New car checklist

Shopping for a new car but don't know what to look for? We've rounded up all the important things you need to consider

Sam Naylor
Sep 28, 2021

Buying a car is a big decision. It’s pretty likely to be the second most expensive thing you ever purchase, and that’s doubly true if you’re choosing to get a new car rather than a used one. So, you need to go in prepared if you want to make sure the decision is a good one - which is why we’ve put together this handy checklist of things to think about in the process of buying your next car.

Our new car checklist covers everything from the first steps of thinking about getting a new car up to the moment you drive off in your shiny new motor. We’ve split it up under sub-headings to make it really easy to follow, with a brief description of each so you are fully prepared.

Buying a car is both exciting and nerve-wracking for many of us, but you can make the process so much easier by being prepared with a checklist like this. Keep reading for all the information you need to choose your next car.

New car checklist

Know your budget

The most important thing before you consider buying a new car is to know how much money you can spend. Without a budget, your choices are endless - you need to narrow down how much you want to spend before you can work out which cars are available to you.

Your budget could be a total figure, if you’re buying cash - £30,000 is enough for plenty of excellent new cars, £20,000 gets you a decent small hatchback, while £10,000 is only enough for the smallest and most basic new cars. However, not many of us even have £10,000 sitting around, which is why car finance is so popular.

What you need to know with car finance is how much you can afford to pay now as a finance deposit - a few thousand pounds is typical - and then how much you can pay each month over the length of the contract.

We'll go into more detail on car finance later, as it's important to work out which type works best for you. You'll also need to think about whether you want to own the car at the end of the contract. With some types of finance you automatically own the car once the last monthly payment has been made, while with others you have to make a large final payment if you want to take ownership, and other options don't give you the choice to buy the car at all.

Choosing a car

You might have a feeling for exactly which car you want already, but it's always helpful to have a few ideas to work with - what if the model you love the look of turns out to be too expensive or if there isn't the right combination of engine and specification for you?

Think about what you need your next car for. If it’s for family duties, a spacious model like a family hatchback or medium SUV might be what you need. If it’s for commuting on the motorway, you probably want a comfortable car with good fuel economy. If you live in a rural area you might want a model with four-wheel-drive.

Once you know the type of car you want, look online for reviews on this kind of car. There are endless sites with all the information you need to make a decision - including BuyaCar buyers' guides - and once you have a couple of models in mind, you can start to think about which specific version to get.

Choosing an engine and gearbox

Now it’s time to think about whether you want a petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric car. There are pros and cons to all of these, so think about the type of driving you do and which fuel type would best suit this usage.

Electric cars are expensive when new and many have a limited range per charge - you can expect most new models to be capable of more than 150 miles per charge, with more expensive models capable of up to 300 miles or so per charge. Electric cars work best for short trips and city life - as they have no tailpipe emissions and so are free from emissions-based taxes and charges.

Hybrid cars work well in the city too - combining petrol or diesel and electric power - but they also can deliver good fuel economy and are comfortable in traffic anywhere, plus you can add fuel to the tank to cover the longest journey without being caught short. They’re a good stepping-stone to electric motoring.

Plug-in hybrids, meanwhile, offer the prospect of around 30 miles or electric range on a full charge, with the backup of a petrol or diesel engine. On paper they offer the ability to complete urban journeys on electric power - provided you remember to charge regularly - and can cover long journeys if you top up the petrol or diesel tank on route.

However, with the weight and expense of both a conventional engine, an electric motor and batteries, they can be expensive, not as environmentally friendly as electric cars and no more usable than cheaper petrol or diesel alternatives.

Petrol cars are good for all-round use - they’re better in town than diesels - and more likely to avoid the increasing number of urban emissions-based car charges - but are cheaper than hybrids and good for long trips. They’re quieter and smoother than diesels but not as economical on the motorway.

Diesels are great for high fuel economy on the motorway, so a lot of long-distance commuters choose them - but they’re not so good for cities and towns, as many urban areas are introducing taxes and charges for diesel cars, as diesel models emit more of some pollutants than other fuel types.

As for manual or automatic gearboxes, the choice is usually limited to automatic-only with electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid models. Automatics are also being fitted as standard to an increasing number of petrol and diesel cars, too.

So, unless you’re after a sports car or a cheaper hatchback model, you may not even have the choice of a manual gearbox, as high-end cars are all automatic these days. Where manual gearboxes are available, these versions are cheaper and can be more economical - particularly in the case of small cars - than automatic versions, so are often a good choice.

Choosing optional extras

Buying a new car means you can choose exactly which options you want. Using the manufacturers’ configurators online is a good way to find out which options you want and you can even build a car to your precise specification and send it to a dealer.

Remember that adding a lot of options tend to raise the price by quite a bit, even on finance, because the extra cost increases the amount of money you're borrowing. Adding a lot of options isn’t cost-effective so always stick to the ones you really want and avoid any you’re on the fence about. It's typically better to choose a car with all the kit you want included, rather than getting a cheaper version and adding thousands in extras, so get quotes for both to see which works out cheaper, if you're in this situation.

Things like bold colours and unusual wheels can make the car harder to sell on, which is worth thinking about if you're paying cash, or going for a finance option where you own the car at the end of the contract, so be wary of these. If you're planning to buy the car and keep it for decades, however, getting all the exact equipment you're after makes sense.

Other costs

There are way more costs associated with a car than just what you pay to purchase one. Fuel economy is a big one if you do a lot of miles, as the weekly fill-ups can start to hurt your wallet if you choose a car that burns through lots of fuel. Use a fuel economy calculator to work out a monthly fuel cost based upon any potential purchase's mpg figure, if you're concerned about fuel costs.

Electric cars are free to tax, but all other cars attract Vehicle Excise Duty (VED, or road tax) which is a cost you’ll have to keep an eye on. Cars over £40,000 have to pay more, too, so bear this in mind.

Then there’s car insurance, which can be huge if you’re a young driver or looking to get a particularly high-value or fast car - get quotes on any potential car before you even consider getting one. There's nothing more stressful than being stuck with a car that you can't afford to insure.

How much to pay

It can sound strange, knowing what to pay - surely the price is the price with a new car? That’s not always the case, though. There are now loads of online broker sites that offer new cars at reduced prices, so you can look for the car you’ve chosen and see how much different dealers are selling it for.

Even if you still buy from a local dealer, you can go in with the evidence that other dealers are charging less and use this to get a discount. Another way to get a practically new car for far less than the list price, is to consider pre-registered car deals. These are cars that have been registered by a dealer to help them hit sales targets - so you'd be counted as the second owner if you bought one - but are essentially new.

Types of car finance

Click on the buttons below to read more about PCP finance, Hire Purchase and PCH leasing, so you can be sure you know which option works best for you. If you’re going into a finance or leasing agreement, you need to make sure you are fully aware of every small detail - as you're signing a legally binding contract - and knowing what you’re looking at is a big part of that.

Don’t worry - it’s not as complicated as it looks. Hire Purchase involves an initial deposit - though in some cases you may not need to pay anything upfront - followed by a series of monthly payments. Once you've made the last instalment, the car is yours to keep; you can continue driving it, sell it or trade it in. Hire Purchase is a good option if you want to own the car at the end of the contract for the lowest overall cost and are happy paying higher monthly payments than you would with PCP finance or car leasing.

Meanwhile, PCP finance includes a deposit - though again, you can choose not to pay anything upfront in some cases - followed by a series of monthly payments. At the end of the contract you have a choice; you can make the large pre-agreed optional final payment to buy the car, you can hand it back to the finance company with nothing more to pay (provided you haven't exceeded the pre-agreed mileage limit or caused any damage beyond fair wear and tear), or effectively trade it in, using any value in the car over the outstanding finance balance to put towards the deposit on your next car.

PCP finance gives you lower monthly payments than Hire Purchase and works well if you want to hand the car back when the contract ends, though it will typically cost you more in interest overall than Hire Purchase, if you buy the car at the end of the contract. 

Finally, Personal Contract Hire, also known as leasing, offers low monthly payments - sometimes lower than equivalent PCP finance deals - but gives you less flexibility than PCP finance. You simply make an initial payment, followed by a series of monthly payments, then you hand the car back to the lease company; there is no chance to buy it.

As with PCP finance where you choose to hand the car back, you'll have to stick to a mileage limit and keep the car in good condition to avoid end-of-contract charges. It's worth being aware that you typically have fewer consumer rights with car leasing than with car finance; with PCP finance and Hire Purchase you may be able to hand the car back early through what's called Voluntary Termination, for instance. This is not an option with car leasing; you'll have to negotiate with the leasing company to change the terms of your contract.

When to buy

It’s surprising to learn that when you buy a car, even a new one, can make a difference to the cost. Dealers have incentives to meet at certain times, usually around March and September, so you can sometimes drive a deal harder at those times when they’re desperate to meet sales targets.

Dealers may also have end-of-month or end-of-quarter targets (meaning targets that must be met by the end of March, June, September and December) and so may be particularly keen to sell cars ahead of these deadlines. Be ready to purchase at these times and you may be able to get yourself a good deal.

Where to buy a car

Buying from a car dealer is the traditional way to get into a new car, but you don’t have to go there if you don’t want to. You may want to see, sit in and test drive any potential car before you buy one but there’s nothing stopping you from doing that at a dealer then going online and buying directly from the manufacturer, or via a broker to get a better deal.

You won’t have to haggle online, but then again you typically can’t haggle online - so it's worth assessing whether you can get a better price in-store or online. That means it's worth comparing discounted showroom prices with the best online deals you can find.

Dealing with salespeople

The best way to buy a car is to know more than the person selling it to you. They’ll always make out that their car is the best possible choice, but they can’t trick you if you know more than them about the car. Go in with all the information - it’s all available online - and you’ll be able to get a better deal, more quickly.

Be aware of tricks like limited-time offers, sales pitches and pressure tactics - don’t buy a car just because they say the deal is only available now. Unless you’re already ready to buy, don’t worry - you can always get a good deal later, or elsewhere. Keeping a cool head isn’t easy but going in with the right mindset makes it a lot easier.

Knowing how to negotiate matters when buying in person, and you can find plenty of advice online about this. It’s mostly about being prepared before you even walk into the dealership, which you’re doing by reading this!

And if you can't stand the idea of battling with a dealer or even haggling, sites like BuyaCar offer pre-registered deals on practically new cars and no-haggle pricing, plus the ability to order a car online and have it delivered to your door. If that appeals to you, check out the pre-registered deals available on BuyaCar now.

Take a test drive

If you're looking to buy a brand new car, it's wise not to purchase one without test driving it first; you're paying a premium to get a new car and specify it exactly how you want, so it makes sense to be sure that it's right for you.

Even if it sounds brilliant in all the reviews online and you love the look, you don’t want to get it without testing because it could turn out to be incredibly uncomfortable, too hard to get into or too noisy. Or the expensive metallic paint you're thinking about choosing might look horrible in the metal. 

Testing a range of different models also gives you perspective on which car is best for you. You could discover that the car you thought wasn’t going to be any good turns out to be the one you love once you get behind the wheel.

Know how much your car is worth

If you’re trading in a car, use an online car valuation service or check classified ads sites to see how much it’s worth. If you don’t know how much it’s worth, you could get ripped off by a dealer taking a chance on a low-ball offer. You can haggle with them to get a better price if you are prepared, too.

Car dealers often try to get part exchange cars as cheaply as possible, as getting an underpriced part exchange car means extra profit for them. You may haggle hard to get a good deal on your new car, but this could all be for nothing if you get far less for your part exchange than it's worth.

Reading the small print

If you’ve negotiated a price, get it all in writing - and check the small print of any agreement you sign up to, especially car finance. If you’re not happy, you can walk away - and you can always come back another time. In fact, you might choose to do this anyway, giving you more time to make the decision at home, away from the pressure.

You can also take your time to read and research anything you’re not sure about. Buying a car online makes this really easy, as you are under no time pressure at all, but just remember that any decent car dealer will be more than happy to wait for you to come back and buy a car from them. If they’re being difficult, buy a car from somewhere else.


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