Buying a car in South Africa

May 18, 2022

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Buying a new car is an exciting venture for any driver. The process can be daunting and time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be if you follow these simple tips. A car is one of the most expensive purchases a person will make in their lifetime. Cars can range from a few thousand for a used car to a few hundred thousand for a luxury car. Owning a car also can be a significant impact on how far you have to travel from home. The average South African spends up to around 20-25% of their income on car transport.

Here are some great tips to guide you to buying a car in South Africa.

Determining your needs

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You can ask yourself these questions to get a good look as to what kind of car you are looking for.

  1. What will be the main use of my new car in South Africa?
  2. Will I be driving it downtown every day and am I therefore looking for a fuel-efficient car that is easy to park?
  3. How often do I travel each year and how many people do I usually take with myself?
  4. Do I like speed and am I looking for a car that gives me the thrill of a dynamic driving style?
  5. Am I looking for a diesel car to save on fuel?
  6. Functionality or the feel and look of the vehicle is my priority?

This will help you answer the most important question: What specific car do I need?

Check what you can afford

The budget you have is arguably the most important factor to consider when buying a car in South Africa. “How much am I able to spend on a new car?” “Can I only afford a used car?” – only after answering this question should you begin your search. As buying a new vehicle costs significantly more than buying a used car. And the methods for purchasing them are very different. It is also important to never spend all the money you have saved up. After the purchase you will likely need car insurance and car registration. If you buy a car older than 5 years, you may need even more money for additional repairs, the so-called “starter package”.

Do your research!

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Do you choose a random restaurant as a date venue? It’s the same with buying a car. Before you make a choice, you gather as much information as possible. Before you decide on a particular model:

  1. Ask a professional South African to help you;
  2. Read on various South African forums about the personal experiences of other car owners;
  3. Don’t be shy to use “Google” as well as other search engines to find more information. For example: “What are the benefits of a used car?” “What are the cheapest cars in South Africa?” “South Africa’s best cars”.

On the internet you will find plenty of information and interesting publications on the models available on the market. You will certainly not regret the time you spend reading them.

Once you find the vehicle that interests you, make sure to check who you are transacting with, including the owner’s address. The more transparent everything is, the easier it will be for you in case you discover any major defects in the car.

What to look-out for in a used vehicle?

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When purchasing a used car in South Africa, use the opportunity to look around the vehicle and determine if the car in a good shape.

First, the color. Look at the bodywork from a distance. Do the doors or wings have a slightly different shade to the rest of the components? If so, the car has been repainted. Be sure to find the answer as to why.

Second, the tires of the car. They should have “fresh” rubber and deep treads with no “stretch marks”, cracks or other damage. You can quickly assess the condition of the tires by checking their manufacturing date. If the tires are more than three years old, you can add the cost of replacing them to the price of the car.

Third, the joints. Check the gaps between the various car parts, for example between the bonnet and the side covers. Are they the same on both sides? If not, the car is already questionable and it is worth asking about its history.

Fourth, the seats of the vehicle. You should be able to adjust the seats smoothly.

Fifth, the electronics. Get in the car, start the engine, push all the buttons on the dashboard and the center column and listen. The air conditioning should work silently, all the lights and controls should shine brightly and the speakers should play clearly and without a murmur. If the car is equipped with heated seats, give them a whirl too.

Lastly, check for rust on the vehicle. A used car that looks good, but has a lot of rust underneath? Then you should look for another one. Extensive rust damages not only the sheet metal, but also mechanical parts, the suspension and even the electronics. So be sure to inspect the bodywork thoroughly. If you see any signs of rust, it is best to look for another model. Otherwise it could cost you a fortune!

Go for a test drive!

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If you don’t drive the car in conditions that are typical for you, you won’t know if it really is the best choice for you!

If the seller agrees to a test drive, it should be on your terms – you are the one who will be driving the car later. If the salesperson does not like you accelerating rapidly, revving the engine or driving fast on the motorway, you should generally assume that they have something to hide. However, exercise caution: a test drive should be legal.

A test drive should also help you find the answers to the following questions:

  1. Does the seat fit me well?
  2. Do I have a good view behind the wheel?
  3. What is the real fuel consumption?
  4. Is the engine powerful enough for overtaking?
  5. Will my purchases for the week fit in the boot?

During the test drive, listen and use your senses. Certain defects that are only noticeable when the car is in motion may come to light, especially if purchasing a used car. This applies in particular to the drive train, engine, suspension, but also to the exhaust system, clutch and brakes. Drive at low and high speeds. Make at least one attempt to brake suddenly and accelerate to the red zone on the tachometer. After the drive you should not only know something about the condition of the vehicle, but also how it drives.

Always ask for the service book

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The service book is literally a treasure trove of knowledge at your hands. You will find out if your selected car has been well looked after and what has been changed and when. Very helpful to determine if the vehicle is in a good shape or not. If a used car does not have a service book, you can risk unpleasant surprises after the purchase. So do not take risks.

The information contained in the service book will allow you to better estimate the real value of the car, confirm the actual mileage and estimate the costs associated with its further exploitation. Nobody wants to buy a car in which, for example, the timing belt has to be replaced right away.

Alternatively, skip the pain and go for rent-and-buy

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This is another alternative that we haven’t talked about. There are a few companies in South Africa that offer this option, such as Planet42. The whole idea behind rent-and-buy is that you can choose a brand new car and pay a flat rate every month. There’s also an opportunity to buy-out the vehicle after a period of time. So you can skip the tedious process with old cars and instead try this method, which would take less time, as the vehicle would be both new, and you’d pay a flat monthly rate.