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10 Things You Need to do Before You Buy a Car

Moneymagpie Team 12th Dec 2023 No Comments

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Without a doubt, buying a car is likely to be one of the most significant purchases of your life. 

As with everything else in this life, doing a bit of preparation before diving in will make the process much easier and smoother. 

We all know the familiar situation where we’ve been caught off guard by something only to get home and think, “I wish I did so and so instead of what I did”. 

That’s why we’ve put together this handy checklist. Read through, arm yourself with some knowledge and we’re convinced you’ll conquer the dealership forecourt! 

  1. Diesel or Petrol? 
  2. Know how much you can afford to pay
  3. Decide if you want to use finance to pay for your car
  4. Determine what you’ll use the car for mostly
  5. Choose where to buy
  6. Know what to check for when you see the car 
  7. Know how to check the car’s history
  8. Get insurance and tax before you drive it away for the first time
  9. Speak to others
  10. Practice your negotiation skills 

1. Diesel or Petrol?

It might seem silly, but deciding about this crucial aspect of car ownership before you buy can make a huge difference. 

Diesel cars give you more power for your revs. They are much better suited to towing and longer journeys (they feel much better driving on motorways, for example). 

Petrol cars are much better suited for day-to-day driving over short distances. They tend to be pricier on the fuel economy (averaging at about 50mpg compared to the 70mpg of diesel). Petrol cars are almost always a bit cheaper to buy, though. 

2. Know how much you can afford to pay

We’re living in challenging times. 

Never before has fuel, tax, insurance and general upkeep been so expensive. 

Taking your time to budget, thinking particularly about the additional costs a new car will bring, will give you confidence when buying. You won’t be lost, and you’ll immediately know what is within your budget and not waste time with cars outside that budget. 

Of course, if cash flow is tight, options are still available. 

3. Decide if you want to use finance to pay for your car

Given the rising inflation rate and the difficulty people have making ends meet, paying for a car upfront isn’t always an option. 

Many people are turning to car finance to own their dream car. It makes sense from many points of view. Car finance allows you to: 

  • Spread the cost of a car over months/years. 
  • Build up your credit rating with regular repayments 
  • Own the car you want without having all the budget upfront 

4. Determine what you’ll use the car for mostly

    Us humans are emotional beings. We don’t like making rational decisions and, more often than not, are easily persuaded by shiny! 

    There’s nothing wrong with that. We’re humans, too, after all. Thinking about what you use a car for will impact your purchase. As mentioned, the vehicle you buy will go on any road, but some cars are better suited to different driving styles. 

    For example, do you only really drive at the weekend on day trips? Perhaps you’re after something leisurely and pleasant to drive that looks and sounds great. 

    Another example, are you more likely to be commuting for 30 mins each way mon-fri? If so, you’ll only need something small and reliable. 

    Making a list of the driving you’ll mostly be doing will help so much down the road. 

    5. Choose where to buy

    There’s a vast chasm between buying a second-hand car from a stranger on their driveway and buying a new car direct from the showroom. 

    Making the decision beforehand will be a huge confidence boost and help you pinpoint your dream car much quicker. 

    Buying from dealerships and showrooms is always a safer bet, but you can often get much better prices buying directly from a previous owner (if second-hand is your preference). 

    6. Know what to check for when you see the car 

    Write down a list of things you want to check when you first see the car in person. 

    When you’re there at the dealership (or on the driveway etc.), you’ll likely be so caught up in the moment that it would be easy to forget all the checks you need to do. Arriving with a checklist in hand is a crucial step. 

    Here are some helpful tips 

    • Sit in the driver’s seat – does it feel comfortable? 
    • How easy is it to get in and out of the car as a driver and passenger? 
    • Take it for a test drive. 
    • Does it feel different on A and B roads? Anything stands out to you about the experience?
    • Try an emergency stop (when it’s safe to do so). How was it? 
    • Does the engine run as expected? How does it sound when revving? 
    • How does the car handle roundabouts and tight bends? 
    • When back with the seller, give the car a visual inspection too. 
    • Does it look good? 
    • Any dents, blemishes etc.? 
    • Does the interior look and smell good? Is it clean? 
    • How does the dashboard look – happy with the display? What about in different lighting scenarios? 
    • How does the tech work? 

    Don’t buy until you’re confident this is the right car for you. 

    7. Know how to check the car’s history

    Trust us on this one; we’ve heard absolute horror stories about people buying a used car. Cars that have previously been written off, vehicles with poor service history, cars that repeatedly fail the annual M.O.T. We’ve seen it all before. 

    Knowing some tools, you can use to check a car’s history beforehand can save so much heartache. 

    Here’s a starter for ten: 

    1. Check the Car’s MOT history online by performing an MOT check
    2. Ask to see the logbook – check the car make and model match the documents. 
    3. Use a service like Motorscan to check data held on the car.

    8. Get insurance and tax before you drive it away for the first time 

    How awful would it be if you drove your new car off the forecourt only to be blue lighted a mile or two later and fined! 

    Make sure you’re paid up on insurance and tax before you drive the car away to avoid that kind of nasty surprise! 

    It may sound silly, but it gets overlooked all the time. 

    9. Speak to others 

    It’s incredible how few people do this. 

    Buying a car is one of the most significant purchases you’re likely to make in your life. Chat to people you trust about your plans before you buy. 

    Trusted input from friends can spell the difference between success and disaster. They may be able to help you think through the right seller or offer advice and give you opportunities to learn from their experiences. 

    The world needs more conversations, so make sure you have a few before buying a car! 

    10. Practice your negotiation skills 

    No car salesperson worth their salt will turn down a bit of haggling. 

    However, making an offensively low offer or going full-on with the haggle can be damaging! 

    Arm yourself with the knowledge of how much cars similar to the one you want are going for. Notice and articulate any issues you find on the inspection. All this can help you either knock down the cost or gain added extras for free. 

    Could you get a cheeky full petrol tank thrown in, for example? 

    We’re so excited for you; buying a car is a big deal! Make lots of notes now to save time, stress and energy later. Good luck. 

    Disclaimer: MoneyMagpie is not a licensed financial advisor and therefore information found here including opinions, commentary, suggestions or strategies are for informational, entertainment or educational purposes only. This should not be considered as financial advice. Anyone thinking of investing should conduct their own due diligence.

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    Jasmine Birtles

    Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

    Jasmine Birtles

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