Tips For Buying A Car

When buying a car, making an informed decision can make all the difference. From choosing the right model that fits your lifestyle to considering budget, financing, and insurance, the journey is more than just picking a shiny set of wheels. You want to make a choice that is both economically sound and ideally suited to your needs. 

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding Your Needs: Before purchasing a car, defining your budget, evaluating your family size, lifestyle, and travel patterns, and weighing the pros and cons of new vs used cars can guide your decision-making process.
  • Research: Comprehensive research, including reading reviews and understanding car specifications, is central to finding the right car for you.
  • Financial Considerations: Being aware of the purchase price, running costs, financing options, interest rates, and the implications of buying outright vs leasing can help you make a financially sound decision.
  • Finding the Right Car Dealer: Vetting car dealers and understanding the paperwork in South Africa can ensure a smooth purchase.

Understanding Your Needs

Define Your Budget

As a golden rule in car buying, your budget should be the starting point of your journey. Determine how much you can afford for the initial purchase and ongoing running costs like fuel, insurance, and maintenance. Take a holistic view of your finances and ensure your car expenses stay within your budget. Remember, the cost of a car isn’t just the sticker price. It includes monthly instalments for financing, fuel, maintenance, insurance, and other unexpected expenses. A general rule of thumb is that your car payment, including insurance and fuel, shouldn’t exceed 20% of your disposable income.

Establish Your Needs: Family Size, Lifestyle, and Travel Patterns

The next crucial aspect to consider is your lifestyle and the specific requirements you have for your car. Are you single, or do you have a family with children to cater for? Do you need a small car for city driving or a larger vehicle for long-distance travel? Are you a regular commuter, or do you use your car for occasional trips? All these questions will guide you towards the ideal type and size of the car. A clear understanding of your family size, lifestyle, and travel patterns can streamline your search and ensure you get a vehicle that truly fits your needs.

New vs Used: Pros and Cons

The debate of buying new versus used depends greatly on your personal circumstances. New cars come with the latest features, a manufacturer’s warranty, and the peace of mind of being the first owner. But all these benefits come with a higher price tag. On the other hand, used cars can be significantly cheaper, making them a great option if budget is a concern. However, there might be potential maintenance issues, and you’d probably have to compromise on features. It’s also worth considering that new cars depreciate faster, meaning they lose value quickly in the first few years. Therefore, the decision between new and used balances cost, features, peace of mind, and depreciation. Make sure to weigh these factors against your budget and needs to make the best choice for you.


Importance of Comprehensive Research

A comprehensive research approach enables you to gather all the necessary information, from vehicle specifications and prices to reviews and dealer reputation. By exploring different models, makes, and market prices, you gain a sense of what’s available within your budget. Also, clearly understanding the car’s history (in the case of used vehicles), mileage, fuel consumption, and maintenance requirements can help set expectations about future running costs. The more you know, the better equipped you are to make a smart buying decision.

Reading Reviews and Ratings: How and Where?

Product reviews and ratings are powerful tools for modern consumers. Websites such as AutoTrader,, and global platforms like Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book provide detailed reviews and ratings for a wide range of car models. You can find information about a car’s performance, reliability, safety, and even owner satisfaction ratings here. Remember, while reading reviews, look for recurring themes. If multiple reviews indicate a specific issue with a car model, that’s a signal worth paying attention to.

Financial Considerations

Understanding the Cost: Purchase Price vs Running Costs

The purchase price of a car is a one-time cost, but running costs are expenses you’ll incur throughout the vehicle’s life. These include fuel, maintenance, insurance, and potentially parking fees. While a car may have a tempting purchase price, high running costs could make it less economical over time. Thus, estimating the running costs for any vehicle you’re considering is wise. For instance, diesel cars usually have higher purchase prices than petrol cars, but their fuel efficiency could make them cheaper in the long run, especially for high-mileage drivers.

Financing Options in South Africa

When it comes to financing your car, South Africa offers various options, including banks, dealerships, and credit unions. Banks often have competitive interest rates and can pre-approve your loan before you go car shopping, giving you a clear budget. Dealerships, on the other hand, offer convenience as they handle all the paperwork right there and sometimes have promotional financing offers. Credit unions, though less common, can have lower rates for their members. Weigh the pros and cons of each financing option to choose the one that suits you best.

The Implications of Interest Rates and Loan Periods

Interest rates and loan periods significantly influence the total cost of your car. Lower interest rates mean less cost over the life of the loan, but these are often accompanied by shorter loan periods, which result in higher monthly payments. Longer loan periods lower your monthly payments, but you pay more interest. You risk being “upside down” on your loan, which means owing more than the car’s value. It’s essential to strike a balance that fits your monthly budget without unnecessarily inflating the total cost of your vehicle.

Buying Outright vs Leasing: What’s Best for You?

The decision between buying and leasing depends mainly on your lifestyle and financial situation. Buying a car, either outright or with a loan, means owning it once you’ve paid in full. It’s yours to modify, sell, or drive as much as you please. However, the initial costs are higher, and you’re responsible for maintenance once the warranty expires. Leasing, however, allows you to drive a new car every few years with lower monthly payments and a warranty cover. But, you never own the car, have mileage restrictions, and must keep it in good condition to avoid penalties. Consider your driving habits, desire for ownership, and financial flexibility to decide which option fits you better.

Finding the Right Car Dealer

Importance of Finding a Trustworthy Dealer

A trustworthy dealer is transparent about the car’s history, offers a fair price, provides excellent customer service, and is available for after-sales service and support. Buying from a reputable dealer means you’re less likely to encounter issues like undisclosed car faults or overpricing. This is particularly crucial when buying used cars, where hidden mechanical problems can result in high unexpected costs.

Tips for Vetting Car Dealers in South Africa

When looking for car dealers in South Africa, consider factors like reputation, customer service, pricing transparency, and after-sales service. Online reviews and ratings can provide valuable insights into other customers’ experiences. The Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) in South Africa offers a list of accredited dealers that adhere to a code of conduct, providing another layer of assurance. Additionally, referrals from friends and family can often lead you to dealers who have already been vetted and proven their reliability.

Understanding the Paperwork: What Should a Dealer Provide?

A dealer should provide several vital pieces of paperwork during the car sale process. These include the vehicle’s title, which proves ownership, and the Natis (National Traffic Information System) registration document in South Africa. The dealer should provide the owner’s manual and warranty information for new cars. A vehicle history report and a disclosure of any known faults or repairs are essential for used cars. If financing, ensure that the loan agreement clearly states the interest rate, loan term, and any fees. Thoroughly understanding and checking all the paperwork protects your interests and helps ensure a smooth transaction.

» Explore further: Fuel your understanding of the best ways to finance a car.

Visiting the Dealership

Best Practices for Your Dealership Visit

When you visit the dealership, come prepared. Bring your research, questions, driving license, and, if possible, a friend or family member for a second opinion. Avoid rushing your visit – take time to explore the car, ask questions, and negotiate. Be ready to walk away if the deal doesn’t feel right. An interesting tip is to schedule your visit towards the end of the month, when salespeople might be more willing to negotiate to meet their sales targets.

Negotiating the Price: Do’s and Don’ts

When negotiating the price, your research comes into play. Knowing the market value of the car gives you a strong starting point. Start the negotiation by offering a price lower than your maximum budget to leave room for negotiation. Be confident, and don’t feel pressured to accept the first offer. However, also be realistic about the price – a price too good to be true might mean compromises elsewhere, like service or vehicle quality. A successful negotiation is when you and the dealer reach a deal you’re both happy with.

Buying a Used Car: Extra Considerations

Importance of a Car’s History Report

A car’s history report is a comprehensive record of its life on the road and an essential resource when buying a used car. This report can reveal vital information such as previous accidents, service history, number of previous owners, and whether the car was ever reported stolen or salvaged. In South Africa, services like TransUnion’s Vehicle Verification Report and CarFax provide comprehensive vehicle history reports. This knowledge empowers you to make an informed decision or even be a negotiating point when discussing the price.

Getting a Pre-Purchase Inspection: Where and Why

A pre-purchase inspection by a trusted, independent mechanic is an added layer of security when buying a used car. While there may be a cost involved, it can save you considerable money and stress in the long run. This inspection can uncover hidden issues that might not be immediately apparent and aren’t listed in the history report, such as looming mechanical problems or repairs made after minor accidents. It’s advisable to get this inspection done at a neutral location, like a trusted mechanic’s workshop, to ensure an unbiased opinion.

Negotiating the Price of a Used Car

Negotiating the price of a used car follows similar principles as negotiating a new car, but the car’s history and condition play a more significant role. Use the information from the history report and the pre-purchase inspection to your advantage. Point out any issues or potential future repairs to argue for a lower price. However, remember that while getting a good price is a win, ensuring the car is reliable and suits your needs is the ultimate goal.

Online Buying: The Modern Alternative

Pros and Cons of Online Car Buying in South Africa

Online car buying comes with several benefits. It offers a vast selection of cars far beyond local dealerships, often at competitive prices. You can compare multiple options and prices without the pressure of a salesperson. However, there are also drawbacks to consider. The inability to physically inspect or test-drive the car before purchase is significant. There’s also a higher risk of scams or fraudulent listings online.

Safety Measures for Online Transactions

To mitigate risks when buying a car online:

  1. Ensure you’re dealing with a reputable website or seller.
  2. Check reviews and ratings, verify the seller’s contact details, and be wary of deals that seem too good to be true.
  3. Never share personal financial information online unless you’re on a secure payment platform.
  4. If possible, arrange for a pre-purchase inspection before finalising the deal.

Safe online shopping habits can help you avoid pitfalls and make the most of your online car-buying experience.

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Car Insurance

Understanding Car Insurance Options in South Africa

There are three main types of car insurance in South Africa: Comprehensive, Third Party, Fire and Theft (TPFT), and Third Party Only (TPO). Comprehensive is the most extensive, covering you for accidental damage, theft, hijacking, and damages to third-party property. TPFT covers you if your car is stolen, catches fire, or you cause damage to another person’s property. TPO only covers the third party’s damages if you’re at fault in an accident.

Importance of Comprehensive Coverage

While comprehensive insurance comes with higher premiums, it offers the most extensive protection. It covers not only damage to other cars or property but also accidental damage to your own car, theft, and even hijacking – risks that are unfortunately quite prevalent in South Africa. Comprehensive insurance can save you substantial expenses and peace of mind in case of unfortunate incidents.

Tips for Reducing Car Insurance Premiums

While car insurance is vital, it doesn’t need to break the bank. There are several strategies to reduce your premiums. Choosing a less attractive car to thieves, installing safety features, and parking in a secure location can help. Increasing your excess, the amount you pay when you make a claim can also lower your premiums. However, ensure it’s an amount you can comfortably afford. Bundling insurance policies with the same provider, keeping a clean driving record, and regularly reviewing and comparing your policy can also yield savings. Remember, the cheapest policy isn’t always the best – focus on getting value and adequate coverage for your unique needs.


The essence of smart car buying is patience and thoroughness. It’s about not rushing into a decision, exploring options, doing homework, and knowing when and how to negotiate. It’s also about future-proofing – thinking about insurance, maintenance, and even resale value. With these 12 tips, we hope you feel equipped and empowered to make the best decision when buying your car. After all, a car is more than just a vehicle – it’s a companion in your everyday journey, a symbol of your hard work, and for some, a lifelong dream. Happy car hunting!


What are some trusted car brands in South Africa?

South Africa boasts a diverse car market with many reputed brands. Among them, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Ford consistently rank high in terms of reliability and sales. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi are favoured for those desiring luxury, while Hyundai and Kia are often recommended for their cost-effectiveness and dependability.

How often should I service my car?

The frequency of car servicing depends mainly on your car model and usage. Generally, it’s advisable to service your car every 10,000 to 15,000 kilometres or at least once a year, whichever comes first. Always refer to your vehicle’s service manual for specific guidelines, as some newer models can run longer between services.

What should I look for in a car insurance policy?

When choosing a car insurance policy, look for coverage that fits your specific needs. This includes considering comprehensive coverages that protect against theft, damage, and third-party liability. You should also consider factors like the cost of premiums, the insurer’s claim process, the policy’s deductibles, and any extras or benefits offered.

Can I buy a car in South Africa as a foreigner?

Yes, foreigners can buy a car in South Africa. However, the process might require additional documentation, like proof of residence, a valid international driving permit, and your foreign driver’s licence. You’ll also need to consider how to finance the vehicle, as some banks may not provide loans to non-residents.

How do I transfer car ownership in South Africa?

Transferring car ownership in South Africa involves a series of steps. Firstly, a “Notification of Change of Ownership” form must be completed by both the previous and new owners and submitted to the local traffic department. The new owner must also pay the required licensing fees. It’s crucial that outstanding traffic fines or licensing fees don’t burden the car, as this can hinder the process.

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