When it’s time to rev up a new set of wheels to transport your loved ones, it pays to think carefully, says Richard Holmes
That red-hot coupé with the booming sound system may have been good for wooing the love of your life, but now that you’ve got a family, you’ll probably want something with less bass and a few more seat belts.
Whether you’re driving the new baby home from the hospital or taking the kids on holiday, you’ll need a car that will get you all there and back safely.
Buying a family-wagon may not be as much of a rush as driving away in that first car, but that’s probably a good thing.
With a cool head, you can think carefully about exactly what you need from this mom’s (or dad’s) taxi and what you can afford.
The wish list
The first step is identifying why you want to buy a new family car. Are you replacing one that’s a little old and unsafe? Do you need more space? Should it have good clearance for those off-road camping holidays? Does your teenage daughter need a car to do her learner’s in? Is fuel efficiency a concern?
Identify all of the things that are important to you and make a list, with the must-haves at the top and nice-to-haves lower down. Yes, it’s OK to throw in a few ‘wants’. You’re going to spend a lot of time and money on this car after all, so you should get some enjoyment out of driving it.
Just don’t let the nice-to-haves get in the way of the non-negotiables.
Above all, don’t forget the safety features. Most modern cars come standard with ABS braking and air bags.
(ABS? It stands for anti-lock braking system, so when you stand on the brakes to avoid a pedestrian, your wheels won’t lock and send you into a skid.
It’s essential in a safe family car.)
That new-car smell
You also need to ask yourself an important question: ‘pre-owned or new’? It’s tempting to buy a car ‘out the box’, but the moment you drive it off the showroom floor you can say goodbye to at least 20 percent of its value. Is a shiny new car worth that much to you? ‘Remember that new cars often come with factory warranties valid for three or five years and/or a set number of kilometres,’ says Brad Philips, a Durban-based dealer. ‘This means that if there’s a major manufacturing defect the repairs will be covered, and your annual services are normally included for the period of the warranty too.’
That peace of mind can be tempting, but don’t forget that many pre-owned cars still fall under their factory warranties. For example, if you buy a three-year-old pre-owned car, you might still enjoy the last two years of a five-year warranty. And buying pre-owned generally means you can get more for your money.
‘Look at the sums, and you might be able to buy a better-equipped, more powerful version of the model you want by opting for a used model,’ suggests British car-buying guide What Car? ‘You might even be able to upgrade a whole class thanks to big second-hand savings.’ If you’re going to buy a pre-owned vehicle, you’ll need to decide if you want to purchase it from a dealer or from a private seller. Private sales are often more affordable, but you’ll need to navigate the minefield of roadworthy testing, licensing and registration. And, if something goes awry with the vehicle, you have less recourse than if you’d bought it through a dealer. Auctions are also an option if you have nerves of steel and a nose for a good deal.
Show me the money
Also give a thought to how you’ll be paying for your shiny new wheels. Saving up and paying cash is the best way forward, but not everyone can manage this. Otherwise, chat to your bank about financing options. Many dealers can assist here too. Remember though that interest can add a hefty chunk to the eventual cost of the car, and ensure you understand any residual payments or deferred instalments. If you can’t pay cash, but you own your home, drawing from your access bond is also a good way to borrow money, and you’ll pay a lower interest rate than on standard car financing.
Nuts and bolts
Once you know what you want, you can start looking. Trawling your local car dealerships can be effective, but don’t forget the internet. A number of extremely powerful websites let you browse cars for sale in your home town and across the country. Found the right car? Now it’s time to put on your bargaining hat. Remember that the ball is in your court, and although it may seem like the smooth-talking seller is in control, the power to purchase – or walk away – is yours.
Don’t be afraid to bargain down the price.
‘It’s always a good idea to negotiate for an “on-the-road” price,’ suggests Philips.
‘That will include the extra costs, such as licensing, roadworthy, fuel and administration. If the vehicle doesn’t have a full service history, you can also bargain for the dealer to include an AA check so you know the car is mechanically sound.’
Although insurance isn’t compulsory in South Africa, responsible drivers should have a policy to cover their own vehicle and third-party damage, in the event of an accident. And if your newly licensed son or daughter is likely to drive the car on a regular basis, check whether your insurer requires their name to be listed on the policy. Remember that drivers under the age of 25 pay higher insurance premiums though, so shop around for the best deal. You could also consider fitting a ‘behaviour monitoring’ device, as some insurers offer hefty discounts if they can watch how the vehicle is operated. Drive responsibly and you’ll pay less!
Sound like a lot of trouble? Maybe, but it’s worth ticking all the boxes to ensure a safe ride for you and your family.