need to know

By Jarryd Neves, Motoring correspondent

Second to our homes, cars are probably the most expensive purchases we make in our lifetime. You may not care about how you get from A to B, or have much interest in how they work but unless you’re a millionaire, chances are you’re going to stick with the one you’ve bought for quite some time.

So it’s best not to mess it up. It can be an intimidating process for anyone to go through, particularly those who aren’t clued up or aware of the salesman’s tricks. It pays to do your research before setting foot into a dealership. Let’s take a look at a few tips that can make the entire process easier and maybe save you a few rands, too.

Not all dealerships and salespeople are devious but there are some dodgy ones. They want to get as much money from you as they can and, what’s more, they’ve got an artillery of ways to help them do so. From trying to sell you features you don’t need, to convincing you the pricier expensive model is ‘more you’, a lot of them are only thinking about their commission. This brings me to my first point.

Know exactly what sort of car you want. This takes plenty of time and research. Work out your budget to see what you can afford. Remember, that doesn’t just mean the monthly instalment. Factor in fuel, insurance, maintenance and even resale value into the picture. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a particular class of car (or perhaps a specific model), read more about it and ask friends/family that are clued up about cars.

Finally, once you’ve narrowed it down, drive the car. It may look good on paper but there’s a slim chance that it doesn’t gel with you. If after all of this, your heart is still set on a specific make and model, visit/call various dealers to see who can give you the best offer in terms of a discount. Some may be able to throw in a set of fancier wheels, others may be able to knock R5 000 off the list price.

Remember also to buy at the right time. Cars get more and more expensive. However, there are moments when you can clinch a rather good deal. Right now, as a result of the semiconductor crisis, car prices are soaring owing to strong demand and a lack of supply. As a result, even used car prices are strong; great news for sellers, less so for buyers. While nobody knows how long the shortage will go on, it may be best to sit tight and wait for the crisis to resolve itself. In the meantime, look our for demo models or run-out stock. These are vehicles that dealers are desperate to sell, as the launch or introduction of a new model is imminent. Dealers are often willing to run a special deal on such cars.

Alright, you’ve settled on exactly which make and model you’d like. But how are you going to buy it? A very small percentage of customers pay cash for their cars. Most are bought on finance, also known as hire purchase (HP). If you’re not sure how this works; traditionally, a buyer would put down a deposit (usually 10%) and pay the vehicle off in instalments. The aforementioned instalment varies based on the duration of the settlement period and size of the deposit.

As an example, if you had to purchase a 2020 BMW 318i with just over 25,000 km on the clock, it would set you back approximately R11,000 p/m. This is with a R60,000 deposit and a five-year hire purchase contract. At the end of said purchasing agreement, you’re the full owner of your BMW. For a long time, this has been the most common way of purchasing a vehicle. However, leasing has become very popular in recent years.

Using a BMW 3 Series as an example, leasing would allow you to get behind the wheel of a showroom-fresh 318i M Sport from R8 299 p/m. Like you would with hire purchasing, you pay a 10% deposit and the instalments are paid over two years (or how ever long you wish to keep the car). Unlike HP, once the contract is up, you return the car to BMW and (if you like) you can choose to lease another car. While it’s cheaper to drive the car, you don’t end up owning anything. That suits some people just fine, though.

Then there’s the argument of new versus used. Yes, buying a new car brings peace of mind and a sense of pride. But as soon as you drive it off the glossy showroom tiles, you encounter one of the biggest expenses in motoring: depreciation. Buying a used car may not be as glamorous but the initial owner has taken that brutal first hit of depreciation. What you lose in some extra mileage and a shortened service plan, you gain in up-front savings. If you’re prepared to go the used route, try to find a late-model derivative of the car you want, with low or demo mileage. These are often the best deals to be had.

Also remember that while optional extras can be pricey, they can help to strengthen your resale value. People want safety features and desirable add-ons like a sunroof and metallic paintwork. Ticking those boxes when new can ensure your car has stronger resale value when the time comes to let go of it.

Buying a new or used car is a big purchase and one you’ll have to live with for at least a couple of years. Take your time, do your research and figure out what’s best for you.

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