Buying a car is a big moment, even if you’ve owned a few before. Few things are as exciting and sometimes as fraught with angst as buying a car, especially as a first time car buyer, but you can avoid common pitfalls with a bit of common sense. Never forget that you’re the buyer, you’re the customer, and it’s never appropriate to rush customers or give them anything less than great service.
That might sound a bit idealistic, but a careless or gruff attitude on the part of the seller can often extrapolate into the realities of what you’re buying. Sellers might moan about the hassle you’re putting them through or make light of issues you raise.
Be polite but firm, and don’t accept anything other than a welcoming attitude towards your enquiry, as well as a willingness on the part of the seller to accommodate your inspection and appraisal of the sale car. Keep a level head and go slow when buying a car. Never mind what other people think, this is your baby and you can handle it well if you avoid these common errors.
Mistake #1 - Accepting minor repairs that could mask major repairs
If something just won’t fit back on or won’t stop rattling, there’s probably a reason worth investigating. Picking up the expense for a “minor little thing” that turns into a whole interrelated mess is never fun. If there’s a logical reason why a minor component isn’t correctly affixed, fine, but just know that “bits and pieces” can indicate previous work (or accidents) on the car and, if they haven’t been replaced, how good was the job as a whole? And if a dealership or even private seller undertakes to repair all you’ve highlighted, remember that it’s probably going to get done at their pace and on their terms.
Small items don’t have to scupper the sale, but think a little around why something isn’t in place, or performing as it should. Feel free to call your mechanic mate and confirm how big of an issue it is. Don’t forget that unfortunately many people selling cars are selling on problems they don’t want to fix. It’s acceptable as a business decision, but not when they’re dishonest about things with you. Satisfy yourself as to why one wheel’s hub is off or the steering wheel face feels loose.
Related: Buying / selling a car under SA consumer legislation
Mistake #2 - Not doing your homework
The kind of homework where you’re deciding on exactly what type of car to buy. It’s a rough one, as who wouldn’t want a rugged new Ford Ranger to cruise into town every day? But if you’re actually looking for a small hatch for town driving, that also has the ability to tour across country, stick to your initial desires. Knowing even roughly what kind of car you’re after as a first time car buyer is a huge help. Also, you need to do a little bit of research on the brand you’re eyeing. There’s no Volvo dealer in Kimberley, for example, so certain servicing and other requirements might be completely impractical for you in your city.
You might drift into SUVs or drift into sports cars, but at least you’ll do it consciously, thinking the implications through every step of the way, if you start out with a clear idea of why you need the car and therefore what kind you’re after.
Know what you’re after and your options in that echelon before you look at everything for sale. You might realise that instead of a late model Volkswagen Polo, you can get a slightly older but still decent SUV for the same monthly premium? Great. If it doesn’t thwart your original needs of the car or mess up your future fuel and service budgeting, go for it. But rather than shopping by price range, rather look at type first, and then, if it appeals, you might want to look across the price range to see your other options.
Related: Guide To Buying A Car Privately In SA
Mistake #3 - Financing an unaffordable car
Buying a car, like certain other purchases, can be a strange experience. In that moment when you’re signing off and taking possession of your new car, scary financial realities you’ll face in meeting monthly premiums or service and repair costs can seem sufficiently distant to become invalid. Of course, we all want the next model up. Who wouldn’t want a slightly faster or sexier version? If you’re buying a car outright, all good, but if you’re looking for finance, the monthly instalment, insurance costs as well as servicing costs need to be carefully researched and added to the monthly bill. If you’re left thinking “Mmmmm I’ll make it somehow,” that’s a good indication that you’re overreaching on the total monthly costs. Opting for a balloon payment structure on finance isn’t a solution either, as balloon payments come with serious downsides. Affordability encompasses the purchase price, the ongoing maintenance and policy costs, as well as those intermittent service and tyre costs that crop up every year.
As we repeatedly state here, the happiest motorists are those driving with the maximum peace of mind. That’s more than counting airbags or other safety features. It’s very much also a sense of contentment knowing that this car won’t suddenly break you financially. Or try to do it subtly every month end. When you compare the guy who still wishes he can upgrade to that sexy BMW he saw, but is OK for now in his Volkswagen Jetta, to the guy that did buy that Beemer and now so badly wishes he had rather not, you can see the reality in stark detail. One problem is wistful and manageable - you wish one day to upgrade.
The other problem is scary and not manageable, as there’s only so much money available at month end. Many people imagine they’ll skimp on other things and shuffle the budget a bit to afford buying up a little more. That almost never happens, however, as denying ourselves seems extremely unpalatable.
Related: Know the real servicing costs when buying a used car
Mistake #4 - Skipping the test drive
Ever bought a 5-speed car that only gave you four gears once out on the highway? Or perhaps you’ve only become aware of a car’s habit of cutting out when it gets hot, once you’ve come home with it? We’ve encountered that time and again. So make no mistake, this has become the savvy buyer’s mantra: never skimp on the test drive.
If a seller seems flustered and acts as though you’re wasting their time asking for a decent test drive, you’re being bullied. For hidden reasons or not, you’re being denied an absolutely essential aspect of the deal when buying a car and, especially as a first time buyer, that’s not ok.
Go drive, and make sure you work your way repeatedly through all gears - including reverse - and have both high-speed and idling situations to evaluate the car’s performance. If a seller doesn’t want to facilitate a test drive, you cannot buy that car. It’s completely unreasonable that you would not be allowed to evaluate a sale car for it’s principal function - driving you around - and you should walk away from anyone who doesn’t get it. They’re probably lining you up for a sucker punch.
Related: Selling a car privately? What to keep in mind for test drives
Mistake #5 - Not getting a multipoint inspection and roadworthy test on a used car
When this is such an essential appraisal of any used car, it’s uncanny that many still brush it off as something they can “do later,” if at all. This is usually the stance of petrolheads who feel that they’re so up on cars, they don’t need some tecchie in a yard telling them what they can see for themselves. That kind of bravado might be OK for some, but guaranteed they will be the same sellers trying to move a lemon on occasion, simply because they didn’t take the time to do a multipoint check and roadworthy. This applies to a car bought at a dealership or from a private seller. As a first time car buyer, you need to know that just because you might be unfamiliar with the process, doesn’t mean that you’re being silly checking any used car to the maximum possible.
And time it takes - make no mistake - there’s no sugar coating of it. It’s often a pain and when a sale car looks great and the seller seems great, it can all seem so silly and unnecessary. But it’s a fact that this is precisely the window that scammers reach through to take your money for a lousy car. If you’re going to have nasty surprises after the purchase, it’s definitely going to be because you skipped either the test drive or the comprehensive testing. Don’t do it to yourself. Losing a half day at a testing station is nothing compared to sitting with a lemon that is now a complete liability in your life.
The multipoint check will cover all aspects of the car’s overall soundness, including running diagnostics on the car. The bodywork, engine and gearbox are some of the things covered in a mulltipoint check. A roadworthy test evaluates how the car performs on the road, checking on safety and other motoring aspects covered by law. Things like the seats and seatbelts, the lights, hooter, wipers and overall functionality of the car is vetted by a roadworthy test.
Related: What is a multipoint check and why do you need it?
Related: What is a “roadworthy” test and why do you need it?
Mistake #6 - Not negotiating the bank finance offer, if you’re financing
Never forget that bank figures are almost never final. Every business tries for top dollar, but very often there are better interest rates available to those with the chutzpah to dig their heels in a little. Almost every finance house will try to convince you that theirs is the best offer around. The truth remains that the best offers really come down to rands and cents for consumers. Remember that dealerships can only organise finance through banks where they have a code, an association. Many big dealerships can shop around for finance - thus allowing you to be shopping around - but as many have only two or three options on the books. Don’t forget that you can also kick off a DIY financing arrangement through Wesbank, and employ their private finance offer as it suits you, assuming you meet their limited criteria.
There are no really compelling reasons to entertain a more expensive financing arrangement, and any honest evaluation of financing offers has to come down to the bottom line. Don’t be afraid if a financer calls it and sticks on a figure. Tell them you’ll come back to them and shop around a little. If that’s genuinely the best you’re going to get, all good.
Then choose the service provider you feel the most affinity for. But it’s as likely that in shopping around, you’ll find better offers, and they can make even formerly inflexible financers sharpen their pencils at time. Compound interest is an accumulative killer, when it compounds to amounts higher than you can afford. Getting the best rates at the outset is a huge consideration for long-term contentment.
Related: Guide to Private Car Finance in South Africa
Mistake #7 - Not doing a vehicle history and accident check with Wheel Index
Do you really ever want to be the innocent third party involved in a stolen vehicle recovery? Or, do you want to figure out that you ended up paying around R10,000 more than you could have on your last car purchase? With savvy industry aids like our vehicle value tool and vehicle history check, there’s no reason not to arm yourself with essential information. Using our vehicle history tool gives you the registration, any criminal, accident and even servicing history, where applicable, of any used car you’re eyeing. It also comes with watertight current market values to guide you clearly on price so that you can know whether you’re on average, pitching a little high or seemingly getting a bargain.
Hot tip: Investigate bargain used cars with twice the diligence you would any other!
Get a fair market value and a clean bill of health on any car you’re looking at as a standard practice. Not only will this help you evaluate the car on offer, it will also frame your entire motoring experience going forward, as you’re armed with all available intel on the car and have also gauged what a fair insurance cost should be, based on the car’s value. Doing an annual report will allow you to keep tabs on insurance premiums and other expenses.
Related: The #1 reason you should check a used car’s accident history
Mistake #8 - Not looking at all the options on vehicle insurance and extended warranties
There’s often a kind of “Don’t worry - we’ll sort it!” attitude on the part of brokers talking to you about the cost of an extended vehicle warranty. Of course, if you’re buying a new car, you’ll enjoy a new car warranty and will only have to look at insurance costs. But that friendly attitude, as honest and legitimate as it can be, is not the last word. Ask for a cup of coffee and a moment, and sit and read through any motoring warranty’s details. You’ll want to know what is covered and for how much. Look at key items - a turbo on the car you”re fancying might cost R45K but only be covered for R15K in a warranty. It’s time consuming, but take that time and read every detail of any warranty or other policy to determine exactly how it applies to your car.
When a salesman is assuring you that you can’t do better on warranty or insurance costs, make sure they can demonstrate it. Shop around - or ask them for multiple quotes - to get a good average range in which you can see what insurance and an extended motoring warranty might cost you. Be a pain - go for it - and go back and forth as many times as you need to in order to be convinced that you’re making an informed decision. Car expenses - like house expenses - really have an ability to impact on our lives. So investigate many options, and be a picky consumer until you’re satisfied.
Related: The 3 Best Extended Motor Warranties For South African Car Owners
Mistake #9 - Glossing over inconsistent paperwork
A single missing form or a single discrepancy across paperwork should halt the deal right there and then until it’s resolved. Never, ever accept conflicting paperwork, because some of it is probably false or fabricated somehow. The Natis certificate of any car needs to be consistent and unadulterated. The VIN number needs to be consistent across the car, and you’ll need to be clear about who the registered owner or title holder is, as this can sometimes differ, based on the registered owner’s personal dealings. In other words, although not registered as the owner, someone may well have title to the car. Check all paperwork to satisfy yourself that so-and-so is entitled to sell the car without encumberances, that the car being sold is correctly described in all of the paperwork, and that there are zero discrepancies in accompanying paperwork or payment routes. The short route? Get a VIN number check with our thorough vehicle history tool.
The paperwork of a car deal needs to repeat the same details and say the right things. The seller should be able to provide you with absolutely all needed paperwork to render the transaction legal and binding. Never accept “missing bits” that you cannot subsequently account for before the law, as then it will be your mess to resolve. There’s a real possibility in this country that you’ll encounter stolen cars for sale.
Make sure you pass those over by being an absolute stickler on correct paperwork. A car with incomplete papers is a car you cannot buy. Never sign or hand over cash on the “promise” of paperwork either. It’s there and correct or there’s no deal.
Related: Red Flags That Should Prompt a Police Check on a Sale Car
Mistake #10 - Not asking for a discount!
Great news! Always ask for a discount when buying a car, especially a new one, as you have nothing to lose. A used car dealership will likely not easily give a discount on their retail price, but can shave off some rands when it comes to on the road costs and other aspects of the deal. New Vehicles are highly “discountable,” and you can save up to R90 000 off a new vehicle purchase at times, depending on what you’re buying. It’s not a money-grubbing or otherwise shameful attitude - it’s modern life! Ask for a discount repeatedly or on various items, including the sale price, and you might score yourself a deal that would never have manifested if you hadn’t simply asked. If you’re nervous as a first time car buyer, make a joke! Say something like “Ok so this car is less 50 right?” You’ve introduced the topic, and can then roll on with “Jokes aside, can I get a discount on this car’s sale price/the peripheral stuff, as I’m over budget now?”
Just like we seldom walk into the first house on sale and snap it up without seeing anything else, so too should you exercise a bit of zen when car shopping as a first time car buyer. Somewhere inside all of us is the kid who can’t wait for the fish tank to be set up, and wants it done now! That’s human, but try to accept that buying a car is very often a process, and the only person whose interests you’re safeguarding by having the patience to shop well is you. Slow down a little in the process and you’ll often speed up. Issues will become clearer because you’re unflustered, comparisons will become easier, and the whole experience will be that much better.
Related: 5 Tips on Buying a Used Car Outside Your City
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