Your first wheels

I was a late starter when it came to driving and owning a car.

In fact, at 18, while most of my school-leaving friends were heading off to get their driver’s, I decided partying was a priority, so I chose to be the inebriated passenger. When I finally woke up out of my Black Label stupor, a whole decade had passed.

Eventually, I sobered up and bought my first car – a little green Honda Ballade with those cute flappy lights. I did everything you’re not supposed to. In my excitement about the colour, I forgot to ask for a service history, blindly trusting the good friend who I’d purchased my Ballade from. Big mistake.

For the next year, I spent double the money I’d paid on the car, at the mechanic, because it constantly showed the red oil light and broke down weekly. I learnt the hard way.

Whether you’re a late starter like me, a school-leaver or a postgrad starting a new job, here are some basic tips for buying your first vehicle, to help you from making the same mistakes as I did:

Establish a realistic budget if you are opting for finance. Consider all your costs, such as rent, food, petrol and insurance (and Happy Hour!), before coming up with a number you can afford. Visit a financing institution to get advice on the finance you qualify for.

. Be patient. Save up for as big a deposit as possible to make your instalments as low as possible and choose the shortest term for the loan.

. Beware of balloon payments, which will force you to pay a lump sum at the end of the contract period. This might require a new loan, starting the debt cycle all over again.

. Research; the internet’s an amazing tool. Visit car websites, and compare specs and pricing. There’s a wealth of info out there. Visit various dealerships and quiz the salespeople before you make your all-important decision. Avoid those where three-quarters of the staff are sitting down or standing at the entrance.

. Then ... get your groove on and take a test-drive. In fact, take a lot of test-drives to make absolutely sure you are happy with your purchase. Feel the seat height, steering wheel, outward visibility, instrument layout. Don’t be rushed into a five-minute spin around the block.

If you’re buying second-hand, remember:

. Always ask for the service history of the car.

. Spend a bit of cash and take it to an AA testing centre for a roadworthy assessment.

Most important, enjoy the journey and the ride.

The five best starter vehicles

Suzuki Swift 1.2 GL

Suzuki Swift 1.2 GL

This little powerhouse 1.2-litre manual is packed with awesome features such as ABS, four electric windows, USB/AUX inputs and front air bags. Fuel consumption is great at 5.7l/100km. It comes in as the best-priced in the pack.

Price: R145 900

Ford Figo 1.4 Trend

Ford Figo 1.4 Trend

This little head-turner comes standard with Bluetooth, plus CD/MP3/AUX,
air-con, front air bags and slightly higher but respectable fuel consumption of 6.6l/100km.

Price: R147 900

Toyota Yaris 1.0

Toyota Yaris 1.0

With its new 1.0-litre engine, fuel efficiency is brilliant at 5.1l/100km. It’s got front air bags, a leather steering wheel, air-con and CD/MP3/USB/AUX. Plus, it comes with trusty Toyota reliability, South Africa’s most successful manufacturer.

Price: R186 700

VW Polo Vivo Conceptline

VW Polo Vivo Conceptline

The Vivo is not the bestselling car in South Africa for nothing. It’s gorgeous both inside and out, and holds value brilliantly. It comes standard with ABS, EBD, driver and passenger air bags, air-con, power steering and good fuel consumption at 6.2l/100km.

Price: R163 850

Kia Picanto 1.0 LX

Kia Picanto 1.0 LX

This hip nipper has air-con, driver and passenger air bags, body-coloured door handles and mirrors, and radio/CD front loader with MP3/iPod/USB connection. Fuel efficiency is tops at just 5.0l/100km.

Price: R159 950


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