To help new car buyers navigate the huge selection of vehicles available in the Australian market, the following ‘Buying a New Car Checklist’ provides helpful tips for buying a new car, what to look for and what questions to ask before making the final purchase decision.

Buying a New Car Checklist

  • Does it meet my needs?

  • What’s my budget?

  • How safe is it?

  • How to test drive?

  • What support is available after purchase?

1. Does it meet my needs?

The most important question to ask when considering buying a new car in Australia is "What is the vehicle’s primary purpose and which vehicle is best suited to meet that purpose?"

Is it merely transportation from point A to point B or is pride of ownership, driving for fun and enjoyment a more important consideration?

If you love nothing better than driving on winding country road with the feel of control of the car under your fingertips, look for features that are designed to enhance driving performance and control. Such as Symmetrical All Wheel Drive, suspension specifically tuned for vehicle handling and a responsive sports car engine.

When buying a new car, you should consider what type of driving will make up the majority of its use; city, country or highway, long or short distance, recreational or business. Whilst most vehicles can accommodate a range of uses and purposes if a particular method of use dominates, some models are more suited to specific purposes. If recreational use is important, will it be required to negotiate difficult rough road conditions? If so, see 'Crossover Vehicles And All-Road Driving' for more detailed information.

Will it be used for towing a caravan, boat or trailer and if so what is the weight of the trailer?

How important is cost of operation, fuel consumption and general maintenance? There are a whole range of modern technologies and engines that have been developed with an emphasis on environmental performance rather than sports performance or heavy load carrying.

Technologies such as 'Auto Stop Start' that automatically stops the engine when the vehicle is stationary in traffic then automatically restarts when the traffic moves again. Or Constantly Variable Transmissions (CVT) that always maintains the ideal gear ratio to help maintain the engine speed in its most efficient operating range. You might also like to consider a diesel engine that is particularly suited to long distance driving with great fuel consumption.

All of these options need to be carefully considered to determine if they meet your own particular needs.

Selecting the vehicle that best meets your own specific needs from the enormous range of choice available when buying a new car in Australia can be a very daunting task. Each model even within one specific brand has its own unique advantages and features that are designed to meet specific purposes/methods of use and it can be very difficult to know which is best suited to your own particular requirements.

The very important first task is therefore to make a list of what’s important to you and then spend quality time compiling a shopping short list of vehicles that best fit those needs.

2. What’s my budget?

Having compiled a short list, now comes crunch time; how much can you afford? Before coming up with the final number consider the value of any trade in vehicle you may have. You can research its value at any number of third party websites such as Redbook or CarsGuide and also check out the resale value of the brands you have on your shopping list. It could save you a lot of money next time round if you add a high resale value requirement to your option list. Remember though that trade-in values are lower than retail values and you may want to consider a private sale or keeping the old vehicle in the family.

Before buying a new car, research and consider all finance/leasing options and interest rates along with vehicle pricing so that you are best prepared to negotiate the best deal.

3. How safe is it?

Safety should be a given but not all vehicles are created equal, so how can we know the safest vehicle to protect our family and ourselves when buying a new car. There are three types of vehicle safety: driver assistance technologies, collision avoidance technologies and collision protection for occupants and pedestrians.

Fortunately in the case of collision protection the independent Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) helps us know which cars are the safest. ANCAP uses a star rating system to classify tested vehicles and provide a direct comparison of their relative occupant and pedestrian protection in a typical accident situation. As five stars is the highest level available, your final choice should naturally be a vehicle that has achieved an ANCAP 5-star rating.

Driver assistance technologies are about helping the driver to stay alert and to maintain concentration on the road ahead. Fatigue management, comfort, visibility, ergonomics, and more recently active driver alerts and even intervention are the types of features you should be looking for. Unfortunately, while ANCAP does list some of these technologies in its assessment of vehicle safety, there is not yet a comprehensive measurement and comparison of vehicle to vehicle safety in this area.

Vehicle ergonomics, comfort and visibility, can be best assessed by sitting in the drivers seat and test-driving the vehicle. It is very much an individual preference so take your time and make sure you feel comfortable, aware of your surroundings and confident in driving the vehicle. If possible, take the vehicle for an extended test drive to become accustomed to the vehicle and to some extent gauge longer driving comfort and fatigue.

When sitting in the drivers seat adjusted to your particular driving position, check that all controls fall readily to hand. Ensure that instruments are easily within line of sight to enable verification of correct vehicle operation without having to take ones eyes from the road.

Check for clear vision from all quarters - particularly when reversing. Rear vision cameras are now common in many vehicles and are indispensable in helping to avoid impact when reversing. More importantly, to help avoid running over previously unseen young children below window height playing in the driveway.

A hands-free Bluetooth® mobile phone facility that connects automatically with the vehicle’s audio/entertainment system is now essential for most buyers and will allow you to legally take calls while driving and will minimise distraction from the prevailing traffic conditions. Bluetooth® audio connection is also a worthwhile feature to assist in minimising fatigue and distraction on long trips.

Active driver assist technologies are a more recent innovation being offered by a number of vehicle manufacturers. Technologies, such as Subaru EyeSight® driver assist, provides a very worthwhile contribution to vehicle safety that is definitely worth including in your option list.

Collision avoidance is all about the degree of control the driver has over the vehicle, the ability to avoid an obstacle in the vehicle’s path and to keep the car safely on the road.

Unfortunately there is no specific measure and/or direct comparison of vehicle accident avoidance and controllability performance. The best assessment is an extended test drive to ensure you feel a high level of confidence and vehicle control. If you are not confident in doing this assessment seek help from a more experienced driver. Alternatively, motoring magazines and web sites provide comment on vehicle handling and stability in vehicle comparison tests/articles etc.

Fortunately, all new vehicles below 3.5 tonnes must now be fitted with Electronic Stability Control (ESC) as a legal requirement. However while each system must meet a minimum standard it is fair to say that all systems are not equal, with some more suited to the Australian environment than others. In this case, definitely seek the opinion of an expert as it is not safe to experiment with these systems on public roads.

4. How to test drive

While the first checkpoint of ensuring the vehicle meets your needs is important, the final test is actually experiencing the vehicle and confirming it really does meets your needs through an extended test drive.

All of the points listed in check point three above (i.e. How Safe is it?) concerning driver assist technologies and collision avoidance cannot be properly assessed in only a short test drive around the block!

Test the vehicle where you know the traffic conditions and you are familiar with the roads so that you can concentrate on the vehicle performance. Choose a route that will take in all types of traffic and road conditions. Take the time to fully evaluate all aspects of vehicle performance; you need to feel confident and satisfied with the way the vehicle performs as it will be too late once you have taken delivery.

While driving, try not to talk to those who may have accompanied you. Concentrate on the vehicle and the way it behaves on the road and responds to your commands. Concentrate on the way the car steers, goes around corners, accelerates and brakes, the ride comfort and any unusual noises or behaviours. Talk to the sales person about anything you are unsure of.

Programs such as ‘Subaru Drive It Your Way’ offers a number of test drive options to help you really get to know the vehicle and drive it your way. Please check with your local Subaru Retailer if they offer this service.

Both before and after the test drive, check that both you and your family are happy with the interior layout, accommodation and luggage space, body styling, conveniences and other options in the vehicle. You’re most likely planning to own the vehicle for several years so you need to ensure that you feel comfortable with the vehicle and that it really does meet your needs.

5. What support is available after the purchase?

Having taken delivery of your brand new vehicle, the last thing you’d want to happen should anything go wrong is to experience a lack of after sales support.

First and foremost, check out the brand’s reputation for reliability, its warranty and level of after sales support. Most brands have a specific section on their web sites that provide detailed information on ownership support such as Subaru's Owners Experience. Motoring organisation websites are also a good independent source of vehicle reputations and assessments such as NRMA.

Roadside assist is also a worthwhile feature to consider especially if you are not a member of any motoring organisation. The peace of mind that roadside assist provides is very worthwhile, not just for breakdowns (which one obviously does not expect in a new car), but help with flat tyres, running out of fuel, lost keys or in worst case being involved in an accident.

One last consideration is the vehicle’s reputation and data on vehicle theft. What special measures and options are offered to make your vehicle less susceptible to vehicle theft? Does it include items such as vehicle immobilisers, alarms and unique identification features?

An example of an effective security measure is DATADOTTDS®. DATADOTTDS® helps to uniquely identify your vehicle and its parts to make the vehicle less attractive to thieves because the car and its parts are traceable.

So that’s it! Follow the 'Buying a New Car Checklist' and be confident in knowing that you’ve made the right choice for your next car.

Happy buying.