In today’s market, a consumer is spoiled for choice and buying a car can be a confusing and tiresome exercise. Recently, I was in the market for a new car and wanted to jot down the process that I went through to finalize my purchase.
I will be segregating this article into different sections, and depending upon your maturity level into the process, you can either go through the entire article, or jump to the relevant section that intrigues your interest. Sections are as follows:
1. How to start your car hunt
2. Selection by features
3. Selection by budget
4. Selection by after-sales support
5. Selection by resale value
How to start your car hunt
It is advisable to foresee your requirement of a car at least 3 months prior to purchase. The reason why this period is required, especially if you are a first-time buyer, is because once you come to the conclusion of buying a new car, you will be able to better observe yourself and judge your requirements, research prospective candidate cars better, plan your finances and most importantly, have room to negotiate for the best possible deal.
There are a couple of things that you must do irrespective of the aforementioned methodology you choose to buy the car of your choice:
1. Talk and visit multiple dealerships and take at least 2-3 test drives of the cars in your shortlist,
2. Make sure that the car you test drive is not having more than 5000 Kms. on its odometer. The more a test car has been driven, the less it will reflect the true potential of a new car of the same make and model.
3. Design your test drive in such a way that the path undertaken would include heavy and moderate traffic, include at least two red light junctures and at least one U-turn. The purpose of such a design is to test the acceleration of the car when starting from a stationary position at a red light, lane changing and handling capabilities, steering feedback and get a feel for the space required to turn the car around on a U-turn. Specifications are one thing but, driving dynamics of a car can only be felt when a car is actually driven.
4. Make sure that you are using the air conditioner (summer and/or winter) of the car at the setting of your choice and observe the blower noise levels.
5. If you like a quiet cabin, then observe the Noise-Vibration-Harshness (NVH) levels both when the car is idle and when being driven. Car at idle will give you an idea of the NVH levels introduced due to engine. Car while being driven, will give you an idea about the NVH levels due to engine, tires, head wind and cross wind.
6. Do play music while test driving the vehicle. It will give you an indication of the capabilities of the music system and the level to which it can suppress noise while the car is being driven.
7. Try to schedule test drives of different cars in your shortlist in a back-to-back fashion. That will project a better comparison of driving dynamics of different cars.
8. If you have an old car, never sell that car before buying the new one. If you are planning to exchange it in lieu of the new one, then handover your old car on the day of the delivery of the new one. Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, a car dealership may not deliver you your new car on the promised date and if you get rid of your old car before getting a new one, then you may suffer from limited mobility and increased travel expenditure and time investment.
9. When you talk with a dealership, express your interest to buy the car in a span of two-three weeks. This conveys to a dealer that you are serious about the purchase and they will try to give you the best possible deal.
10. There are three periods in any given calendar year, which are generally the best possible times to buy a car – the month of March which signifies the closing of the financial year, festive season of Dussehra and Diwali in India (will vary from country to country), and the month of December which signifies the closing of the calendar year. Car manufacturers give the best deals in these three periods. Car manufacturers in India generally increase prices of cars from January 1 of a new calendar year, so you may want to avail the discounts that are offered at the end of a calendar year.
Start with your functional requirements whether you require a hatchback, an entry level sub-compact sedan, a full sedan, utility vehicle like an SUV, a van or a pick-up truck. Since car is something that is generally kept for a minimum period of 3-5 years, try to project your requirements, which may not exist at present. For example: You may not be having a whole lot of parking space available at the time of car purchase, which may tilt your decision towards buying a compact hatchback, but a year into the future, you may be planning to purchase a new home with a dedicated garage. In such circumstances, it is better to buy a compact sedan, than a small hatchback, which you may feel out of place or inadequate once you move in into your new home.
Selection by features
Under this method of selecting a car, you can focus on the features that you must absolutely have and features that are nice to have.
Since you are reading this article, I would humbly request that you start with safety features first and then focus on anything else. Include as many safety features as possible, and then shortlist the cars that fit the bill. In my opinion, a car bought in 2019 should at least have the following safety features:
1. Antilock Braking System (ABS) (mandatory in India beginning April 1, 2019),
2. Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBS) (mandatory in India beginning April 1, 2019),
3. Driver (mandatory in India beginning April 1, 2019) and co-passenger side airbags,
4. Rear parking assist (mandatory in India beginning July 1, 2019),
5. Engine immobilizer with floating code (prevents someone from copying the cryptographic keys),
6. Central locking with audible and visible door ajar warning (car honks and blinks indicators in case any car door is not closed properly when locked from outside) and distress alarm (car honks continuously and blinks indicators to attracts attention),
7. Rear de-fogger (this is a safety feature, not a convenience as manufacturers project),
8. Rear washer and wiper (again a safety feature, not a convenience),
9. Child locks in rear doors,
10. Adjustable head restraints in front and back (This again is projected as a comfort feature but is a safety feature. Fixed head restraints are generally given in entry level hatchbacks and compact sedans as a cost cutting measure and due to their small size, may not prevent whiplash injury to driver and/or co-passenger(s),
11. Rear seats with ISOFIX mounts for child seats,
12. Speed dependant auto door locks,
13. Front and rear fog lamps,
14. Day and night Inside Rear-View Mirror (IRVM) (helps reduce the glare caused by headlights at high-beam of cars coming from behind at night),
15. At least one stability system like traction control system, hill assist, corner stability system etc. which can help in manoeuvrability in speedy or tricky situations,
16. A crash test rating of at least 3 (in reference to one of the established crash testing regimes like Global NCAP or Euro NCAP)
Please note that apart from the airbags and head restraints, all the aforementioned safety measures are active-preventive in nature i.e. they help you reduce the probability of a crash. Airbags, head restraints and the physical structure of a car are passive-preventive safety measures which help passengers survive a crash.
With safety features sorted out, focus on the creature comforts. I am listing a couple of them with some rationale:
1. Automatic temperature control air conditioning (it is expensive, but saves fuel by automatically switching off the aircon when desired temperature is reached),
2. Electric power steering (better than hydraulic, as it provides for a better feedback and does not present the probability of an oil leak),
3. Height adjustable driver seat (improves visibility for short drivers),
4. Tilt and height adjustable steering (improves handling and driving comfort for short drivers),
5. Dead paddle or driver footrest (saves ankle strain when driving for long stretches on highway),
6. Projector headlamps (helps better focus light beams, plus looks cool),
7. Electrically adjustable Outside Rear-View Mirrors (ORVM) (comfortable to use),
8. Steering mounted audio and phone controls (reduces distraction),
9. Speed dependant volume control (again reduces distraction and is thoughtful engineering),
10. Distance to empty in driver information display (helps plan re-fuelling),
11. Multiple drive modes like sports, city and economy (eco mode saves fuel when on highway),
12. Seats with lumbar support and side bolstering (this is better felt than read as a specification),
13. Touchscreen enabled in-car entertainment with navigation maps (screen should be capacitive and at least 7 inches in size (measured diagonally)),
14. Wired (via USB port(s)) and wireless fast charging for mobile phones both in front and at rear,
15. Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) (helps you maintain appropriate tyre pressure which results in better road grip, superior handling, better ride quality and minimum fuel consumption)
It is always a better idea to get as many factory-fitted features as possible as you get to enjoy the manufacturer’s warranty on those items, as against to a non-existent or hard to obtain on after-market solutions. In a lot of cases, you can also avail extended warranty on a lot of features that come in factory-fitted condition.
Selection by budget
This selection methodology warrants minimum explanation. One advise that bears mention here is that it is always a good idea to keep a maximum figure in mind and then keep a 5% margin on top of the maximum figure. This will help in case the manufacturer raises the price of the vehicle or you end up selecting a variant with higher specifications.
Also keep in mind that sometimes it is profitable to finance the car purchase, rather than pay up lump-sum from personal finances. This is pre-dominantly true in a vibrant economy where you can earn more money by investing and earning interest on your principal amount and take advantage of the low interest rates on car loans. However, it makes sense to buy a car with lump-sum money if you want to save the hassle of going through paper work required to take a car loan and once the loan is paid, to get the car transferred in your name.
Selection by after-sales support
Buying a car and getting after-sales service support for the car are two different experiences. A car may be solidly built and jam packed with features but can leave a sour taste if the after-sales support is sub-par. A lot of users want top notch hassle free after-sales support for their vehicle. Fundamentally this translates into a couple of things, not limited to:
1. They want to feel taken care of when they visit the service centre. They need the service advisor to listen to the problem(s) that are facing, accurately diagnose the problem and provide a quick and cheapest resolution. A customer wants to feel pampered, not necessarily with tea, muffins and croissants, but with a caring attitude from the service staff.
2. Fast turn-around time for service. Since the car a customer has given for service or repair may be the only car that he/she might be having, it is imperative, that he/she would want the vehicle as soon as possible. One thing to note here is that, even if the turn-around time cannot be measured in hours, even if it is a day or two, a customer would appreciate, if it is accurate and service is done with focus on quality.
3. Readily available spare parts is another factor that is critical in having a fulfilling experience in this dimension.
Rely on the feedback provided by other customers in this area. Even the best of the car manufacturers can deliver a sub-par after-sales support experience. Keep in mind that at the end of the day, you will be dealing with human beings in the service centre and they may be having a bad day. Give them at least two separate chances to serve you, and then decide for yourselves. In case you get a consistently bad experience from a service centre, change the service centre.
Selection by resale value
If you are the kind of person, who likes to change his/her car every few years (read 2-4 years), your decision may also get affected by the perceived resale value of the car in the market. Some cars, even though have everything better than their rivals, fetch poor resale value in the market owing to a negative perception. That perception may be due to lack of perceived reliability, cost of maintenance, lack of after-sales support service centres, or a combination of all the aforementioned factors. In such kind of circumstances, it is best to stay away from such a car and go with one which may be your second choice but would fetch your greater resale value.
If you intend to keep the car for as long as possible, then you can overlook this factor.
I hope this article gave you some insight in a succinct manner on what selection criterion you may use for your next car purchase. It is in no way exhaustive, but definitely will nudge you in the right direction.