Motoring: About to buy a new car? Don't

There is one simple key to clever car buying. It holds true whether you're buying a Mini, a small hatch, a family saloon, an executive car, a sports machine or a big estate. And it's this: never buy a new car. More and more Britons are preferring the more sensible option of buying manufacturer-approved used cars.

New cars, of course, have never made sense. We all know that the moment we leave the showroom we lose anywhere between pounds 500 and pounds 5,000, in what is the most expensive drive of our life. (Small hatches depreciate the least, large executive cars made by the small hatch makers are the worst.)

Yet over the years we've kept burning those pound notes. The emotional tug of a new car - its shininess, its covetability, its unsullied history, its "this year's model" appeal, the envy it incites - is just too great a temptation. (I have fallen foul of it three times in the last 15 years, and will no doubt give in to temptation again.) It is a typical case of want ruling need. And given that such profligacy is the basis of our capitalist system, the car makers have never lost much sleep at the lack of logic of it all.

Until now. The private car buyer - from whom the car maker has made most of its profit, even if in Britain the company buyer is responsible for most of the sales - is going away. Five years ago, private buyers accounted for 65 per cent of all new car sales. Last month it was 43 per cent. Short of some drastic action, he or she is unlikely to come back.

And why should they? Approved used cars, sold by franchised dealers, now have warranties which are as good as those once offered only with new cars. There is complete peace of mind, once the sole dominion of new cars. All major dealer franchises are at it, from Vauxhall, which popularised the concept with its Network Q scheme, to Ford, Rover, and most of the major importers.

These manufacturer-approved used cars are usually in pristine condition, sometimes run from new by one of the fleet companies to whom the car makers give such generous discounts. They are much cheaper than new cars, of course. Or rather, much cheaper to a private buyer. These used cars often cost private punters more than the same car cost the fleet buyer new, such is the continuing iniquity of Britain's company-car dominated market.

The car makers have only themselves to blame. The company car culture which they have helped to nurture is finally delivering its long overdue comeuppance. New cars are now usually too expensive, as car makers put through increases over and above inflation, partly to subsidise their pals in the fleet firms. The private buyer is no longer willing to pay pounds 16,000 for a well-equipped Mondeo when a near-identical car, two years old, will cost only pounds 9,500 with the same warranty from the same dealer. Cars also last longer. They're more reliable, better made. Ironically, by improving their products car makers have hurt their own sales.

"Big-step" new cars are now rare, though - which makes it difficult to justify spending thousands more for the latest model. Equally, car makers are starting to run out of "new-idea" cars to excite the public. The last one was the Renault Espace, 12 years ago, the first seven-seater MPV "people carrier" in Europe. Before that, it was the Range Rover, the world's first luxury 4x4. Both have been widely copied.

I foresee two possible likely-to-be-imitated industry saviours on the horizon - the Mercedes A-class, due late next year, which will mix Mondeo room with Fiesta road space (by having the engine under the body), and the new Mini, scheduled for the year 2000. If properly executed, the latest Mini should rekindle our interest in small, minimalist eco-friendly cars, 37 years after its predecessor showed the potential.

Only by giving much more or charging less will the car makers tempt us back. Increasingly imaginative ads (if only the same creativity was put into cars), bombarding our TV screens with images of embryos enjoying the ride comfort of Rover 400s and jilted Latin lovers enjoying Puntos and pretty French girls in Clios will not do the trick. While the car makers want to engender lust in us to buy, we're regressing to good old- fashioned common sense to resist. Given that the car industry invented the modern consumer society, thanks to Henry Ford's mass production, who knows where this back-to-basics mood might end.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own