Direct Line magazine

Essential questions car buyers must ask themselves

Updated on: 21 May 2020

a man is driving a car with one hand on the wheel

Buying a new car is in equal measures exciting and frightening.

You’ll have the thrill of choosing one of the most expensive things any of us will buy, but the fear of spending a lot of money and having to live with your decision for years to come.

So, before drivers sign on the dotted line, what questions should they be asking, not only to themselves but also to 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 leg room do the seats have? Will you comfortably be able to fit a car seat? Does the shape or height of the car boot make it difficult for you to load your golf clubs or baby buggy?

You’ll probably only find out by going to check it out for yourself. Then there’s how a car feels when you drive it. Sports suspension and larger wheels might give the car a more desirable appearance, but it’s probable you’ll quickly tire of the hard, unforgiving ride they give to the car. And a test drive around the block won’t tell you if you get backache from the seats on long journeys.

TIP: If you’re serious about buying a car, ask for a 24-hour test drive. Then take the car on a proper road trip. That way you can get a good idea of how comfortable the seats really are, whether or not 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.

Depreciation is actually the biggest running cost. Over a three-year period, it can total three times what the average driver spends on fuel

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 of car 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 from outlets like The Money Advice Service can be a simple way to attain a reasonably accurate prediction of the yearly costs for fuel, insurance, road tax, servicing and the biggest cost of all, depreciation – the amount of money a car decreases in value (see below).

How much money will the car lose?

All cars drop in value the moment they drive out of the dealership. However, that depreciation varies from vehicle to vehicle. Philip Nothard, used car valuation expert from CAP Automotive explains: “People forget that on a new car, depreciation is actually the biggest running cost. Over a three-year period, it can total three times what the average driver spends on fuel.”

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.

Young woman calculating car costs

What will the real total monthly cost be?

We’re not finished with costs just yet. Anyone who buys a car on finance – the majority of us do, according to the Finance & Leasing Association – is advised to take out Guaranteed Asset Protection (GAP) cover.

GAP is an insurance policy which covers the difference of how much an insurer will pay out if your car is declared a write-off and the cost of replacing the car. Without GAP, drivers could end up with no car and owe money to the finance company.

Buyers should also factor in the Guaranteed Future Value of the car, or Balloon Payment - what you 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 the car to be delivered?

As the majority of new cars are built to order, there can be frustrating delays along the way. Buyers might have to wait up to six months to collect their pride and joy, even if it’s a mainstream motor. Therefore, it’s wise that anyone who will be part exchanging their existing car for the new model ensures the price is agreed up front with the dealer, and not several months later.

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.

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