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Buying a car in eight easy steps

Practical Motoring logo Practical Motoring 18-08-2017 Paul Murrell

Buying a car can be a scary-exciting experience, so, take the sting out of it with our handy 8-step guide to buying a new car.

BUYING A NEW CAR is an exciting time, but there are traps and pitfalls for the unwary and ill-prepared. So, to help make it a little easier we've prepared an eight-step guide to making sure you don't get caught out when buying a new car. And, if you think we've missed something out, let us know by leaving a comment at the end of this story and we'll make sure we update the article.

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1. Know your rights. Buying through a dealer offers you legally binding consumer protection, so know what you are and are not entitled to. While Australia is yet to introduce a lemon law, you are still covered by normal consumer laws that require a product is fit for the purpose. However, if you buy an unsuitable car, or later change your mind, you have little legal comeback and it can be an expensive mistake.

2. Take a test drive. It’s amazing how many people are willing to buy a car without first test driving it. We’re all different, and no matter how many reviews you may have read (even on Practical Motoring!), or endorsements by owners, the only way to learn if a car is really right for you is to get behind the wheel and drive it. Don’t forget to get into the passenger seat and rear seat as well. Check out the boot space. Read the fuel consumption placard on the windscreen and ask yourself if you can live with the fuel costs (especially relevant with large SUVs).

3. Look into the service costs. More and more manufacturers are offering fixed price or capped price servicing. Understand the difference. Ask about the servicing costs over your likely ownership period, and make sure you understand what’s covered by the warranty and what isn’t and how long it is (three years/100,000km used to be the standard warranty but now many companies offer a much better warranty – Kia’s is still the standout at seven years and unlimited kilometres). Also, remember that non-dealer servicing can be considerably cheaper and won’t void your warranty, as long as the servicing is done according to the prescribed servicing schedule and uses genuine parts.

4. Stick to your budget. It’s very easy to get carried away when buying a new car, so set yourself a budget and stick to it. Remember that ticking options boxes can add a considerable sum to the purchase price. Don’t be swayed by the “it’ll only add a few dollars a month to the repayment” argument. Arrange your own finance, rather than settling for a finance deal offered by a dealer. Take into account all the costs of ownership, not just the purchase price (or monthly repayments). And don’t sign up for dealer packages such as paint protection, fabric protection, rust treatments or anything else they may try to load onto the deal – if you really must have any of these, it’s cheaper to buy it from an independent supplier once you take delivery.

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5. Don’t believe the price on the windscreen. Sales staff often have room for haggling, so go ahead and haggle for the best deal you can broker. At certain times of the year, you even hold something of an upper hand, so try and time your purchase before the end of the month, or even better the end of the financial year. If you are buying late in the year or early in the New Year, remember that the build date of the car will have an effect on resale, so push for a better deal on previous-year-plated cars (or those about to become so). Ask about dealer delivery and other on-road costs; these can often be negotiated, and many cars companies offer a driveaway deal (but check that it really is a bargain, and not just a come-on). Before you sign the contract, read it. And don’t succumb to pressure to sign immediately – few deals are so hot they can’t wait a few days or a week or so. You may wish to consider a demonstrator model. Often these cars haven’t actually done test drive duty so you can pick one up with zero miles on the odometer, but check when the warranty period commenced, and ensure that the car meets your needs.

6. Shop around. If you are buying a popular brand, play one dealer off against another. And remember that the internet makes it possible for you to shop well beyond your immediate vicinity.

7. Your trade-in is part of the deal. Know the value of the vehicle you are trading in, but be realistic. If the dealer won’t offer you a fair price for your trade-in, consider selling it privately (private sale prices are usually somewhere between the trade-in valuation and the price a dealer will ask for the vehicle).

8. Arrange insurance before taking delivery. Imagine how shattered you would be if your new car was written off on your way home. It would be considerably worse if you had neglected to arrange insurance beforehand.

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