Motoring: Over the top on V-day

If you must buy a brand new car, then do it this way.

IN CASE you didn't realise, 1 September was the new 1 August. Or at least it was for car dealers. Their diaries are a little different this year, with two new registration letter days in March and September. Instead of one bumper pay day in August, there are two mini booms, but the new car-buying rules are changing rapidly. So here is our V reg survival plan for those considering a new car this month.

Why not wait? The twice-yearly registration change was brought in only to use the remaining letters of the alphabet before an all-new seven-digit registration system is introduced in September 2001. A V plate will look very dated and lose value, especially as a 1999 on a V, rather than a 2000 on a V. This year there were lots of incentives on S plate cars to clear stocks before the arrival of the Ts so inevitably the same will happen again with V registration models early in 2000. It is also worth waiting because new models will arrive soon. Why buy old stock, when the new improved model is just around the corner?

Organise finance: Be very clear about how you are going to pay for your car. Often it is cheaper to borrow from traditional high street lenders. Still get quotes from dealers, but often APRs and repayment periods are much more generous. Although 0 per cent offers may seem tempting they usually require a minimum 50 per cent deposit. And the repayment period is typically 12 months to two years. Also 0 per cent offers mean there is usually no negotiation on the retail price, so that means no discount.

Organise insurance: Can you afford to insure the car you are after? There are an increasing number of free insurance offers, but what happens when reality kicks in (ie a real premium) a year after the scheme runs out?

Part exchange: What are you going to do with your old car? Selling privately is a hassle, but it will get you more money than a part-exchange against a V plate model. But if you haven't the time or inclination to put it in the classifieds then make sure you know how much your car is worth. A dealer will rely on your lack of knowledge to lower the value of your car.

Always negotiate the new car price first, then bring in your old car. That way you will know precisely what you are paying. In most cases your old car has a trade value and this can be found in a publication such as Parker's Price Guide.

Choose the right car: You know what you want, but make sure it will hold value. Pick a strong metallic colour, which looks the same in all light. Anything bright or fashionable is likely to become unfashionable. Air- conditioning, sunroofs and alloy wheels are all good options.

Find a dealer: Only now are you ready to talk to a dealer. Spend a lot of time on the phone. It is a lot less bother than tramping around showrooms. Phone lots of dealers and sound them out about delivery, model availability and discount.

Dealing with the dealer: There is one word to a successful showroom encounter: control. Do what you want to do, not what the salesperson tries to persuade you to do.

What you want is a long test drive in the car you want, a discounted price and the freedom to leave the showroom without having made any commitment (never pay a small "holding" deposit). Walk away and you will be able to compare quotes, deals and have time to work out which deal, if any is for you.

V Day: Even new cars go wrong. The problem with the previous August rush was that new cars were not always very well prepared because of the sheer weight of numbers and problem cars slipped through. And new cars can be damaged in transit.

Also vehicles can arrive at the showroom in the wrong colour and with less equipment than you ordered. So on V day be equally vigilant and set aside plenty of time to look carefully around your new purchase. You might be exhausted, so get a keen-eyed and dispassionate friend to help check the vehicle carefully for damage or faults. The dealer should be able to supply a copy of the original PDI (pre-delivery inspection) checklist. If you are really paranoid, then motoring organisations such as the AA, RAC and vehicle inspection company ABS will do these checks for a fee.

If the fault is minor, like a loose piece of trim, insist it be sorted. If major, like an oil leak, or incorrect colour, reject the car immediately.

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