South Africa is a wonderful place to live, but given the wide-ranging effects of the VAT increase and consecutive hikes to the fuel price, consumers have to budget more carefully than ever before. What should you bear in mind when buying a car in these cash-strapped times?  

What is a vehicle buyer to do in such a tough economic climate? A car is considered one’s 2nd biggest financial commitment (after buying a home), so it is safe to say that you need to put a huge amount of thought into it before taking the plunge. It’s no longer a case of “I just want a new car,” it’s more about what you can afford that meets your requirements.

The first thing a buyer needs to do is understand what exactly is involved in buying a car. Unfortunately, more often than not when it comes to a buying a car, customers are driven by emotions, but in these trying times, you will need to leave vanity and brand loyalty at the door and “put your rational, responsible adult pants on”.

1. What’s your budget?

Budget for more than just a car’s asking price. Don’t try to work it out in your head, use a calculator and write down all the costs so that you’ll know how much you can afford to spend upfront and every month thereafter… keep in mind on-the-road-costs (registration, licencing, ‘plates), how much you’re likely to spend on fuel given the distances you travel (use vehicles’ claimed consumption figures to calculate it), insurance premiums, maintenance costs (such as services (if not included) and tyres) and any unforeseen costs that you might incur.

2. New or used?

Now that you have your budget in mind, you can decide whether a new or used car will be your best option. There are pros and cons to both so you need to do your homework first. The benefit of buying a new car is that you get the maximum extent of warranty and service/maintenance plan cover from a franchised dealer network and that your vehicle is (or should be) unblemished. However, even if you can secure trade-in assistance or a discount on a vehicle, new car prices are prohibitively expensive for some consumers. If you buy a used car, you are likely to make a significant saving because vehicles’ first buyers absorb the biggest knocks in value depreciation… However, a second-hand car purchase requires a prospective buyer to carefully check and consider a vehicle’s condition, including ownership- and after-sales histories, plus you may need to budget to bear maintenance and servicing costs sooner.

3. Be practical

This is where you will need to keep your emotions in check. Buy with your head and not your heart. You might have your eye on a sexy 2-seater sportscar or an older premium brand product, but does it make practical sense, even if you can afford it? Write down what your requirements are, like notable off-road ability, additional seating capacity or sizeable luggage space, and leave the “nice-to-haves” (such as 4 USB ports and 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system) off the list. Planning to buy a car is not all that different to preparing for a shopping trip: make a definitive list of what you need, make sure you get those things before you spend extra money on anything else and shop around to ensure you get the best price.

4. Keep an open mind

Perhaps you have owned a vehicle/s from Brand X only and, having had good ownership experiences with the car/s, are reluctant to change brands. Maybe you hold a steadfast belief that Brand Y is the most reliable manufacturer and you’re unwilling to consider a car made by any other brand. However, there are many manufacturers that offer great products at great deals with excellent warranties. You don’t have to compromise on safety or looks because if you do your homework, you will most certainly find a car that suits your image as well as your budget. A good barometer is the Consumer Awards, which recognises the best vehicles in 13 respective categories, backed by credible consumer input from the Cars.co.za Consumer Satisfaction Survey. which incorporates brand feedback from thousands of owners of vehicles that are less than 5 years old.

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