How to Choose a Car Guide

Choosing a car isn’t easy. Aside from buying a house, it might just be the biggest investment you ever make. When deciding what car to buy, you need to consider your budget, your needs and your lifestyle – it’s vital that your new car works for you.

At Inchcape, we’re constantly asked things like ‘what is the best car for me?’ and ‘help me choose a new car’; but in truth, there’s no simple answer. To get the ball rolling, here’s our car chooser guide that’ll talk you through the decision-making process and lead you towards a model that’s just right. Once you’ve got a few ideas that fit your lifestyle and budget, we’ll be here to talk the options through, and will even take you on a test drive.

Consider how you will use it

Of course, at some point or another you’ll use your new car for just about everything, but try to focus on its primary purpose. What is your car likely to be tasked with on a day-to-day basis? It’s important to reflect on this as a car with a specification suited to your journeys makes economic and environmental sense.


  • For short urban drives – If you mainly use your car to commute cross-city, you won’t be needing a hugely powerful engine. Petrol might be a sounder choice than diesel; the latter is slightly more expensive to run, while some diesel models have come under scrutiny for their emissions and you may pay more VED as a result. One better than that, though – an electric or hybrid vehicle is an excellent choice for a nifty urban get-around. Models like the BMW i3 or the new, fully-electric Volkswagen Up! can cover every corner of the city easily within range, and promise ultra-low running costs with zero emissions.


  • For longer commutes If you’re spending upwards of an hour or two behind the wheel each day, cabin comfort and interior touches are sure to be a factor in your decision; and so they should be. You’ll also be looking for something economical, with fuel consumption worth keeping an eye on. If you’re getting above 50mph on a daily basis, you’re best suited to a moderately powerful and decently-sized engine.


    A great option in this category is the Volkswagen Passat. Quiet and comfortable, features like the automatic stop/start and traffic jam assist will lighten the stress of any commute, while the optional business trim can add a touch of executive style. On the other hand, with exceptionally low fuel consumption and an automatic switch to electric power at speeds below 25mph, the Toyota Prius makes sound sense when it comes to running costs.


  • For going cross-country – If your job has you constantly hopping from city to city, travelling for miles-on-end along motorways, you’ll want a car with some stamina. A large engine will be the more efficient choice, and diesel should definitely be on your radar - the improved torque with this fuel type will give you more power off the line. But if you’re environmentally conscious, don’t rule out a hybrid model. You may find fully-electric’s ranges too limiting, but hybrids are more capable than ever.


    Excellent choices for this category of drivers include the Audi A7, which boats a 3.0-litre TDI ultra engine option that delivers 218PS with relatively low emissions of 122g/km, and offers a host of luxury extras. For a hybrid option that’ll turn heads, the all-new Lexus LS is nothing short of a masterpiece, fusing the latest technology with exceptional styling.


  • For pleasure – It goes without saying that we only ever want a car that’s a pleasure to drive. But if you’re buying purely for the thrill of it, you’ll want to match your budget to something special. Consider exactly what it is about driving you want to enjoy; the roar of a powerful engine? Cutting-edge technology? A luxury cabin or a top-down drive? Most likely, it’s a combination of these.


    Drivers looking for industry-leading performance will be enamored with marques like Jaguar and Lexus, both of which offer a range of body styles. For slightly tighter budgets, MINI promise plenty of fun.


  • For towing – If your car’s going to be carrying some extra luggage, be it the family caravan or a packed-up trailer; it’ll need some proper pulling power. A small engine will end up working overtime when tasked with this, resulting in poor fuel economy. That’s not to say you’ll need a monstrous SUV to get the job done – just an engine that’s got some oomph.


    Each year, the UK’s Tow Car Awards test hundreds of models while towing and select one as their winner. 2017’s victor was the Land Rover Discovery, while previous winners include the Volkswagen Passat Estate and the Jaguar XF.


  • A mixture of these – Often, there’s simply no ‘one-size-fits-all’ category that you, as a driver, will fall into. Thankfully, there are plenty of models that weigh up a combination of economy, pleasure, technology and luxury touches.


    If you’re left wondering ‘what car is best for me?’ and need some help finding a good all-rounder, chat online with our experts today.


    Consider what’s practical

    When picking a model that works for you, practicality is key. It’s all well and good gunning for the sleekest looks and the top-end tech, but your car must meet your fundamental requirements. Focusing on practicality will ensure that whatever you pick enhances your lifestyle, rather than hinders it.


  • Size and seats – How often do you have a full-house in the back? Whether you’re a family of five or are constantly ferrying friends around; it’s important to be sure you’ve got the space you need. If you’re strongly considering a two-seater Coupé, reflect on how only having space for one passenger could impact you. If it does prove a problem, you could always opt for a Crossover model; offering Coupé looks but with plenty of room for five. Similarly, if you’re a growing family, you’ll need to think for the future.


  • Storage – You’d be hard-pressed to find any model that can’t carry your weekly shop; but what else is likely to be filling your boot at some point? Perhaps you’ll be wanting space for two suitcases in the back, or enough room to bring all the essentials for a family camping trip. The last thing you’d want is a lack of storage space limiting your newfound sense of adventure. It’s also worth checking whether any extra fixtures are an option with the models you’re considering; such as a roof box or racks for bikes.


  • Doors – There’s no denying there’s some fantastic deals out there on two-door models, and if your new car’s going to spend its time getting you and a passenger or two around town, it makes a lot of sense.But getting young children in and out of a two-door isn’t hugely practical, and these cars don’t provide much growing space in the back. This means young families are probably better off looking into a five-door.


  • Fuel/power – Taking into account how you’re likely to use your car, it’s important you pick a fuel or power source that works with how you’ll drive. Generally speaking, petrol’s the best choice if you just need a get-around, while diesel performs well over long distances. Electric might be tempting, but consider whether the ranges meet your requirements – so long as they do, it’s an excellent choice. Otherwise, hybrid can offer you the best of both worlds; just remember to do some research around where you could charge your car if you’re out and about in your area.


  • Safety – It’s only natural to consider the safety credentials of any car you’re considering. Newer models come with a raft of innovative safety features, either as standard or as an optional extra, that include things like active lane keeping assist and auto-breaking. This means the cars on the road today are safer than ever before.


But if you’d really like to scrutinise a model’s safety record, why not check its Euro NCAP rating? After testing vehicles in real-life crash scenarios; they award each of the most popular cars on the road a star-rating out of five. Models to rank as safest in their class in 2017 include the VW Polo and the VW Arteon.


Consider budget

Before you even consider putting your name to anything, you need to be sure you’ve got the budget. Understanding the purchase price or the cost of your finance plan payments is the easy part, but there’s plenty more to consider. You don’t want to end up with a car you can pay to keep, but struggle to keep on the road. When determining whether a particular model or vehicle is inside budget, you need to add up the following expenses.


  • New or used – Probably the single most significant factor that’ll determine how much you pay for your car is whether you decide to go for new or used. Cars shed a large portion of their value across their first three years on the road, so buying second-hand can prove rewarding if you’re not set on having the latest models.


    On the other hand, buying new will cost you more but you’ll get to specify all the extras, colours and trims you like, so this can be a worthwhile choice if you’ve got the budget for it. And with the finance packages available, it could be more affordable than you realise.


  • Purchase cost – If you’re a cash buyer, what you’re going to be paying for your new car should be clear. Just bear in mind that if you’re buying new; selecting your trim, engine and extras will alter the price that may have first caught your eye.


  • Finance package costs – Whether you’d like to spread your payments, or you’re not sure if you’ll want to keep the car after a few years, finance packages are a great option. They offer versatility, allowing you to get your hands on the latest models, work towards ownership or hand it back having only paid for its depreciation plus some interest.


    If you’ve found a model you’re interested in, discuss suitable finance packages with your dealer. With the mileage allowance and contract length set, you should get a clear idea of how much any installments or balloon payments will cost you.


    To find out more about car financing, read our car finance guide.


  • Insurance costs – Which model you choose to buy will affect how much you pay for your insurance, regardless of things like your no-claims bonus or driving history. All popular models of car are categorised into 50 groups by insurers. Each group is numbered, and generally speaking, the lower the number the lower the premium. Powerful and expensive cars tend to take the top spots as they’d cost more for insurers to repair or replace, so you should bear this in mind when thinking ‘what new car should I buy’. You can find out the insurance group of most models here, or read our car insurance guide for more information.


  • Fuel costs – How much you pay to power your car could vary significantly depending on the model you choose. Looking at fuel economy should give you an idea of how often you’d find yourself at the pump, where petrol will almost always be cheaper than diesel. That isn’t necessarily to say that diesel will always work out the more expensive option, though. It depends on how you use your car.


    If you’d like to keep the running costs down, hybrid and electric cars are a great option. These will always be cheaper to run than purely fuel-powered cars, with the cost of a full-charge at home usually coming in under £4, and prices at public charging points being refreshingly low – or even free.


  • Tax (VED) costs – How much VED – or road tax – you’ll pay depends on when your car was first registered. Those on the road before April 2017 will have their rate determined entirely by their emissions band, with a given first year rate, followed by a given standard rate for each band thereafter. All cars with emissions below 100g/km that were registered before April 2017 are VED exempt.


As of April 2017, the car’s list price is also a factor. For cars registered after this date, emissions are used to determine the first-year rate, with a flat rate depending on fuel type applied after – and only zero emissions vehicles being exempt. But if the car’s list price is over £40,000, a £310 extra charge is added for the five years following the first.


From April 2018, newly-registered diesel models that fail specialised emissions testing will also face increased charges.


By knowing the age and emissions rate of any model you’re considering, you should be able to work out how much VED you’d pay. Remember to factor this into your budget.


Check the reviews

Ultimately, the only opinion that matters is yours; but it can’t hurt to hear what others are saying. By reading expert reviews, you’ll get a detailed description of the model’s credentials, while with customer reviews you’ll get a unique insight into what it’s really like to own and drive; how practical it is, how it handles in different conditions and any unexpected triumphs.

Test drive

Still wondering what car to get? The best way to find the perfect car is to get behind the wheel.

If there’s a handful of models you simply can’t choose between, or you still don’t know where to start, your local Inchcape Retail Centre will be happy to let you out for a spin. Our trained experts can recommend new and used cars that are well-suited to you, before you get to experience them in all their glory.


Now you’ve read our handy car selector guide, get in touch with the experts at Inchcape today, and the perfect car could be yours sooner than you think.