What Car Should I Buy?
With a seemingly endless array of makes and models to choose from, deciding what car to buy can feel a bit of a tall order. If it’s your first ever car, the choice becomes even more challenging, as you might not yet know what things matter most to you from a car. It’s a big investment and not one to take lightly, so today we’re taking you through a few things to think about when you’re trying to decide what car to buy.
For most people, budget is likely to be the first consideration when buying a new car. Work out what you can afford before you start your search. Your budget will significantly refine the choice of cars available to you, which should help make your decision a little easier. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the price of actually buying the car is only one aspect of budgeting for a car purchase.
Running costs vary from one car to the next, so you’ll need to factor in the cost of things like insurance, fuel, tax and servicing. Some cars cost more to service because the parts are more expensive; some cost more to tax because they’re not as environmentally friendly. These costs can have a big impact on the day-to-day affordability of a car, so it’s important to be realistic about how much the car will end up costing you in the long-term.
This Is Money has a handy car running costs calculator to help you work out how much a car will cost in real terms, breaking down the costs so you can understand them by month, year, mile and per day of use. You can also use the Government website to find out how much car tax will cost, while the Vehicle Certification Agency is a useful resource for calculating fuel running costs and fuel economy.
Having set your budget, you’ll next need to think about how you’re going to be using the car. This will help you draw up a list of priorities so that you can refine your selection further. You may dream of a sleek two-seat sports car, but if your primary use for the vehicle will be ferrying the kids to school, you’ll be needing something a little more practical, with excellent safety features. Of course, the number of people you’ll need to transport at any given time will be a deciding factor in the size of car you go for.
If you’re going to be using your car for commuting, you’ll want a comfortable one that’s easy to drive, with good acceleration and fuel economy to make motorway driving more efficient. If you typically need to carry lots of things with you - luggage or shopping, for example - then you’ll probably prioritise luggage space. Check out Auto Trader’s useful guide to car body shapes to help you decide which one is right for your needs.
Another factor that will affect your choice of car is where you live, as there’s a big difference between driving on city streets and country roads. If your home is in a rural area, you’ll want a car that’s equipped for the potentially tricky conditions you may face on smaller country roads - perhaps a car with four-wheel drive and good traction, for example. Think about how the car would perform in all seasons, as you’ll still need to venture out in wintry conditions. The wrong car could leave you isolated if you live in the countryside.
Living in urban areas, it’s sometimes easier to find a parking space for a smaller car, but it’s not just the size of the car that matters. Cities are more congested, so you’re more likely to find yourself sitting with the engine idling in traffic jams. A hybrid vehicle that can switch to electric power when you’re crawling along in a queue - or a car that has an auto-stop/start feature to cut the engine when you’re not moving - will help save money as well as reducing the car’s environmental impact.
It’s said that a car’s value starts depreciating the moment you drive it off the forecourt, so a brand new car may not be right for you if you have a limited budget. However, older cars could have hidden problems that put them at greater risk of an accident, and could end up costing more in servicing and repairs.
New cars have up-to-date safety features, a manufacturer’s warranty and typically better fuel economy, so there are advantages to buying new. What’s more, cars don’t need MOTs for the first three years, which will be another expense you won’t have to cover. Most dealers offer finance options that allow you to pay monthly for a brand new car, so you to spread the cost to make buying new a more affordable option. Take a look at this car finance guide from Which? if you think this might be something you’re interested in.
Another important decision is what fuel you’d like your car to run on. Diesel cars generally cost more than petrol cars, but can be cheaper to insure. Diesel cars aren’t as suited to driving in cities, because diesel particulate filters get bunged up with soot if the car isn’t driven at speed on a regular basis. This makes them more appropriate for long-distance commuting. There’s a useful summary of the pros and cons of diesel versus petrol here.
There’s also a third option. Hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius, run on both electricity and conventional fuel, and they’re becoming increasingly common. Although they’re typically more expensive, they can bring significant fuel savings by switching to electric power at low speeds. This makes them great for driving in congested areas, as you can save fuel in traffic jams. Of course, this also makes them more environmentally friendly. If you think you might be interested in a hybrid car, take a look at carbuyer’s top ten of the best hybrid and plug-in cars for some inspiration.
Having narrowed down your choice of cars, the fun can begin. Read some online reviews of the cars you’re interested in and draw up a shortlist of two or three makes and models; the owner reviews on Auto Trader are a great source of unbiased information, while carbuyer’s video reviews will give you another point of comparison.
The only way to tell for sure which one will suit you best is, of course, to take each one for a test drive and see which you most enjoy driving. When you’ve made the big decision, all that’s left to do is to take out a car insurance policy to cover you from the moment you pick up the keys. As well as ensuring that you stay on the right side of the law, this will also mean you’re covered if anything unfortunate happens to your new pride and joy.