The ultimate guide to buying your first car

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07 Mar 2019 by smartleasing

Buying your first car can be the realisation of a dream but it can also lead to less appetising real-world consequences. Cars can let us down and drain our finances, and the wrong one can make life one big hassle.

So how do you minimise the downsides and live the dream? If you’re buying your first car or helping a loved one make their decision, these are the questions to ask yourself (or them) before signing on the dotted line.

Does it fit with my lifestyle?

You might pine for that lusty two-seater but could you really live with its practical limitations? If it’s an imposing SUV or luxury sedan that appeals, would you be happy forking out potentially big bucks for its upkeep?

Think honestly about why you’re actually buying a car. Is it for city driving or will you be taking to the open road? Will you be playing taxi driver or lugging stuff around in the boot? Write your answers down.

These and other factors – where you park, what pets you have and even where you holiday – will help you make an honest assessment about whether you need something big or small, powerful or frugal, two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, hatch, sedan, wagon, SUV or ute.

Can I afford to run it?

Cars need to be registered, fuelled, serviced and insured and are often financed as well. That means regular cash outlays beyond what you slapped down when you bought it.

Different cars soak up dollars at different rates. It’s essential, then, that you determine a weekly motoring budget inclusive of these costs that’s realistic for you, and then see how your favoured contenders stack up. Some easy research – getting a quote from insurers, checking out annual car-running-cost surveys conducted by state motoring clubs such as the RACV, and some good old-fashioned googling – will give you an approximate answer.

How well will it protect me?

It’s a harsh fact that younger, inexperienced drivers are over-represented in crash statistics. It’s just as true that some cars are better than others at helping drivers avoid a crash or protecting occupants from trauma.

Regardless of budget or other factors, first-time drivers should aim for a car with stability control and head-protecting curtain airbags. Stability control has been mandatory since 2011 and curtain airbags, while not mandated, have universally been fitted for a similar time, and both potentially life-saving features are widely available across all segments and budget ranges of the used market.

More contemporary safety aids such as auto emergency braking are also becoming common – there are $5000 used cars with this feature, so it’s worth adding it to your wish list.

To find out how your preferred car’s safety stacks up, check out the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) website, which ranks vehicles with a star rating based on crash-test results and other factors.

Does it have skeletons in the closet?

Cars get stolen and resold or sold with security interests still attached from an unpaid debt. They can be declared written-off after an accident but appear again on the market. An online used-vehicle history check is the best way to ensure you don’t end up with one of these rogues. Simply go to www.ppsr.gov.au, punch in the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) or chassis number and you’ll find out if its history is clean.

Can I drive it?

Probationary drivers aren’t permitted to drive certain high-powered vehicles in some Australian states and territories. To find out if you’re actually allowed to drive your chosen vehicle, check with your relevant state road authority.