CHOOSING A CAR

Important Considerations

We look at safety, economy, comfort, running costs, emissions and fuel consumption and, of course, the extras that will make your driving experience even more enjoyable.

Before spending your hard-earned cash on a car, there are quite a few things worth taking into consideration to help make sure you end up with a model that fits your lifestyle, works with your budget and doesn't let you down. For instance, will you be using the car mostly to nip around town, or to make long motorway or highway journeys?

If it's for short trips, you'll probably be better off with a small car that's easy to park and easy on fuel.

If, on the other hand, you'll be making a lot of long journeys, a larger car with a more powerful engine would probably be more comfortable.

Comparing models

Safety is obviously important whatever you use the car for, so it's worth bearing this in mind when comparing models. Make sure the car you choose has a high rating from ANCAP, for new cars, or UCSR for used vehicles.

Reliability and running costs are also important factors.

Before settling on a model, you'd do well to check reputable car comparison sites to see which of the makes you are considering have the best reputation for reliability.

Automatic or manual?

You'll also need to decide whether to go for an automatic or manual gearbox. In most states, if you passed your test in an automatic, you'll be qualified to drive only automatics. If you passed in a manual, you'll be qualified to drive both.

Also ask yourself what purpose you'll be using the car for. Will you often have family or friends as passengers, and might they be elderly or very young? If so, then you need to think about accessibility and child restraints. Or will it mostly be your own personal run around? Will you be using it for work and if so, what features should you look for?

Lifestyle features

If you, or your family, enjoy an outdoors lifestyle, how much space will you need for sports gear, camping equipment and surfboards etc.?

Also consider how important a good sound system will be for you. These vary considerably in quality and capability, with some enabled to play music from a variety of devices, including iPods® and Bluetooth®[B5][G8] streaming. Others offer little more than a basic stereo system. So, if you like music played through a good quality system while you're on the road, it's worth carefully comparing what each model offers.

Work out what's important to you personally so that when you start looking at cars, you'll know which questions to ask and what features to look for to help you choose the car that's right for you.

Safety

This is always a key consideration, whether you are buying a car mostly for your own use only, or to transport your family or other passengers. Features such as crumple zones, stability control and anti-skid braking mean many modern cars are safer than ever. More advanced safety innovations are becoming more common, but they may come at a price.

New developments in safety include:

  • Blind spot monitors
  • Active cruise control[B4], which automatically adjusts the speed to maintain a safe and constant distance between you and the car in front
  • Reversing cameras
  • All of them help to prevent accidents happening in the first place[B4]
  • The Australian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP) carries out rigorous tests on new cars and they are continuously raising the standards expected from manufacturers.

    You can check which models have the best rating (5 Stars is best) here.

    For used cars, you can find UCSR (Used Car Safety Ratings) ratings here.

    As with ANCAP ratings, 5 stars is best.

Sustainability

Many car manufacturers are taking climate change concerns very seriously. Toyota is introducing more efficient work practices and new technologies, developing alternative engine systems, reducing waste and improving recycling. These efforts are all independently assessed and documented in the annual sustainability report.

Even if the environment is not a top of mind issue for you, it's worth taking sustainability into account when you buy. Reducing emissions is not only kinder to the environment, it can also be kinder to your wallet, as the more fuel-efficient the car, the less it will cost you at the petrol pump.

Modern engine technologies, such as Dual Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence, which helps improve performance and helps reduce fuel consumption, along with stronger, lighter frames and improved aerodynamics, all have a positive effect on performance. Together, they enable cars to extract ever more from each litre of petrol, while helping to lower emissions.

So it's a good idea to research manufacturers' websites to check the fuel-efficiency of the models you're interested in, as well as their performance on CO2 emissions.

Another environmentally responsible development to consider is Hybrid technology. This powers cars by combining an electric motor with an engine run on petrol or other fuel. Hybrids are highly fuel-efficient and in certain situations, such as stopped at the lights or moving in stop start traffic, some models effectively create zero emissions[G1] and use no fuel at all. These include those powered by Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive® technology. The most up to date Hybrid cars offer exceptional fuel-efficiency, along with powerful performance that rivals similar-sized petrol engine cars.

So whether you care about the environmental impact of your vehicle, performance or your bank balance, sustainability is an important factor to consider.

Reliability

Some makes have earned a reputation for reliability that sets them apart from the rest. And some models are well known for being inexpensive to service and maintain.

The best way to check on reliability is to visit car comparison sites and read expert reviews.

Some makes offer an extended warranty on new cars, which will protect you against the cost of breakdowns for one, two or three years after the factory warranty runs out[W4]. They cost more, but may be a good investment in the long term.

Some dealerships may offer warranties on used cars up to seven years old, but be sure to read the fine print so you know what the warranty actually covers.

Technology

Many modern cars offer technological features designed to improve the driver experience. These include:

  • Bluetooth®[B5] connectivity to enable you to access your phone's address book, make and receive hands-free mobile phone calls and receive and send text messages.
  • In some cases, Bluetooth®[B5] connectivity allows you to stream music from other Bluetooth®[B5] - enabled devices such as iPods® and iPhones®[G8]
  • Keyless entry systems. As long as you have the key fob on you somewhere, the car 'recognises' you and unlocks automatically when you grip the door handle.
  • Electrically adjusted driver seats, which 'remember' your settings and the position of your outside mirrors
  • Voice control. This allows you to operate technology with your voice, such as making phone calls and changing music tracks
  • Satellite navigation[N1] and traffic monitoring systems, which help you to find your way around

You can find out about current car technology here.

It's a good idea to look at what's available and then divide the features into 'wanted', 'nice, but not essential' and 'no thanks'. This will help refine your search.

Entertainment

Car sound systems these days offer a lot more than just a radio and a CD player. In some new models, you'll find complete entertainment and communication systems that:

  • Allow you to play music from a variety of sources - iPods® and iPads®[G8], MP3 players, USB[G10] sticks and Bluetooth®[B5] enabled devices.
  • Offer large touch screen displays on which you can even play DivX® video from USB devices (when the car is parked)
  • Include satellite navigation[N1] with 3D graphics and traffic avoidance systems
  • Pair with your mobile phone via Bluetooth®[B5] so that you can make and receive calls hands-free with caller's voices heard over the car sound system - so it's like having them in the car

So if the sound system is important to you, it's worth doing some research online to see exactly which models offer what.

Accessories

Manufacturers usually offer a range of accessories for their cars. These provide you with a way of either customising the vehicle's looks with extras such as:

  • Alloy wheels
  • Mudflaps
  • Seat covers

Or by adding practical functions such as:

  • Bike racks
  • Tow bars
  • Reversing cameras
  • Satellite navigation[N1]
  • Performance boosters such as spoilers or body skirts

Always check what accessories are included, as some extras will add to the price. Some accessories will also need to be factory-fitted, so it's best to decide early on which ones you want. Some accessories are available from motor supply outlets. But it is always advisable to buy manufacturer-approved accessories.

Engine

In principle, the larger the engine, the more powerful it is and the more fuel it will use.

So if you will be mainly using the car to nip around town and make short journeys, a large engine could be a bit of a waste. On the other hand if you will be doing a lot of highway driving or carrying heavy loads, a more powerful car could be more suitable. It will tend to be quieter, more comfortable and cope with the workload better. It's really a matter of weighing up your own circumstances and striking a sensible balance. It's also worth noting that these days, engine technology is so good that many smaller cars are very comfortable, even on longer journeys.

If you do go for a more powerful option, be aware that if you are a P-Plate driver, there are restrictions in some states on high performance cars and cars with modified engines. And in some states, if you passed your test in an automatic, you may need to restrict your search to cars with automatic transmission only. Check with the relevant roads and traffic authority in your state (such as the RMS, VicRoads, Transport SA, etc).

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