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How to Buy A New Car In the UK

It doesn't matter if you're buying a city car or plain old hot rod, nothing matches the experience of driving a brand-new motor off the forecourt for the first time.

Every new car buyer needs to step back and make some key decisions before splashing out on a new motor. That's where this guide comes in.

What to buy

Sounds simple and you probably have a good idea of what car suits your needs, but consider this list to make sure the car of your dreams measures up.

How deep are your pockets?

You may be able to afford the sticker price, but what about insurance, running costs, depreciation and servicing. Ask about these and even speak to owners of the type of car you're considering to get the fuller picture. There's no point scraping to buy a Porsche if you can't afford drive it.

What do you need from the car?

Is it going to be a high mileage mule or pampered toy? Be honest with yourself and consider the sort of driving you do, how often you carry passengers and luggage. For example, an off-roader can double as an MPV, while small hatchbacks offer almost as much space as a full-size family car.

If you've got kids, can they all fit in the back in child seats or strapped in by a three-point seat belt? If in doubt, take them along, and if the salesman isn't happy there's always another dealer around the corner. Match the car to your lifestyle, not the other way around.

Shop around for finance before buying.

Loans, finance and insurance are all negotiable, and don't be railroaded by a sales person who sees the glint in your eye.

Study the options list. Air conditioning is a must, as is a CD player. These items make life more pleasurable for you and the car easier to sell on.

Colour me impressed.

If you can't live without a pink Mini, you'll be hard pushed to shift it when you come to sell. But silver with the right extras will have 'em queuing up. Blue is the most popular colour choice in the UK, followed by red and then silver. The more individual you make a new car, the fewer potential buyers you will have when you want to sell it later.

Where to buy

There are a surprising number of options when buying new. All have their advantages and drawbacks. Franchised dealers, or main dealers, are the most common place to buy a new car. Appointed by the manufacturer, they provide a one-stop shop for buying, servicing and repairs. Ease of use is the big draw, but bear in mind they work to tightly controlled targets and will resist dropping the price as much as possible.

Importing a car from abroad was seen as the way to beat Rip-off Britain a few years ago, but UK car prices have fallen into line with the rest of Europe. There are still savings to be had, but this is balanced out by the hassle of doing the paperwork in a foreign language and the risk that the car will not be to the UK spec.

A good way to avoid the pitfalls of importing is to use a broker. A broker charges a fee for arranging your new car purchase, but they are usually cheaper than franchised dealers. Check the small print, though, because you may have to collect the car yourself.

Buying a car online is now as simple as any other mouse-clicking purchase. Shop around, study the small print, and ask for referrals from satisfied customers. Your statutory rights are just the same as when buying from any dealer.

Car supermarkets may not offer the Bauhaus-inspired architecture of a franchised dealer's showroom, but they take the sting out of haggling. The price you see is the price you pay. These guys live by stacking 'em high, selling 'em a bit cheaper than a main dealer. The downside is there's little room for negotiation.

When to buy

September is the most popular month for new cars - a hangover from the old annual registration change.

Now car registrations change twice a year; it gives the canny buyer two chances for a discount. The reason is simple: dealers want to rid themselves of any old or pre-registered stock before the new reg arrives, which means 24 hours can make the difference between discount and disappointment.

But if you buy just before the latest registration mark arrives, your new car will still be regarded as six months older when you come to sell than your neighbour's with the newer reg.

If you can't wait until then, the end of the month is the best time to talk tough on new car. Dealers are keen to boost their monthly sales figures and this is the time they will be most generous.

Holiday times are another good bet for securing a deal. While the rest of the country is busy spending money elsewhere, July and August are quiet for car dealers, so make the most of it because they need your business. The same applies to January, when most people have a financial hangover from Christmas.

The test drive

Next comes the all-important test drive - and there's more to this than a simple spin around the block.

Follow these steps to make sure the car is as suitable for you as the salesman wants it to be.

STEP 1

Before you even park your posterior, a few checks are in order. Is your garage wide enough to accommodate the car you're looking at?

Also check that the boot is big enough for the pushchair/golf clubs/suitcases/booze? Sit in the back, too, especially if you intend to carry passengers on a regular basis.

STEP 2

Take the time to adjust the seat properly and get comfortable. The salesperson will be giving you the hard sell, but ignore then and check the main controls are within easy reach. Does it feel solid, and are there enough pockets to keep your sweets in? Does it have a drink holder for your two quid bottle of water. Does it have the latest iPod thingy to play your 10,000 Cds stored on your MP3 player.

STEP 3

When you're happy and comfortable, it's time to get going. Choose a test route that takes in the sorts of roads you will use the car on.

If you spend most of your life in treacle-like town traffic, is that heavy clutch going to leave you walking with a limp? Think about the way the car rides. You may enjoy rally handling, but if your local roads are full of potholes can you stand the firm set-up?

STEP 4

If you're a King or Queen of the motorway, go for a decent stretch on a multi-laner and listen out for a rumpus from the engine and any wind noise creeping into the cabin.

STEP 5

When you get back to the showroom, try out reverse gear and check out rear visibility. Also try out a three-point or u-turn - if you do lots of in-town driving, maneuverability is important.

STEP 6

Don't hurry, and aim to spend an hour driving the car.If all's well at the end, there's a final test, and that's finding out if you can get out of the car without the need of a the jaws of life. Levering yourself out of a low-slung sports car can put as much as pressure on the knees as lifting a fully-grown fat Briton.

Trading in

The time has come to say goodbye to the old motor. Its final faithful act is to help finance the next jewel in your driveway's crown, but do you risk tyre-kickers by selling privately or a lower, but hassle-free, trade-in from a dealer?

Follow these tips to get the best deal:

Depreciation is the biggest single cost of new car ownership, so getting the best deal offsets the cost of buying the next new one. The difference between what you paid for the car new and what you get when you sell is the amount of money you have lost in depreciation. The aim here is the make the gap as small as possible.

It's simple and cheap to advertise a car for sale privately, either in one of the many magazines or on the Internet. The upside is you will recoup more money selling the car yourself. The downside is you expose yourself to the great unwashed wanting to test drive your car.

If you choose to sell privately and agree a deal, make sure the money is resting in your bank account before handing over the keys and documents. Genuine buyers will be happy to agree to this. Really, don't give away the motor without the cheque clearing.

Another pitfall of selling privately is theft or damage. Check out potential buyers who are they say they are. Don't be shy about asking for identification and a hefty deposit while they test drive the car. Make sure either you're insured for them to drive the car or they are covered on their own insurance.

Private sale with an online auction.

This puts a definite time on when the car is sold and can make you more money than you initially thought. Or not. Describe the car honestly and you should have no comebacks.

Trade-ins are usually quick and simple.

The dealer appraises your car and offers a price based on condition and mileage. Shop around a few dealers because values can vary considerably.

Don't show your trade-in hand too early when negotiating the price of your new car. Wait until the dealer has made his best offer, then introduce the trade-in and use it as a further bargaining lever.

You can simply sell your car to a dealer, take the cash and do as you please with it. A dealer will be reluctant to take this route as they are not selling you another car and will have to spend money preparing your old motor to sell it on. This is a quick and painless way to sell, but expect a rock bottom price even lower than a trade-in value.

Picking up your new car

You've been calm and collected up to now, but hang in there for a few more minutes.

What could be worse than finding a fault with the object of your desire? Give the car a thorough check before driving off the forecourt and you can avoid this.

Check the paintwork is flawless, the bodywork perfect and the wheels ding-free. Get your fine-tooth comb out and run it through the interior.

It may be dull small print, but the Sale of Goods Act is on your side. If you find a problem with your new car, most dealers will fall over themselves to sort it out.

If a serious fault occurs, you have two weeks to reject the car and either ask for a replacement or your money back. You can do this if the car is not of ‘satisfactory quality’.

Put your complaint in writing to the dealer, explaining the problem in full. Be reasonable, but be firm and clear about what you want done to resolve the problem.

Car pick up day checklist

The big day has arrived but before you get all excited and drive off into the sunset, take some time to check over the car.

Here's a useful list to make sure you cover everything - be sure to alert the dealer if anything falls below standard:

Specification

  • Is the car exactly how you ordered?
  • Are all extras you ordered present?

Bodywork and Paint

  • Is the car the colour you ordered?
  • Is the bodywork free of any dents, ding or scratches?
  • Are the wheels spotless?
  • Are there any ripples in the paint?
  • Has the paint been touched in anywhere?
  • Is the paint the same consistent colour all over?
  • Are there any chips in the windscreen and other glass?

Vehicle Interior

  • Is the interior the colour you ordered?
  • Are there any oily smudges or dirty marks?
  • Are there any scuffs?
  • Do all of the buttons and controls work?
  • Is the stereo present and correct?
  • Are any floor mats you ordered present?

Mechanicals

  • Are there any noises from the engine?
  • What about gearbox, clutch, brakes and suspension?
  • Does the car drive like the dealer's demo car?
  • Any smoke from the exhaust?
  • Does the clutch take up smoothly?
  • Does the gear lever engage smoothly?

Engine

  • Is the exhaust smoke-free when the engine is warm? If not, there may be a problem
  • Is the coolant reservoir full of brightly coloured coolant? It should not be empty or brown. If not, are there any leaks that need further inspection?
  • Is there plenty of clean oil in the engine?

Test Drive

  • Does the car drive in a straight line when you loosen your grip on the wheel?
  • Is the steering accurate and free from play or judder?
  • Does the car pull away and brake easily without any noises or judder?

Paperwork

  • Double-check you are the first registered keeper.
  • Is the logbook and service book present and correct?
  • Do you have your insurance sorted?
  • Does the car have vehicle excise duty (road tax)?
  • Do you have copies of all paperwork?
  • Do you have a copy of the warranty?
  • Do you have a receipt as proof of purchase?