Choosing a car

After finding that elusive first job, the next step is to buy a car and a house. Here are a few pointers for buying a car:

What make?
As a rule, Japanese cars are best for reliability. You can never go wrong with a Toyota, Honda, Nissan or Lexus. However, car critics in this country love to label Japanese cars as "boring" which I never fully understood why. The main aim to own a car is to get from A to B and not worry about breaking down every now and then. Japanese cars offer this without any reservations.

Although all Japanese makes have prestige models, if you're looking for a "posh" badge, BMWs and Mercedes are sensible choices. Tough bodies, reliable engines and excellent craftsmanship make them a joy to drive and own.

Whatever you do stay clear of Saabs, Volvos, Fords, Vauxhalls, Citroens, Renaults etc. There is no doubt that these car manufacturers have considerably improved their cars in reliability and other departments, personally I don't think that these mostly European cars can rival the likes of Toyota, Honda, Nissan, BMW or Mercedes. The differences are more evident in older models i.e., cars more that 6 years old.

How old?
This really depends on how much you rely on your car and how much you want to spend. If you commute 10 miles or over to work and have no decent public transport to rely on, your car is an extremely valuable asset. So go for the best car you can afford (keep reading).

How much?
Again, it depends on your personal circumstances. Most importantly don't forget that you have to pay insurance as well so keep that in mind while deciding on a maximum amount you would pay for your car.

For light to medium use especially within cities, a £1000 Nissan Micra would happily do the job. This is the best car especially for low budgets and the post-1992 models (K11) have always been excellent.

For a medium budget, i.e., around £2-3000 a Nissan Almera, Primera or Toyota Avensis would be a good family car. 5-series BMWs can also be found in this price range and provided they have around 100,000 genuine miles supported by previous MOT certificates and Full Service History, they will prove to be a car you will easily fall in love with.

If your pocket allows you to spend up to £5000 you can get an extremely nice car that will not only look and feel good, it will keep you going for a few years without anything to worry about. This kind of money can buy you a 6 year old Mercedes or 7 year old BMW (probably over 100,000 miles on the clock but still plenty of life left); a purchase you will never regret. Just make sure to buy a clean car with genuine mileage and verifiable service history.

What to look for?
Car markets differ from country to country. While some factors are more important than the others in other countries, in the UK you must always make sure that you know at least the following about a car:

  • Vital statistics like number of doors, body type (hatchback, saloon or estate), engine type (diesel or petrol) and engine size.
  • For your peace of mind, ask for the number of previous owners, mileage, service history, and past MOTs.
  • Look at the body work for any visible signs of accidents or major body repairs. One way to look at this is to run a coin in the gaps between the doors and the body and note any changes in the width of the gap which suggest possible accident-repair(s).
    Body work is extremely expensive in the UK and an innocent looking dent can easily cost you over £1000 to repair. And if there is a small dent on a BMW or Mercedes, it is most probably not due to a minor accident - these cars don't get dented so easily.

Diesel, petrol or LPG?
Again depends on many factors and also on personal preference. Diesels give better miles per gallon, are less polluting and have more torque in each gear (meaning that you don't have to change gears very often). However, they can be quite noisy and sometimes expensive to repair.

Petrol-driven cars are slightly costly to run but are cheaper to buy in the first place. They are quieter as well than their diesel counterparts. So if you plan to keep your car for less than 3 years and are likely to drive no more than 10,000 miles every year, then probably a petrol-driven car will be a better option.

Some cars come with LPG (liquid petroleum gas) conversion. LPG is almost half the price of petrol and diesel and is supposedly better than both, petrol and diesel in giving emissions. However, it is less powerful than petrol and gives less miles per gallon. So you don't end up saving exactly half the amount of money as compared to petrol. The saving is, on average, 25 percent and there is an initial cost of conversion as well - between £800 and 1500.

Electrical cars are the babies of the market and Toyota Prius is the best example. I won't go into details but it is a highly sophisticated piece of machinery and a lot of engineering has gone into making this excellent car. Prices for used cars are still above £10,000 as the car itself was launched only a few years ago.

I cannot emphasise more on shopping around for a quote. When I took out my first insurance for a Nissan Micra, I was quoted £1000. A few quotes later I was happy to buy insurance for £424 with a price promise. However, a couple of days later KwikFit insured my car for only £220 and I mercilessly cancelled my other policy on the basis of their price promise.

All you have to do is open the Yellow Pages and ring each and every Free phone number for car insurers. This can easily take a full day but at the end will be worth it. Make a list (or spreadsheet) and note down the figures for Third party fire & theft (TPF&T) and Fully Comprehensive policies.

If you don't have the time and energy to repeat the same details 20 times (or more), just ring the AA, Churchill, KwikFit and Norwich Union. I have always found these companies to be quite competitive and they are big names as well, so there is less chance of things going wrong. Some websites also try to compare different insurers with the help of the details you provide but they have been found to be flawed at times.

Breakdown cover
There is nothing worse than your car giving up on a motorway. The blow is softened if you have a breakdown cover. The AA, Green Flag and RAC are the three major companies in this field and provide cover at roughly the same prices.

The most popular and best value-for-money cover is "Roadside and Recovery". In simple terms it means:

Roadside: they'll try to fix your car there and then.
Recovery: if your car can't be fixed, they will take you, your car and passengers to a place of your choice (a local garage, your destination or your home - whichever you prefer).

There are higher and lower levels of covers available. Do not go for the lower level (Roadside only) but you can opt for something like a Fully Comprehensive cover which might have the advantages of home start, hotel accommodation, replacement cars etc.

I would recommend buying your car, at least your first car for cash. If you want to borrow money, don't opt for a car finance deal unless it is offered at around 6 percent. There are millions of loans (well, at least hundreds) on the market and you must be able to borrow at approximately 6 percent per annum. Just like I explained on the mortgage page, watch out for clever clauses that might get you into trouble later.

Extremely important to keep you going trouble free forever. Personally, whenever I buy a used car I make sure to replace the engine oil, oil filter, air filter and plugs immediately. I also get the brakes, tyres and exhaust examined and replaced if required. Places such as National, Nationwide, KwikFit have suffered from bad mechanics. They not only wrongly tell you that all your brakes, tyres and the exhaust need replacing, they have the nerve to put used, or your own original parts back in your car and charge you in full.

Try to locate a local mechanic who has a good reputation and get the work done in front of you. Although this might annoy some, most mechanics will not object on you hanging around. Don't look at it like a waste of a few hours, you will have peace of mind at the end (and a better car as well).

Please ask me if you have any questions.