Buying a car is a commitment. You will spend a lot of money on it, be with it for at least a few years and use it on a daily basis, so a wrong choice can be a pretty big issue. You need a car that you can afford to buy and maintain, one that you don’t hate to drive and one that meets your practical needs.
Members of our team here at Vin’s deal with different brands and models on a daily basis, so even when we are not at work, our friends and family look for advice on buying that one perfect car.
If there is anything we have learned from that, it is that the one perfect car does not exist. Different people have different needs and preferences, different passion for the car industry and, of course, different budgets.
The best any expert can do is tell you about the things you should consider, potential traps, reliability trends, technologies used and their actual importance, hidden costs and similar. This way you cross out some cars to make a shortlist and make an informed final choice with confidence.
So let’s get to it.
1. Your Budget
We all know cars in Singapore are expensive as is, but always make sure you have some money on the side. This doesn’t have to be much, especially having in mind that you are buying a new car with a warranty, but there are things that can go wrong, especially for a novice driver.
Similarly, make sure you check how much the car actually costs. Some dishonest sellers will leave hidden costs for you and bundle various in-house discounts in the advertised price to lure buyers when in fact they come with a catch. Also, you see a car and its price, you love the wheels, but when you go to the seller, it turns out that the wheels cost extra.
Lastly, make sure you buy within your means. Buying a car is not the only expense. We know of an example here that includes a close friend of one of our colleagues who bought a very cool and very expensive luxury SUV on a loan that he, in reality, could just barely afford to pay the monthly instalments for. All was fine until a while later when the massively expensive air suspension failed and the choice between paying the instalment of having it fixed was presented to him.
Even if you can afford to buy a certain car on a stretch, this does not mean it is actually within your means. Make sure you have at least a bit of reserve.
2. Car Brands
One of the biggest problems that non-car people are met with when buying a car is that they think they have hundreds of options to choose from. That makes them feel overwhelmed. However, statistics show that most people buy cars from a limited number of brands.
For those with deeper pockets, a few more exotic European models are a very popular choice.
However, most buyers will opt for Japanese cars which offer the perfect blend of modern features, value for money and stylish design. In the past decade two South Korean manufacturers, Kia and Hyundai have made huge leaps in quality and became viable competitors to the Japanese mainstays.
Similarly, do not get hooked to one brand alone. Despite huge globalisation of the car market, there are still significant differences between models from different brands.
For example, if you think you need an MPV and you like Toyota, you should know that some smaller Honda models have the wonderful Magic Seat feature that makes MPVs virtually unnecessary for the people who use them to transport bulky objects.
3. Car Type
Many people make the mistake of looking for the added practicality that they do not actually need. For example, it does look enticing to have the option of 7 seats like the Toyota Noah Hybrid, but if you are a family with three members, you surely do not really need the extra seats or boot space. Or what is the purpose of a huge, off-road capable SUV when you mostly drive in the city?
If you accept that a family hatchback suits your needs perfectly, some more enticing cars may start being within your budget. Maybe you can actually afford the lovely new Mercedes-Benz A Class with a powerful engine, great brand image, loads of features and the best luxury interior in its class instead of a 7-seat MPV, or an expensive SUV that you don’t really need.
Make sure you buy the type of car that you actually need and you may save enough money to treat yourself with a model that goes well above the average for the class.
Different trim levels bring different safety and comfort features for the same model. If you have a list of features that you consider a must, see if there is a higher trim level of a cheaper vehicle that includes them all and save a lot of money.
5. Petrol vs Hybrid
This is a pretty unfair question, but one often asked. Some hybrids are made primarily to improve fuel efficiency, some to give a bit of extra zest for acceleration thanks to the instantly available torque and some for downright lightning-fast performance. Some of them are awesome for short city runs, but useless for longer trips due to their small batteries.
All these things mean that you should reach your fuel-related decision in the same way you make your car type decision. Consider what you actually need, shortlist the models and see what powerplant options are on offer among them.
Simply buying a hybrid when your driving cycle results in mostly driving it on petrol is pointless. Aside from missing out on the fuel savings you expected, when the motor is not in use, you also mostly have a gutless Atkinson cycle petrol engine without the help of the electric motor. Similarly, simply buying a petrol car for performance means you are overlooking a high number of hybrid models with more power from the electric motor and that wonderfully linear and powerful push from the instant torque of the motor.
Simply dividing the choice between petrol and hybrid is not good enough.
6. Authorised Dealer (AD) vs Parallel Importer (PI)
It is important to note that licensed parallel importers are completely legal and you can actually save a lot of money by buying from them. On the other hand, you may have less of a choice regarding equipment and the warranty may differ. Let’s take a closer look.
On the other hand, ADs should have a more reliable servicing and warranty, as well as more readily available stock. The extra thousands of dollars can be considered as the peace of mind. Also, parts are more readily available and there is usually only one entity to deal with – the actual dealer.
However, it is very important to note that a reliable, licensed PI that has been in the market for a while now should offer a similar peace of mind without the extra costs. Some of them have their own servicing departments much like an AD would and their longevity and consistency in brands and models also means that replacement parts should not be a problem.
Having in mind that for some models this can be the difference measured in tens of thousands of dollars, a good PI may be your entrance into a more luxurious automotive tier with the same budget.
7. Time of Purchase
After you shortlist a few brands and models, you should follow their prices for a while. Even though holiday discounts and promotions may seem enticing, they usually come after an increase in prices that makes the new offer look a lot better than it actually is.
Moreover, bear in mind that COE bidding closes every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month. A few days before this, most dealers who bundle in COE into the price will raise the price a bit to protect themselves against potential COE price increases.
Lastly, shortlist the cars that have been on offer for a while. Completely new cars command higher prices initially, even if they do not have higher value objectively. Moreover, they may carry some new technologies whose reliability has not been proven yet.
8. Test Drive
This point can be a separate article altogether, there is so much to say. However, we will include some general points here.
New cars should not have any problems with worn parts or bad maintenance, but there are some things to extract from a test drive.
First, take a seat and see if you can find a good driving position. Most people ask for reach and rake adjustments to the steering wheel, but when you have the right position you are unlikely to change it. Even if the car does not have these settings, but you find a comfortable position behind the wheel, you are good to go.
Secondly, drive in a few different styles.
Most of the test drive should be in the way you usually drive. For most people, this will be somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 revs, acceleration from there, ease of power buildup for overtaking and manoeuvrability in spaces where you usually drive such as your local supermarket or car park.
Try the turning circle and rear visibility. Make sure you feel confident with its rearview mirrors. If the car is automatic, it should shift relatively seamlessly, without any judders and it should not let the car stay too long in high revs or drown it in too low ones. If it is a CVT, which many hybrids are, it has a completely different mode of operation and the only thing you should pay attention to is if it is responsive and comfortable.
However, you should also test the car in driving conditions that you do not usually spend time in. For example, try the brakes slowly to see where they start ‘biting’, but also hit them hard once to see how the car behaves and how controlled it is in those conditions. You will not drive like this generally, but you should know how it behaves in case you need to brake suddenly to prevent an accident. The same goes for handling.