1. Can I afford it?
This is it, the most numero of unos when it comes to car buying. Do you have the cash? And if you don’t have the cash, do you have access to a loan or some sort of finance agreement for which you can afford the repayments? Can you still afford those repayments if you had to take some time off work, or if you got sick, or if the worst came to the worst and you became unemployed? You really need to sit down, preferably with your accountant or your bank or credit union manager, and go through all this carefully and make sure you know what you’re getting into. Far too many of us blithely assume that we can afford the repayments come what may, and then find that we can’t when may finally does come. As your father would have said, measure it twice and cut it once…
2. Is it the right car for me?
It may seem obvious that you shouldn’t buy a two-seat sports car if you have five kids to haul around, but there are subtleties in the car market, and in the line-ups of various brands, which are hard to spot unless you’ve done your homework. Let’s say you live out in the sticks a bit, and have a bumpy, loose-surfaced lane to drive up to get to your house. So, you need a four-wheel-drive car, right? Preferably one with lots of ground clearance? Not necessarily. You might find that a conventional car with four-wheel drive will do the trick nicely. Conversely, there are tall 4x4s that might easily get stuck on this fictional road, and others with front-wheel drive but clever traction control that will breeze up it. Likewise, big cars are not always the most comfortable nor refined, small cars are not necessarily economical and family cars are not always as roomy as they seem. So, do your research, read all the professional reviews you can find and make sure you know that what you’re buying is what you need.
3. Petrol or diesel? Or hybrid? Or even electric?
This has, in the past two years, become something of a loaded question. Diesel cars, for their users, still make a compelling purchase as they tend to have good performance and excellent long-haul economy. But in the swirling political climate in which we currently exist, diesel is becoming a pariah, and moves are afoot in many countries to tax it more heavily and, in some cases, ban it outright. The good news is that petrol engines have really caught up, and there are now compact turbocharged engines, as small as 1.2 or even 1.0-litre in capacity, which are as good to drive and nearly as economical as diesels, so have a good, long, hard look (and a test drive) before you decide. Hybrids are also catching up fast, and are now becoming economical out of town as well as in strictly urban environments (not always the case previously). Electric cars are also improving fast, and are now starting to nudge up towards the 300km range mark on one charge, but they’re still pricey and you will have to make a few changes in your routine to make the most of one.
4. What about an import?
A huge number of us, more than 50,000 so far this year, have cottoned onto the fact that importing a car from the UK can yield better value than buying an original Irish-registered car. It's true, savings are there for those willing to travel to buy, and who are prepared to do the necessary groundwork to find the right car, but there are pitfalls, not least a report in The Times newspaper that found that ‘clocking’ is close to endemic in UK cars. Savings? Yes, but tread carefully.
5. Think about running costs.
This obviously relates to points 1 and 3 above, but it’s too easy to get all caught up in the purchasing part of buying a car and forget about the ongoing costs that come with it. Service schedules are stretching out ever-longer now, but you’ll still have to bring almost every car back to a garage at least once a year for a check-up, and the oh-so-popular premium brands are still more expensive than others when it comes to parts and labour. Then there’s insurance (a nightmare for all of us right now), fuel, motor tax (usually the cheapest bit of running all but the most high-emissions models), tyres (some sportier models can be €200 a corner…) and the dreaded depreciation. Independent surveys such as JD Power can be useful for judging which cars are the most reliable, in the long term, but again there’s no excuse for not doing your homework here.
6. Check everything.
If you’re buying used, there is no more useful phrase than that Latin one drummed into the head of every secondary-school business studies student — Caveat Emptor; buyer beware. While there are, thankfully, only an unpleasant few who would seek to rip you off when selling you a used car, there is still a need for vigilance, even when buying from a respectable person or company. Don’t just glance at a potential purchase, go through it with a fine toothcomb, checking everything from the service history to previous NCT reports, when major items such as the cambelt was last changed, to checking for overspray where someone has tried to hide accident damage. And make sure you get a history and background check done to see if there are any hidden skeletons or outstanding finance. We recommend Cartell.ie for that.
7. Have some alternatives.
With point 6 in mind, don’t get hung up on one car, or even one make and model. There are plenty of cars, both new and used, on sale and if you find that the car you were hoping to buy has a patchy history, or doesn’t appear to be in perfect condition, be prepared to be hard-headed and just walk away. There are plenty more fish in the sea and you will find something that matches up to your expectations if only you look for it.
8. You’re the buyer, so don’t feel under pressure.
Both professional sales people and private vendors can be very good at putting pressure on you to make up your mind and buy the car they are selling. Everything from the old reliable ‘I have another buyer interested…’ to ‘I’m moving soon so really need to sell it…’ Rubbish. If the seller is that keen to sell, they can hang on while you make your mind up, and that’s as true of you taking an hour as it is of you taking a whole day to do so. Don’t be rushed, pressured or hassled and if you’re feeling any of those, refer to point 7 above.
9. Pick your moment.
The car market is a seasonal thing, and carefully choosing your moment to buy can have a dramatic effect on the value for money that you get. If you want to buy that two-seat convertible leave it until late October to do so. As the sun fades and the rain comes down ever harder, the value of such a car will fade, and you’ll have an extra few hundred Euro in your pocket when the sun comes back in the spring. Equally, don’t rush out to buy a 4x4 or SUV when heavy snow has just been forecast, do it when the sun is shining and everyone’s wearing shorts and shades. For those buying new, always leave your buying until the last sales day of the month — sales people and dealers are always struggling to hit their monthly or quarterly targets, and there are better bargains to be had then. If buying used, do so in late January (when people are trading in for the new number plate) or September (when returning hire car fleets drive down used values).
10. Enjoy it.
There are any number of surveys that tell us that buying a car is stressful, a hassle and hated by many. It doesn’t have to be this way. As long as you do your research beforehand, know your budget properly and have a carefully-worked-out idea of what car you want, and what alternatives there are, buying a car can still be fun and rewarding.