Ask the mechanic: Buying your first car, what should you look out for?

Ask the Mechanic

A big step towards feeling like an independent adult is buying your own car.

However, it's important to know what you're doing and what you're buying. There are plenty of cool-looking cars with great features, but which one is right for you? And how will you know that you're getting a good deal?

This buying guide is designed to help you get what you really want out of your first car purchase. When it comes to buying a car, you really want one you can rely on, we recommend a sensible balance between style, comfort, and reliability in your first car. It's easy to get sucked in by looks and gadgetry, but don't forget the basics.


What Car Should I Get?

To answer this question, consider how well the models in your price range meet your needs. How many people can they hold? How do they drive? How's the fuel economy? What safety features do they have? How much cargo can they hold?


Choose the car you need and can afford

Make a checklist of the things that are really important to you.

Don't underestimate the cost of car ownership. Besides buying the vehicle itself, make sure you're going to be able to afford the cost of your routine running and maintenance costs.

You can use hire purchase - a loan secured against the vehicle - meaning you don't own it until you've made the final payment. Some dealers may offer 0% interest on the instalment payments for certain models. Do your homework and only borrow within your means.


What are the safest cars for new drivers?

Generally, the newer the car the safer it is - both in terms of how well it protects you if you're involved in an accident, and the features it has to prevent you from getting into trouble in the first place.

Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Auto Emergency Braking (AEB) are all features to look out for if you're buying your first car.

Safety ratings are the best guide to finding a safer car, but they change their test regime and rating system every few years, so you can only really compare their star ratings between car models of a similar age. For example, a 4-star vehicle from 2015 is likely to be considerably safer than a 4-star vehicle from 2000.


Should you buy a new or used car?

When it comes to getting your first set of wheels, the main question is whether you should buy new or used?


Benefits of buying a used car:

· Less expensive to buy – used cars are cheaper than new cars of the same model.

· Someone else has likely already taken the depreciation hit - cars start to lose value as soon as they’re driven out of the showroom. And after 3 years on the road, a used car is worth around 60% less than its original price.

· No waiting for the car to be built and delivered.

· You can find a used car to suit any budget.


Benefits of buying a new car:

Warranties - you’ll have the reassurance of the manufacturer's warranty, which will cover the cost of any faults that may crop up in the first few years.

More finance options – you might be able to spread the cost over a period of time, making a new car more affordable.

You'll get the latest technology.

Peace of mind - you'll have no doubts about how the car's been driven or maintained by previous owners.

Specification - you can choose what you want in terms of paint colour, trim, seat fabric and optional extras.


Find a trustworthy seller

The next thing you'll need to do (especially if buying a used car) is decide whether to go with a dealer or a private seller.

Buying from a private seller could be cheaper but using a reputable car dealer is a safer way to buy a car. The key difference between dealer and private is the protection you get from the law when buying from a dealer. If anything goes wrong with your vehicle, you'll have fewer legal consumer rights with a private sale.


Test-Drive and Inspect the Car

You've decided on a car. Great! Now it's time to take a closer look. Arrange for a test drive with the dealer or private seller. Pay attention to how the car feels on the road and whether it has enough room for your family or cargo. If the vehicle is used, we recommend getting a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI) by a trusted mechanic before making the deal. This kind of inspection usually costs somewhere between $100 and $200. Finally, before going ahead with a purchase, you absolutely must:

· Check the vehicle's registration document (logbook).

· Check that details including VIN or engine number match those on the car.

· Check that the vehicle's handbook is present

· Confirm any warranty from the dealer.

· Get the full terms of the deal in writing.


That's It. You're Done!

Take the time to relax and drive. Enjoy your car. You've learned a lot, and you'll be that much more prepared for your next automotive transaction.


Nelson Xavier Ssenyange @NelsonSsenyange

Team Leader

Germax Auto Spares & Garage @GermaxASGarage


Every Tuesday, get answers to your questions about cars and auto maintenance. Send us an email at [email protected] or use the hashtag #NPAskTheMechanic to submit your question.

Reader's Comments


ask-the-mechanic By NP admin
5 days ago
What happens if you put too much oil in your car?
ask-the-mechanic By NP admin
2 weeks ago
What happens if you put too much oil in your car?
Pioneering performance:The inaugural Volkswagen Touareg
ask-the-mechanic By NP admin
1 month ago
Pioneering performance:The inaugural Volkswagen Touareg
Bad alternator vs bad car battery, know the difference 
ask-the-mechanic By NP admin
3 months ago
Bad alternator vs bad car battery, know the difference