Direct Line magazine

Essential questions car buyers must ask themselves

Updated on: 10 January 2024

blonde woman smiling in a new car

Buying a new car is always exciting. But it can also be worrying.

A new car is one of the most expensive things any of us will buy, so there’s a justified concern when it comes to spending that much money on something you’ll have to live with for years to come.

So, before drivers sign on the dotted line, what questions should they be asking to themselves and the salesperson they’re dealing with?

Do you know enough about the car to live with it?

You can do lots of secondary research before you see a car in real life, but there’s no substitute for actually going to check things over in person.

Exactly how much legroom do the seats have? Will it comfortably fit a car seat if you need one now or in the future? Is the boot big enough? And does the shape or height of the boot make it difficult to load golf clubs, a baby buggy, or whatever else you need?

Online research can give you a good idea – but you’ll only know for sure by checking it out for yourself. 

Then there’s the exciting bit – how the car feels when you drive it. 

A short test drive can give you a quick idea of how it feels, but it won’t tell you if you get backache from the seats on long journeys. So, if you’re serious about buying a car, ask for a 24-hour test drive

During your test drive, take the car on a proper road trip. That way you can get a good idea of how comfortable the seats really are, whether friends and family can fit in without feeling squashed, what the fuel economy is like in real-world scenarios, and whether there’s anything that’s likely to drive you mad over a period of time.

Can you afford the running costs?

The cost of a car is only part of the story. Once you’ve got a good idea of which make and model you’d like to buy, check how expensive it will be to run. The last thing anyone needs is a car that eats through their monthly living allowance. 

Fortunately, finding out the running costs of a car is even easier than filling it with fuel.

Free resources and tools available online can be a simple way to attain a reasonably accurate prediction of the yearly costs for fuel, insurance, road tax, servicing and depreciation, the amount of money a car decreases in value (see below).

If you’re buying a used car, it’s well worth investing in a vehicle history check. These don’t cost much and give you plenty of important information about a vehicle’s past and current condition.

They include an MOT history, a market valuation, any insurance write-off claims, and even insight about fuel efficiency and economy. 

How much value will the car lose?

It’s a slightly depressing reality that a new car will drop in value the moment you drive away from the dealership. However, that depreciation varies from vehicle to vehicle. 

According to MoneyHelper, the drop in value is typically between 15-35% in the first year and up to 50% or more over three years. 

TIP: You might think depreciation isn’t important for cars bought on finance. It is. The size of your monthly repayment is directly proportional to how much money you’ve borrowed and how much the car depreciates.

What will the real total monthly cost be?

When considering overall costs, buyers should also factor in the Guaranteed Future Value of the car, or Balloon Payment – that’s the amount you can pay at the end of the finance period to own the vehicle. Alternatively, if you want to take out more finance to buy a new car, you’ll need to find a cash deposit.

How long will it take for a new car to be delivered?

As many new cars are built to order, there can be frustrating delays along the way. Buyers might have to wait a while to collect their pride and joy, even if it’s a mainstream motor. 

Therefore, it’s wise for anyone that’s part-exchanging their existing car for a new model to ensure the price is agreed upfront with the dealer. That way, there won’t be any nasty financial surprises if it takes a while to get your new car.

TIP: If you’re selling your existing car privately, don’t do so unless you have proof your new motor is at the dealership, or you could be caught short and left without wheels.

There’s a lot to consider when buying a new vehicle, used or otherwise. But, in short, take it on a ‘real-world’ test drive, plan out your immediate and future finances in detail, and consider a history check for any used vehicle (just to be safe).

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