• Sarah Fitchett

Buying a car - where to start?

We get it, buying a car can be stressful, for so many reasons. It is a big investment, is an integral part of our daily lives (and often, livelihoods), costly if something goes wrong, and not something many of us know much about - it’s certainly not something you buy every day!

Then you have the hassle and cost of test driving, arranging pre-purchase inspections, having a car sold before you have made a decision, time spent researching - it's a minefield!

Here at Tootsweet, we have years of industry experience behind us, which means that when we buy cars we are able to navigate the process in a systematic and analytical way. We want to pass on this knowledge to help you feel more confident at purchase time.

buying a used car
Where do you start?

What are your needs?

The first step in the car buying journey is deciding what it is you want to buy. With so many makes and models available, it can be daunting to know where to start. So we recommend starting with a list of the important features or characteristics you require from your next car, as well as a list of “nice-to-haves”.

Here are some things you might want to consider:

  • What 'shape' of car do you want/need - hatchback / sedan / SUV / station wagon / people mover / ute?

  • How many seats?

  • How many doors?

  • Is boot space important?

  • What transmission do you prefer - automatic or manual?

  • Do you need 4WD capability, and for what - not all 4WDs are created equal and if you are likely to be driving off-road, you may need to do some research about the type of 4WD you require. Note that full-time 4WD vehicles generally use more fuel than 2WD vehicles with a 4WD option (or full time 2WD vehicles). Some smaller SUVs with 4WD are not designed for true off-roading.

  • Petrol or diesel?

  • Is fuel economy a priority?

  • Towing ability (and check the tow rating you require)

  • Colour

  • ANCAP rating / safety features such as airbags, ABS brakes, traction control, ISOFIX child anchors etc

  • Do you have a preference between an imported car and a New Zealand new vehicle?

  • Do you have a maximum age or mileage in mind?


The next step, of course, is to work out your budget - and this may have an impact on your 'must-haves' above, in particular the age and mileage of the cars you are looking at.

Think about:

  • How much cash you have to put towards a deposit

  • How much your current car is worth (if you are going to be selling that) - we'll be posting that later :)

  • Whether you have any money owing on your current car, and how much (call your finance company for a 'settlement figure' if you are unsure - and ensure this includes any early repayment fees that might apply)

Once you have these figures, you have a starting point, using this calculation:

Cash + Current car value - Settlement figure = Deposit (or this may be a negative figure, which will be the loan amount carried forward)

  • How much you would be willing to finance to purchase your next car (use our calculator here to work out how much your repayments will be).

Use this figure to determine your budget:

Amount you can finance + Deposit (or less the loan amount carried forward) = Budget for next car purchase.

(If you would like to get pre-approval for this amount, apply online or contact us to discuss.

Create a list of options

Armed with your list of requirements, and your budget, now you're ready to narrow it down.

If you have any particular make and model you know you're interested in, you can use one of the major car-buying websites, like trademe.co.nz, autotrader.co.nz or driven.co.nz, to check whether your preferred car ticks all the boxes and fits within your budget. Or if you have no idea what car might suit you, you can also use this function to come up with a shortlist - just plug in your preference and budget, and see what the search returns. From here you can research the various makes and models to decide which you prefer and settle on the models you want to seriously look for.

Do some research and get a handle on pricing

Once you know what you're looking for, it's a good idea to do a bit of research to understand the different model variants, what each offers and which you prefer. For example, in the RAV4, there are currently 9 different model variants:

- Limited 2WD 2.0L Petrol

- Limited AWD 2.5L Petrol

- Limited AWD 2.5L Diesel

- GXL 2WD 2.0L Petrol

- GXL AWD 2.5L Petrol

- GXL AWD 2.5L Diesel

- GX 2WD 2.0L Petrol

- GX AWD 2.5L Petrol

- GX AWD 2.0L Diesel

Specifications differ, along with prices - at present there is around $22,000 between the top and bottom RAV4 models if purchasing new. Therefore when you are trying to understand what you should pay for each model at similar mileages, and later when you are actually searching for cars, it is important you compare apples with apples, for example in the case of RAV4, by using the model detail (GXL, GX etc) in the "Keywords" field, and using the fuel and 4WD fields when searching.

Buying a used car privately
Using Trade Me Motors search function

One other note - be careful if you're considering imported cars in your search - often spec differs between markets so an imported vehicle with the same badge as a New Zealand new vehicle may not offer all the same features.

Some good resources for researching used vehicle models:

www.carsguide.com.au (although note this is an Australian website so some specifications will vary - always check the spec of the particular vehicle you are looking at)

www.aa.co.nz/cars/car-reviews/ - New Zealand based with searchable reviews

www.rightcar.co.nz - this is a government website which gives safety and fuel economy ratings and specifications for thousands of makes and models (based on registration number)

In this 'narrowing down' process, it can be a good idea to go and drive some of the cars you are considering, to ensure they meet your expectations and you like the look and feel. It can be easy to be swept up and make an impulsive decision to buy at this stage. While you sometimes have to act quickly when you see a car you like, we recommend caution - make sure you take some time to compare prices (apples with apples as above) to ensure it's a good deal, take the time to test-drive other cars if you can and always carry out all the usual due-diligence - pre-purchase inspection, vehicle check (for money owing etc) and a good test-drive.

Find 'your' car

Once you have settled on the makes and models you are interested in, it's time to start looking for specific vehicles.

This part of the process is really as above, use the search function to find the cars available in your area that meet your criteria. You can also use the "Saved Search" function on Trade Me to be notified of new listings:

Tips for buying a car privately
Saving a search on Trade Me

Once you have a shortlist of cars you are interested in, it's time to arrange viewings and test-drives... which we'll post more about soon!

Please feel free to give us a call or a message if you have any questions about anything in this post :) hello@tootsweet.co.nz / 0800 866 879

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