Well, we all have had childhood dreams. Silent, nagging thoughts stuck at the back of our minds. Some are pretty basic. Perhaps, good, nice clothes. A bigger family house. A ranch, maybe. It's all pegged on the kind of background we grow up in.
A constant dream for most kids has often been driving and owning a car. Making the leap into car ownership is a complicated affair. There's so much to balance to make the right choice. Here are key things to think about when picking that first car.
Basically, why do you need a car?
If you seek the thrill of weekend road trips out of town with your peers, you'll be pressed to make a flashy pick. This is luxury, and will tend to cost more in purchase and out-of-market fittings. A guy raising a young family is more laid-back, tends to lean towards a family hatchback or van - safety, space and comfort are his priorities.
Do you need a ride for the daily run to the office, that can also moonlight as a cab on weekends? Then, driving needs may be confined to town driving, or business that calls for off-road driving. It's not wise to subject a town car to rugged terrains, more maintenance costs. Neither is it wise to use an offroad, pricier truck for town runs.
If you haven't thought about this, you might want to take a step back - and wait a little longer.
It's one thing to purchase a car, and another to keep it running. Often,first-time car owners realise a tad too late, that it means extra bills - car parking, paying off the estate watchman, cleaning and occasional vacuuming fees.
The kids will mess up expensive leather seats, or stain fabrics with sauce on upcountry runs. Sometimes, you may lose an indicator to notorious traffic thugs. If the regulator hikes fuel overnight, will you afford to fuel the car for the rest of the month?
While you budget for a car, it's prudent to make extra provisions for daily, unseen expenses to keep the car running.
Money - this is the elephant in the room - hard to ignore.
Are you drawing from your savings? Do you wish to liquidate an existing asset to raise funds? Are you taking a bank, or SACCO loan?
Basic finance concepts will surface - a car is a liability, or a depreciating asset. The moment you drive out of the yard, its value starts plummeting. In the case of a loan, the cost of monthly premiums shall affect your monthly budget.
Car owners often employ ingenious side-hustle ideas for extra income to cover these overheads. There's a neighbor selling fruits and vegetables from the boot in the evenings?
It's an important step. A new car definitely costs more, but means less maintenance costs and a longer warranty. A dealership may throw in other perks - free fuel, free servicing for a period or up to a certain mileage - whichever comes first.
A used car will cost you less upfront, but comes with a wracked up mileage. Depending on the car's use, or abuse by the previous owner, prepare for visits to the mechanic. Has the car been used locally, or are you shipping from abroad? Will you need to change the basics - tyres, lights, an engine overhaul?
Supposing a used/second-hand car is your pick, research is important. The model, for instance. Is there a robust spare part supply chain in your locality?
If you pick an exotic model, replacing crucial parts incase of a blow out means spending thousands of shillings to ship in a replacement.
Point to remember: Dealers fix cars to sell. Not to last. They hide things.
Chances are you don't know the previous owner and therefore you don't know if the engine and other components were serviced or entirely replaced.
For a used car - get a trusted, independent mechanic for a detailed evaluation before making a deal. Some dealers will slap a flashy 'Certified' sticker on the car, to deter that idea. Do not be fooled.
Ask the sales guy to start the vehicle with you outside. Listen to the engine cranking - or other strange sounds. Do this with a cold engine. Watch for the exhaust smoke. Run for the hills, if it's dark, or heavy.
Ask for a drive,or hire an experienced driver for the test drive. Avoid conversation. It's not the time to test the sound system. Turn everything off. Roll down windows. Are there dd sounds or squeaks? As you drive along uneven ground, you'll feel the state of suspension. A good one is firm and non-squishy. Then, start turning things on - AC, wipers, dashboard lights - do they work?
Be keen on the gear shifts. Is it firm and smooth, or erratic?
NOTE: The very best way to make the purchase with more certainty is to bring an experienced mechanic who can test drive and inspect the car for you whether you are a newbie or experienced driver - a second opinion never hurt anyone.
This is a daily skill. It's done best when you have the cash for the deal at hand. Play on their fear of losing a good deal. Say stuff like: "I can drive this out right now, if you can slice off 50k...else I walk..."
They'll pull a bluff. They say to "..consult the manager.." That's meant to make you think they are at the maximum limit. They'll walk to the backyard for a few minutes, and return. Stick to your guns.
Beyond the mental games you can play at the dealership to get the price down, having done extensive prior research on the best prices for the model you intend to buy is surest way of giving you an upper hand over cunning salespeople.
You will be sure to know when you are getting a bad deal. As well, if the car has some blemishes or imperfections that are not exactly deal-breakers, you would know how to ask for reductions especially when you know how much it will cost to make the corrections.
Take time to learn the basics of insurance. There's an option for comprehensive or third party insurance policies. The former costs more annually, but offers a better package in case of an accident. Factor this in your budget. It's also against the law to drive a car without an insurance cover.
Get insurance quotes from several sources. Compare quotes and ask for recommendations from other car owners.
It gets interesting. There's no standard quote. Insurance providers have a system to calculate personalised quotes.
Remember that you want to minimize your TCO - Total Cost of Ownership, which includes reliability and insurance costs.
Car ownership comes with a responsibility. There's a process to acquire a valid driving licence. Learn and follow the highway code - stop at road junctions, use turn signals - even on deserted roads. This helps you avoid accidents and conflict with traffic law enforcement - both of which are expensive affairs.
Enjoy your ride.