Last year, shortly after I landed my first real office job, I decided to enter into the world of adulting and buy myself a car. I didn’t do it because I wanted a shiny new car (even though I love my shiny new car), but rather out of necessity, as my little 2-door Citroën had recently spluttered its last breath.
Heads up for anyone else in their 20s trying to buy their first car — It’s a shitty process, it will remind you of how broke you are, and it will suck up a LOT of your time. Luckily my dad is the best, and he and my mom helped me immensely during the process. I learned one or two things during my search, so I thought I’d help out anyone else in the same situation.
Find out how much your skedonk is worth
If you have a car you’d like to trade in, find out how much it’s worth. I didn’t do enough research and I was convinced that I could get around R20K – R25K for my old car, which I had planned on putting towards my deposit. In the end, it turned out that there were lots of little issues I hadn’t thought would be a problem, which brought the price down significantly. Eventually I managed to sell the car for R15K, but that R10K drop made a massive impact on the deposit I could afford.
Don’t skimp on the deposit
Put down the biggest deposit you can. Don’t just go for the minimum amount; put down as much as you possibly can for your deposit to lower your monthly repayments or your repayment period. And whenever possible, pay more than the minimum monthly repayment. This will, again, reduce your repayment period or your monthly instalments.
Do your homework
Decide on a model or brand you’d like and do your research. Find out what the resale value of your new car will be in a couple of years, because eventually, you’ll probably want to, or need to, upgrade again. If you don’t know how to check the resale value, most dealerships will be able to help you with an estimate, or you can request one online from places like webuycars.co.za. The other option is to just search for your make and model on a second hand car website and see what the average price is that they’re going for.
Shop for a bargain
Don’t buy a brand new car. Obviously, if you can afford it, you can buy whatever you want, but if you’re on a tight budget like me, it’s better to not buy a brand new car. If you don’t feel secure in buying a pre-owned car, I suggest looking at demo models. I ended up buying a demo model with about 15 000 kms on the clock, for much much cheaper than even some second hand cars I was looking at — and it looks and feels brand new! With demo- or floor models you even sometimes have the option of getting add-ons which you can’t do with second hand models.
Keep your eye on the prize
Speaking of add-ons, don’t get distracted by fancy tech. Yes, we’re living in the future and your car can keep your butt warm and toasty, or your car can play videos or teach you Spanish and whatnot, but do you really need it? If you’re buying your first car, chances are you’ll trade it in eventually, and unlike with your smartphone, it isn’t really possible to do so every two years to get the latest tech. So before you customise, think about whether you really need electric windows in the back seat, or whether you’ll ever actually use the seat warmers and sport mode, or whatever it is you think you need in the moment. Having a working aircon is always good, and electric windows if you can afford it, but don’t splurge on something you probably won’t use!
Think long term. Are you planning on having kids in the next five years or so? Then don’t get a two seater convertible. Do you only listen to podcasts when you’re driving? Then splurge for the bluetooth radio so that you don’t have to listen to talk show hosts all day. Another top tip I learned was to not let the salesmen get in your head. Sometimes they’ll try to sell you something by comparing it to the price of a cup of coffee a day, but don’t fall for it! Wherever possible, rework any numbers you’re given to what it will cost you per year. That R24 cup of coffee a day the salesman is talking about? That’s actually R8 760 a year — and if it’s worked into your payment plan, you’ll end up spending much more than even that.
Think about insurance
Do you want fancy rims or a custom paint job? Don’t just look at the price for the item, look at how this affects your insurance as well. If you’re under 25, your insurance will most likely already be through the roof, so it’s best to keep costs down wherever you can. I ended up buying a limited edition Polo CitiVivo which came with a custom paint job and special rims, and they increased my insurance by an exorbitant amount — something I only found out about after I signed the contract. Make sure you know how much your new car will actually cost you, including monthly repayments, insurance, petrol, services (if you don’t go for the service plan) and any other expenses you might have. If you can afford R5 000 a month, that doesn’t mean you can afford a car with R5 000/ month payments, because your insurance and petrol still stacks up on top of that.
Ask for help
If I didn’t have my dad with me to look at cars and help me make a decision, I probably would have fallen prey to every single misstep I just pointed out above. Firstly, the industry is still very much geared towards men, and lots of salesmen or dealers will try to take advantage of you if you’re young or a woman. And secondly, you need an outside perspective to keep you grounded. While I was distracted by the add-ons, my dad asked the real questions regarding mileage, resale value, and service history.