Test Drive

These past few days, weeks even alot of people around me have been talking about buying cars or have just bought cars. Cars are a topic I really have passion for so I'd thought I'd share with you my deliberation procedure for buying cars. This is specific to the Malaysian market due to how our tax structure is and how it inflates car prices in Malaysia. When I consider cars I take into account the whole ownership experience that means, maintenance, monthly damage to my bank account, quality and resale value have to be taken into account. Basically my "evaluation" procedure can be generalised below:

1) Specs
2) Price & financing package
3) Warranty and Maintenance Package 
4) Test Drive
5) Resale Value
6) Other "emotional" considerations

Lets get into more detail shall we?

1) Specs.

Right, to me this is the most important bit. Before considering what is on the market, please do an internet search first on what is the type of specs that are available on the market for your price range. Here's what i look for:

1) Drivetrain technology (engine & transmission) 
2) Safety features
3) Comfort features and overall quality

1) Drivetrain technology

What I look for in drivetrain technology is to achieve max power while still achieving good fuel economy. An engine has to return good MPG figures regardless of technology employed. Some car manufacturers trumpet on certain buzzword technology like i-VTEC, VVTI, VANOS, CPS etc, to be honest, most car companies have similar technologies and please don't be fooled by those buzzwords, just look at the claimed MPG figures, if they provide you with a torque curve on their spec sheet, look for a flat torque curve, that's what we want. In this day and age, alot of car manufacturers are down sizing their engines and add on turbo or superchargers. This trend is more apparent in European car manufacturers as many are offering these types of engine. The best bang for buck in this respect is the Peugeot 308 Turbo with a 1.6 litre turbo engine identical to the one in the  Mini Cooper S but at about half the price! Transmission wise, to me, a five speed automatic transmission has to be standard in cars of this day and age. That fact alone dismisses many cars that I would consider. A 5 speed auto just adds to the efficiency of the car and helps save petrol. Alot more Euro manufacturers are offering Dual Clutch Transmissions (DCT). The cheapest being available in the new Ford Fiesta with a 6 speed DCT. CVTs like the one in my Jazz have more of less gone out of favour but will offer good fuel economy still. Niceties like paddle shift or button shift are novel features but trust me, you won't be using it much when you use it in day to day driving so please don't make that a deciding factor.

2) Safety features

Okay noawadays it is shameful not to have at least ABS and at least 2 airbags. Obviously the more the better. I also look at the Euro NCAP rating basically never going for a car with lower than 4 star rating. Don't listen to "Other people" when they say this make of car is safer than the other. Unless they have some data to back their claims, assume they talking crap and just smile at them. trust in hard facts. 

Other active safety features that may come in handy are things like traction control, anti whiplash seats, lights that adjust to change in car ride height/corners etc... Reverse sensors, Isofix baby chair compatibility, blind spot assist and many more. How much these features are important to you is up to you. For me, these active safety features is a nice to have. If it's available in your price range then by all means, go for it. Safety first ma...

3) Comfort features

Well, comfort is obviously important. For this a test drive is the only best way to test for comfort but before hand you can check out reviews on the net and look at the spec sheet on what comfort features they have. top of the list is the air con. Does it have climate control. Is it Auto climate control? even better still, has it got dual climate control so that the passenger seat can have their own temperature different from yours. Rear aircon vents is a bonus. other features like cruise control will be nice on long highway journeys and oh! don't forget an arm rest! Man, my car didn't come with a centre armrest and once I installed the armrest it made a whole lot of difference, esp when travelling long distances. So, please do not overlook this small feature. Seat type is important. If you look like the seat is flat and non-Type of suspension also affects comfort and handling with rear torsion beam suspension being the most common (not so good) and wishbone or multilink rear suspension is better. Quality wise, look for soft touch plastics in the interior. Avoid those nasty brittle hard plastics as in time and through exposure to our Malaysian sunlight they will end up brittle and may break or crack. Also, look for a good paint job and even gaps where the body panels meet and where the interior panels meet.

2) Price & financing package

Ok, I know some of you are against any type of debt or financial packages as you might say it is riba'. But I believe that hire purchase (HP) is ok since you are actually hiring the car until you pay a certain value, then it is yours. With a 9 year HP it is basically renting the car cos not any people own cars for 9 years so unless you want to keep on hiring or intend to keep the car for a long time, I suggest avoiding 9 year HP. But if you must, make sure you put down a big down payment okay. Rates are now higher than before but the foreign car makers seem to offer a better rate than the local firms. Be sure you take this into account when considering the actual price of the car as what is important to us is the monthly cash flow... If you can afford it, pay cash, if not take a short HP term. If you can afford it lah. Problem is, cars in Malaysia are so expensive! Rates also may vary though the banks are only allowed to lend at the rates stipulated by Bank Negara but certain manufacturers offer better rates by subsidising the loan. basically they pay the bank the difference between the bank HP rate and what you are paying. This can make a big difference esp if you are eyeing a freign brand. The HP rate might make the monthly repayments closer to local cars than you think...

3) Warranty and Maintenance Package 
Okay, the standard seems to be 3 years or 100,000km kot... i'm not sure. Some like VW offer 5 year unlimited mileage warranty. Look out for free maintenance packages. Mazda does a free maintenance package for the first 60,000km, inclusive of labour and parts. This means you pay NOTHING for maintaining it for the first 60,000km. Pretty good. My car has 2 years or 40,000km free maintenance. It was bliss... just send in the car and they sort out everything for you for no charge at all! =). Some offer free maintenance only on labour so you still hafta pay for the parts. If this is the case you will hafta check out the parts prices cos prices at dealerships are expensive. For example, front brake pads at the Honda SC cost RM450 whilst if i get the exact thing from a spare parts shop it would cost me RM250. So, there a big difference in prices for dealership prices and spare parts shop prices. Buyers beware. Of course, some will want the freedom to send their car to any work shop of they want to modify their cars. These will void your warranty so for these types of people, warranty is not important.

4) Test Drive

This is actually the most important buying step. Never buy a car you have not driven. Make sure you test drive the car first. Test drive as many cars as you can to get a feel of the car and how living with it will be. Remember, this is probably the second largest investment you'll be making apart from your house so be sure u test drive it first. What to look out for during a test drive? Well... lotsa things. See how the car looks in real life. See if the car drives like how you expect it to. check if the acceleration is acceptable to you. Do a U-turn and see if the turning circle is tight enough. Cruise at highway speeds and see if the engine is refined enough. check if there are any rattles in the dashboard when going over bumpy roads. Is the suspension pliant enough for you? Does the car's body roll badly in corners? These are among the questions you should ask yourself and look out for during a test drive.

5) Resale Value

Generally percentage wise, Japanese cars retain their value the best. Continental cars will depreciate more, other than Mercs or Beemers that is. Mercs offer the best depreciation proof out of all continental brands. The italian and french cars seem to suffer the most though but this makes them a good 2nd hand buy. There's no way to actually know the depreciation qualities of a car exactly but one can open your friendly issue of motortrader or surf www.mudah.my to check out how car prices depreciate over time. You can even open your daily issue of The Star Classifieds...

6) Other "emotional" considerations

Other "Emotional" considerations are things like how the car looks.How the interior looks and how unique the car is. I for one am not a fan of the Honda Civic solely because there are just too many of them on the road. The Ford Focus, however good it is to drive just looks abit bland.... When I spend a large some of money on a car I would like to feel a little special owning one. Things like customer service at the service centre really do add to the overall ownership experience and this also helps with the resale value. It's may sound snobbish but the badge the car holds sometimes does make a difference....

So there you have it. My non-exhaustive checklist for buying cars in Malaysia. I'll add other things as I remember them. So if you ask for recommendations, I would say that the best value for money car in the Malaysian market is the Kia Forte, it's a C segment car at B segment price and has alot of features for it's price range and the best value for money supermini is the Ford Fiesta, best handling chassis with features found in cars a class above. Local cars? Well, lets just say I won't be buying one just yet....hehehe =)...