Seven questions to ask before buying a new car

Couple walking into a car dealer

Tim Nicholson

Posted May 26, 2021

Buying a new car can be an overwhelming. Here’s what to consider before you commit.

For many of us, a new car is one of the biggest purchases we will make. And, with more than 60 car-makers operating in Australia, the choice can be overwhelming. In fact, there are more models available here than in the United States.  

There are many factors to consider when deciding on the best car to suit your needs and it’s all too easy to get swept up in the excitement of buying a car, particularly if it’s the first time you’ve bought brand new. So, before you commit, take a moment to consider these questions.

Seven questions to ask before buying a new car

How will I use the car? 

It may sound obvious, but before deciding on the right make and model for you, take the time to think through what you’re going to need from your new car. How often will you use it and what will you use it for? If, for example, your household needs a second car to run errands, a small runabout may fit the bill. If you have a growing family, you might consider a seven-seat SUV instead of a stylish European hatchback. If you love a road trip, pick a car with decent cargo space. If you have no intention of off-roading, do you really need the all-wheel-drive SUV, or will two-wheel drive suffice? If you really don’t like SUVs, don’t buy one – there are plenty of excellent passenger cars to choose from. Working out how you use a car will help whittle down your options to a shortlist.

Do I feel good when I’m driving this car? 

While it’s important to make sure the vehicle is fit for purpose, it’s equally important to choose a car you enjoy driving, particularly if you spend a lot of time behind the wheel. A car that engages you will make the commute or road trip much more pleasurable. The best way to determine that is with a test drive. Consider: does it have a comfortable ride? Is it quiet? Are the seats supportive? How does it handle? Work out what matters to you and make sure the car ticks those boxes.

How much should I spend? 

Once you’ve determined your budget, try to stick to it. Most manufacturer websites have configurators that allow you to ‘build’ your car online. This enables you to select your preferred variant, interior trim, engine, wheels, various options and servicing packages, and determine how much it will cost.

By law, manufacturers must provide a ‘drive away’ price that includes state-specific taxes, registration fees and the like. By doing your research online, you can then go into a dealership armed with the exact price of the car you want to buy. Sales staff will likely try to upsell more options or other bells and whistles, but stick to your guns. Do you really need that $1000 ambient interior lighting package? Don’t be afraid to haggle. Sales staff expect it. You might end up with a free set of floor mats.

Man taking keys for new car

How safe is the car? 

You should buy the safest car you can afford. Thankfully new cars are safer than ever, but some are safer than others. Check the ANCAP crash safety rating of the car – a detailed breakdown of the safety performance of all cars tested can be found on ANCAP’s website. While safety systems such as electronic stability control are now mandatory, crash-avoidance technology like autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is not. Make sure the vehicle is fitted with AEB and other active safety features including blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning systems.   

How fuel efficient is the car? 

Manufacturer websites list the official fuel economy and CO2 emissions figures of their models. You can also compare CO2 and fuel figures of different models via the government’s Green Vehicle Guide. There's an increasing number of low-emissions vehicles on the Australian market that use less petrol or none at all. Petrol-electric hybrids are efficient and reliable, and modern small-capacity turbocharged engines are more efficient than ever before. The appeal of electric vehicles is growing too, with improvements in EV driving ranges and increased public-charging infrastructure.

How much does it cost to run? 

Purchase price and fuel are the two most obvious costs associated with a new car. But as RACV’s annual Driving Your Dollars survey reveals, there are many other costs over the life of a car, including depreciation, on-road costs, loan repayments, insurance, servicing and tyres. Most manufacturers release servicing costs for each of their models and these can vary significantly between brands. And of course a car’s fuel efficiency will also affect the ongoing costs.

Is this particular make and model reliable? 

It’s difficult to get any clear idea of the reliability of recently launched, new-generation models. It can take months or even years for any faults to show up and product recalls to be announced. But if you’re buying a model that’s been on the market for some time, there are several online resources – including RACV’s used car reviews – that provide information on the reliability of that specific make and model. These days manufacturers are quick to roll out updates to models to address faults and other issues that might emerge.