Choosing a New Car
So you know you want a new car, your mind is made up. But take our advice: don’t buy from the heart, make sure it’s from the head.
It’s all too easy to be carried away on waves of passion for a car you simply love the look or sound of. Don’t forget though, that once the novelty has worn off, you’ve still got to live with the many demerits you didn’t consider at first, because you chose on the basis of a fleeting love affair.
FAMILY CAR, SECOND CAR, COMMUTER?
Firstly, what type and size of car should it be? There are many considerations here: do you usually travel alone, do you have a dog? Do you need a family car with space for four, five or more people? Will there be long trips involved, necessitating the space for everyone’s luggage as well? Maybe you travel mostly alone but need a lot of cargo space for carrying the accoutrements of your hobby or job?
And will this be your only car, or a second car for the family? Is it primarily for use as an everyday commuter car (in which case economy of operation could well be the prime consideration). Also, as silly as it sounds, if you have a garage, will the chosen car fit in it?
There’s outright luggage space, and there’s practicality/ versatility. If, for instance, you don’t really need an estate or people carrier, say because you only have one child, then think of the endless bulky paraphernalia that this one child actually entails (pushchair, pram, walker, playpen etc). The boot of a saloon might be big, but loading such objects into it could well prove impossible due to a tight boot-lid aperture; a hatchback would therefore be the obvious choice. And if you’re avoiding an estate because you associate them with staid, boxy looks, then think again: have you seen a Peugeot 407SW?
WIND IN THE HAIR
You might be a bright young thing or instead a menopausal man looking to recapture your lost youth with the likes of a drop-top or sports car. Not sure which? Then consider the impracticalities associated with wind-in-the hair motoring, such as a cabriolet’s relative lack of rigidity, and the security risk it poses. Consider also how often in Britain’s gloomy clime you’d actually be able to enjoy it. Think very carefully before buying something you could well end up not enjoying, or worrying about in the long run.
If you’re after a two-seater sports car and it’ll be your only car, will there be times you’ll bemoan the lack of seating?
DOORS & ACCOMMODATION
Two-door or four/five-door? True, there’s less to rattle and go wrong on a two-door – not that doors often go wrong – but people with stiff joints or oversize stature won’t thank you for the painful exertions required to get into the back seat of the latter. Do you have older relatives reliant on your chauffeuring services?
Then there’s the general accommodation: a small family of short people don’t need to worry so much about legroom or headroom, and might be fine ensconsed in a compact car, while gangly types need to be more selective. This is just one of the many reasons why you should not only try out all the seats of a candidate car, but have a good, long test drive in it too.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the decision-making process is assessing driving comfort – in other words the driving position. Ideally the car will have a host of driving-position adjustments, including to seat height, seat squab angle, lumbar support and steering wheel tilt and reach. Some costlier cars even have pedals that adjust for reach.
This is why a lengthy test drive is important, rather than a ten-minute romp up the road.
Off-roaders are a trendy attribute these days, and many of them admittedly look ‘the business’. But think very carefully before being drawn to one on the basis of image alone. In most cases, because of the bluff aerodynamics, that four-wheel drive and the sheer mass of these vehicles, fuel consumption can be pretty heavy, and unless you’re incredibly well-heeled, the recipe of 20mpg at £1 per litre very soon sours. If your heart is set on an off-roader because you have off-road needs, then look to economical diesel power, and avoid fuelsapping automatic transmission.
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION TYPE
Automatic or manual? Apart from a rare few modern, high-tech cars using CVT type transmission, or Audis and Volkswagens with the DSG automated gearbox, automatics are tangibly thirstier than their manual transmission counterparts. If you have a bad left leg, the choice is made for you, and if you regularly commute in stop-start traffic, an auto will be useful to prevent you developing one. Similarly, if you intend mini-cabbing it’s a close toss-up between the requirements of clutchless driving and manual-gearbox economy; did you know that most black cabs have automatic transmission? The typical 20 per-cent worse fuel economy of the traditional automatic is a significant demerit.
IS FUEL ECONOMY VITAL?
Analyse carefully how you are mostly likely to be using the car; it’s what you do with it for most of the time that matters, rather than the occasional type of use. How important is economy? If very important, there is little reason to choose a petrol engine over a diesel. Forget the old tales about sluggish, noisy diesels – they no longer apply. The only minus point is that some diesels cost more to buy than their petrol equivalents.
Don’t concern yourself with diesel 0-60 mph times, as they’re pretty meaningless. In-gear acceleration is what counts, and today’s turbodiesels have it in spades. Automatic transmissions often complement the driving characteristics of diesels, making them fabulously flexible to drive. If you must have an auto, then what better way to counter the economy disadvantage than by mating it to a diesel?
What are the big considerations here, other than fuel consumption? Well, typical maintenance costs, insurance rating, depreciation and the proximity of a franchised dealer.
Most new-car warranties insist on cars being serviced in the main-dealer network, although a few may allow you to use approved garages. Do some research and check out where your local dealer is located, and what its labour rate is. You might also ask them if they do a collection and delivery service, or if they offer a courtesy car.
With insurance ratings, typically grouped from 1 to 20, the higher number represents the most expensive cars to insure, and vice-versa. But this is purely a guideline, and different insurers read their own risk values into different models, so ring round a few for quotes; you’ll be surprised at how wide a variation their can be.
As for a car’s depreciation, this should be considered in relation to the length of time you anticipate owning it. If it’s going to be your last car and there’s no way you’ll be selling it within eight years, the depreciation won’t matter much, as after five or so years it bottoms out anyway. If you know you’ll change it in two years though, the depreciation figure is highly relevant. Many high-depreciating cars are cheaper to buy in the first place, so also consider that. You can look up likely depreciation in used-car value guides and on www.whatcar.com, so there’s no excuse for not checking.
For many buyers, looks or a prestige badge are the be-all and end-all, and while that might be as far as the decision-making process has to go where a particularly well-heeled single person is in the frame, it’s asking for trouble under any other circumstances. I hope you don’t think we’re ‘teaching grandma to suck eggs’; far from it, we’re just outlining the many important considerations all too often omitted by the excited newcar buyer. Consider this a handy checklist that could save you both regrets and money.
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