Buying a car the right way

So you’ve decided that it’s time to treat yourself to some new wheels and are a little stumped as to how to go about it? Whether it’s time to blow some cash on an overpriced European car, or whether you feel like buying smart, these handy hints are here to help arm you with some confidence, smarts and insight to make sure that the money you’re spending is well worth your time and effort here in Australia. Whether you are looking for something brand new or something pre-loved, these are some of the things you can and should do before signing on the dotted line.

Things you should do

Research

Perhaps the most important thing to do before even considering going to a dealer is to do as much research as possible. Wikipedia, automotive websites, manufacturer’s websites, magazines- nothing will do you more good than knowing as much about the cars you like and want. Do you know what brands you like? Do you know what styles and models you prefer? How about some basic information about the car’s capabilities, the engines, the specs and the trims? What do you need and want in a car- what safety tech, what options and what features do you want and need? (and more importantly, what cars or models have these features?)

If you venture to wikipedia and search for the cars you’re interested in, there are usually chapters that describe the different trim levels, engines and options you are able to choose from. Similarly, you can visit websites like Redbook that list the car’s specifications and value. If you’d like some context around the cars, websites that review cars like Caradvice and Motoring provide you with a lot of insight from knowledgeable petrolheads on just what you’re getting yourself into.

It’s important because knowing what you like and what the car is capable of decreases your time at the dealer, playing games, working out numbers, all possible traps at leaving you with more questions than answers.

Sure it may seem like hard work but it will do you a world of good. If you tell yourself that you don’t care and that you simply want something that will take you from A to B, then prepare yourself for a world of confusion, hurt and your chance to become a dealer’s next sucker.

Take your time and drive a few cars

If you’ve settled on a particular brand and model, it’s also worth your time to take a few test drives. The only way you’re really ever going to know what car you want is to drive a few of them. You can as always take a test drive at a dealer (best try to find one where they give you options for extended test drives- how do you really know if you only drive the thing for 5 minutes?), but you can also take advantage of the host of services we have in this day and age.

Next time you’re on holiday try and rent a car you’re interested in. What better way to test drive a car then to see it and drive it as you need it. In the United States, you have Turo, but here in Australia, we have options like Drive My Car. Dealers these days sometimes give you the option for much longer test drives, 1 day, 3 days- find them, and use that option.

During this time, really get to know the car. Check the features, park it at your house, drive it the grocery store or hoon it on the highway. Do things you would do if it were your own car.

Get the car inspected

If you’ve found a car you’re interested in, whether it is at a big network dealer or a small independent dealer, make sure you get it independently inspected. Redbook and RACV offer, at a cost, a service where they send out a licensed mechanic to check the car over and send you a report. It’s just a simple but effective way to know just what you’re getting into. Most importantly, they can tell if the car has had any serious panel work- a sure sign of a major accident in the past. If you’re buying from a dealer, the option is always there to say that you’re happy to proceed with the contract pending a successful inspection.

Do a PPSR check

A Personal Property Securities Register check is a simple but important step in helping you get additional information about the car. Most importantly a PPSR check will help you see whether or not the car you are interested in has ever been written off (a big no no), stolen (no no no), or has finance owing. You can do a PPSR check from companies like Carfacts (around $30) or get one from the government’s PPSR website (which costs only $5). You will need to find the VIN (vehicle identification number) in order to do a PPSR check.

A simple PPSR check will let you know whether a vehicle has ever been written off or stolen, or has finance owing on it.

Finance research

Finance is a big component of car buying. A great deal of people buy cars on finance and that topic is an entire article on its own. The two most important thing to do perhaps is to do some research on some of the major lenders available. There are so many these days that are fighting for your business that it is almost harder to not get approved than it is to get approved. But before you do apply for financing, take the time to sit down and calculate your monthly expenses and decide whether financing an overpriced European car is worth being stuck with an extra $1500 a month for the next 36 months. It’s a lot of money and you face the risk of being underwater on your loan if you decide after 12 months, the car is not right for you.

Trade your car in

Trading in your car is a good way to get things done quickly. It’s straight forward really, get your car in good shape, make sure it has good service history (for the love of God make sure you service your car you neanderthal), get it clean and take it to the dealer for a low ball offer.

Let’s get to the crux of the last part. No matter how much you think your car is worth, it is not worth that much. Whatever you think your car is worth, it is always worth a good $5000-$10000 less than you think. So when you take it to the dealer, don’t be surprised that you’re offered less, it is because the dealer is offering you a shade under retail value (which is below your own personal value).

Don’t think of it as getting screwed out of some money, think of it as saving time and effort of having to privately list your car, dealing with the influx of idiots that will have to come and see your car, and the pain of having to transfer registrations and getting money sorted from someone who says, “don’t worry, I’ll pay you tomorrow”.

Don’t be an asshole

The other side of the coin when it comes to buying a car is the seller, and they are just as important to this process as you are. So it’s important to know a few things that you shouldn’t do either as a buyer. It’s a two way street. Sure, you’ll hear horror stories about dealers, some of them are true. But with the above tips, you should be more confident when going to dealers. There are many “tips and tricks” to “beat the dealer” you can read about, but in the end, if you go down that road you end up playing more games that actually buying a car. So my last tip is to simply be a nice person. Don’t be a smart ass, don’t be a know-it-all, and don’t play games with dealers. If you feel like the dealer is playing games with you, go somewhere else.

I can’t tell you to not buy a Volkswagen (don’t buy a Volkswagen), but I can say that the pitfalls and traps of buying a car comes down to not being prepared. These points above are just some of the basics that will help find the right car for you.

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