6 Tips for Buying a First Car. And How Long Should You Keep It?
This article is for people who drive their cars hard on a daily basis. I’m talking regular interstate journeys, always spending time in traffic, always carrying work stuff around, always driving on uneven roads, always avoiding potholes, sometimes used for Grab, and always under the scorching Sun of our beloved Malaysia. If you just drive your car to a train station nearby your house to get to work, please go away now.
For most of us, cars are a necessity and we drive them every day. Some may take public transport to get to work and only drive their cars on the weekend. The lucky rare few don’t even need to own a car with the help of public transport and ride hailing & car sharing apps like Grab and GoCar. Or you have family members who could give you a ride every once in a while. Some of us ride motorbikes (which are great) but we’re here to talk about cars. This is Cars of Malaysia.
Cars and motorbikes are made to meet different needs in the market. With a car, you don’t have to stop when it rains, accidents are less physically painful, you can carry 4 passengers safely with you, you could store your stuff safely (very important for people always on the move), and in desperate times, you could even sleep in your car. Motorbikes are great for downright fuel economy and agility. They’re also cheaper to buy. But again, we’re here to talk about cars. This is Cars of Malaysia.
Cars are great. Probably one of the best inventions ever made. Of course, cars may be going hybrid or electric but the function the car serves is still the same. A car gives you freedom of mobility but that comes with a price. Brand new cars are not cheap in Malaysia. I wouldn’t advice getting a second-hand car as your first car since most of us know absolutely nothing when it comes to car maintenance & repairs. I drive an 11-year-old Proton Persona on a daily basis and boy, one problem keeps coming up after another. I’m just lucky the breakdowns have never happened when my wife was driving alone.
So, how do you go about getting your first car without jeopardizing your financial situation?
1. Get a New Car
Photo for illustration purposes only. I’m not implying that you go buy an Impreza
If you get a hand-me-down car from your family, then great. Congratulations. At least you don’t have to fork out your own money. But if you don’t, go get a new car for yourself. Yes, second hand cars are cheaper, but if you’re going to drive it hard every day it will cause occasional breakdowns. Yes, some old cars tend to have indestructible engine blocks and transmissions but it is the ancillaries that tend to fail.
A car has many systems and each system has potential to fail. The older the car, the higher the chances of wear & tear and parts failure. Here are a few of the many parts you want to keep in mind:
- Brakes (Pads and Disc)
- Shock Absorbers (You must get the whole set for the car to drive well)
- Wheel Bearings
- Clutch (If manual. Do your car a favour by replacing the entire set)
- Radiator Fan Motor
- Radiator fins (rust)
- Water Pump
- Fuel Pump
- Brake Pump
- Clutch Pump
- Power steering pump (if hydraulic power steering wheel)
- Air-conditioning Compressor
You get my point. Unless you’re happy to diagnose an O2 sensor failure by yourself, do yourself a favour and get a new car.
2. Don’t Buy Newly Launched Models
Newly launched cars are new to everyone, including the staff members on the manufacturing line. Manufacturing processes have not been perfected yet and they haven’t received any feedback from customers. Take the CM Proton Persona as an example in this article (link). Things such as side mirror blind spots and faulty electronics have been overlooked in the rush to meet production needs of the then newly launched Persona. Instead, wait until a facelift model has been introduced (on the same chassis) to make your purchase. By this time, the manufacturer has received customer feedback and refinements have been made to the manufacturing process, hence reducing the rate of assembly errors.
3. Go as Basic as you can
The key phrase here being ‘as you can’. If you can go without 16” alloy wheels, opt for steel wheels instead. If you can go manual, go ahead and get the manual. Just remember that you’ll be driving in traffic most of the time. I would strongly suggest getting an automatic if carefree mobility is what you want. If you can do without steering wheel audio controls, go for the standard steering wheel instead. And if you can do without a reverse camera, don’t take it. All added features and gizmos will not help much when it comes to resale value.
It is also a good idea to get a car with rather basic but refined conventional technology. Get a conventional 4-speed automatic instead of a CVT. Maybe CVTs will be better in the future, but for now, conventional autos are better. Tiptronic controls and dual clutch systems could also be avoided for your first car. Go naturally aspirated. Cars with turbochargers need to be taken care of more attentively then non-turbocharged cars. The engine oil will be used to cool the turbocharger as well. This means you’re going to need some premium grade engine oil to keep your turbocharger healthy.
4. Buy a Locally Assembled Car
We’re talking CKD cars so the likes of Honda, Toyota, and Nissan are included alongside Proton and Perodua. They are cheaper to maintain. OEM parts for CKD cars are available in large quantities locally and the tax is cheaper. Resale value is better and the service centres could communicate directly with the assembly plants. This means they should be able to handle technical difficulties better.
5. Stay Away from Cars with Low Resale Value
This is your first car. You’re most likely going to sell it after a few years when you start to have more demanding mobility needs. Cars are like clothes or shoes. They don’t last. The fancy classic cars you see on the road are only driven occasionally. Most of the time they are pampered and kept under plastic wraps. Indoors. It’s time for you to get real.
Do your bank account a favour and keep the value of the car rolling to purchase your next new affordable car. My plan with my Axia is to sell it after 5 years or so for another new cheap car, and then repeat the process. Remember, this is your sensible & economical daily driver. Not your prized nostalgic car collection. Similar to clothing and shoes, a daily driven car will eventually wear out. Generally, you could try avoiding French cars, Czech cars, and Korean cars. Things may change but this is my observation for now.
6. Don’t Get Fancy
This is my personal opinion and your gauge of what is fancy and what is not may differ from mine. Remember again, this your first car. Don’t waste your money. Learn to resist the temptation of modifying your daily driver. You could use the money for a sweet project car later on. Don’t upgrade to a racing ECU, don’t change your wheels, don’t cut your springs, don’t change your exhaust and intake, and don’t do anything that voids the warranty on your car. Just don’t. It’s your choice – sweet project car or a daily driver that constantly breaks down.
How Long Should You Keep Your First Car?
5 years or so depending on the car. Once the car starts to own you instead of the other way around, it’s time to change. Sudden breakdowns are not great. You bought the car for freedom of mobility. High running costs are also not great. You’re supposed to progress through life with the money you saved. Not throwing your money away on a new engine head or a new fan motor.
Don’t wait too long until the value depreciates drastically. Think of it as a pair of shoes or sandals. Things wear out. And cars are just things. They don’t last. Heck, nothing lasts forever, not even you. It’s time for a new one. Just be sensible with your new choice. All those old Sagas in pristine condition you see driven by the older guys are only driven to the Mosque or pasar (#caprice). They’re never driven hard. And the nice classics you see at car meets are usually kept indoors under plastic covers.
Remember, it’s your first car and it’s a daily driver. It is a tool. If you really love cars and want to race at the track, go get yourself a used track car. If you like collecting classics and admire how they look, go ahead and collect them. Just don’t expect to be able to drive them hard.
Remember, first car = sensible, economical, reliable, & daily driven
Good luck with buying your first car.