Do your research
The first stage is to work out exactly what sort of car you’re in the market for ‒ there’s no point securing a cracking deal on a MINI if you need a car for a large family, for example. And that’s where your research comes in.
You can pick up all sorts of useful info about the cars that catch your eye from the reviews posted by big-name car publications, while it may also be worth booking in a test drive or two so that you really get a feel for the car and whether it is right for you.
Where did my money go?
It’s not just the comfort of the ride and the quality of the radio that you need to consider in that research though.
You will also need to do your homework on what the running costs of the car are likely to be.
After all, different cars will have different levels of fuel efficiency.
A good place to start is our regular run-through of the most and least fuel-efficient cars, based on real-life tests run by the experts at WhatCar?.
What’s a fair price?
Of more immediate concern though will be the initial purchase price though, and again doing some homework is crucial.
Don’t just expect to pay the RRP ‒ go through some of the big online car sites like AutoTrader and the national car dealerships, so that you get a handle on what really represents a fair price for your chosen motor.
Can I trust this car?
It’s worth doing some digging into its reliability record too; the last thing you want is to have to make regular trips to the garage to get bits and pieces fixed.
Thankfully here at loveMONEY we regularly update this guide to the most and least reliable cars around.
Another ongoing cost that you will need to take into account is the car insurance.
There are all sorts of factors that go into your car insurance costs, from your location to your history as a driver, but the car itself will also be an important component in your quote.
It’s worth running some tests on price comparison sites in advance so that you have a good idea of what your typical annual insurance bill is likely to be.
And remember that you will need to have that insurance in place before you can drive off with your new car.
Second hand vs new
A big consideration for any car buyer is whether to pick up their motor right off the factory line or go for a second-hand model.
There are plenty of selling points to buying new, not least the fact that you know you will have a decent-sized warranty in place to cover the cost of putting right any issues that crop up.
You also know that you are getting a car in the best possible quality, which isn’t hiding any nasty surprises that are the result of the previous owner.
But it’s worth remembering that cars depreciate in value by a vast amount the moment you drive them off the forecourt, and by going for a new model you are exposing yourself to losing some serious cash as a result.
By contrast, sticking with a second-hand model could mean you bag a serious bargain on a fantastic car.
How are you going to finance it?
Cars are not exactly cheap items to buy, at times costing tens of thousands of pounds.
As a result, you need to think carefully about precisely how you are going to cover that purchase cost.
If you don’t happen to have the cash sitting in your savings pot, then you are going to need to use some form of car finance and thankfully there are plenty of different options now, from personal contract purchases (PCPs) to hire purchase.
We’ve put together a comprehensive review of how the different models work, and what you need to consider before signing up for one, in Car finance: Personal Contract Purchase, hire purchase, contract hire and more compared.
Where should I buy my car?
Traditionally you may have gone straight to your local dealership when you wanted to buy a car but there are far more options open to you these days.
For example, there are now a host of different online dealerships, allowing you to pick up a new motor without having to leave your sofa, with your new set of wheels delivered straight to your door.
You might also want to check out the reselling sites, like Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace or even eBay.
Whichever route you choose, make sure you’re clear on your rights and what sort of protection is in place should things go wrong with your purchase.
What deal can you do for me?
Once you’ve picked out the right model for you, then it’s time to try to get the best possible deal on that motor.
And that means haggling over the list price, to see what sort of discount you can land.
Remember, these dealerships have targets to hit and don’t really want you to walk away if they know you’re serious about a purchase. Keep it polite but firm in driving the price down.
It may be that while the salesperson can only move so far on the actual purchase price, they can throw in a couple of extras in order to land the deal, such as breakdown cover or a free annual service.
Don’t let yourself get rushed into making a decision though, and feel free to walk away if the deal isn’t right.
What about leasing?
It’s also worth doing your homework on leasing rather than purchasing a car.
While you won’t own the car, it may be easier on your budgets to upgrade to a new car every couple of years, and you might even be able to significantly slash your costs by leasing through a salary sacrifice scheme.
Just make sure you go through the terms and conditions thoroughly as leasing deals can limit the miles you can cover each month and lead to punitive fees if there are any issues with the car when you return it.