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I need to buy a new car since my old broke down and I have no idea of car mechanics. As I also have very few knowledge of cars in general I would like to learn the proper questions that I need to ask myself when evaluating cars.

So, while "what car should I buy" questions are obviously too localized, are questions about how to evaluate such things on topic here?

I attempted to find a tool that helps me with that over on SR.SE, but that did not yield any results either. But maybe it would if I had better prior knowledge on what I should have looked for.

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You're absolutely welcome to ask around in the chat:

http://chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/340/the-pitstop

We have a pretty good crew of people from all over the world who like to talk. None of the standard "on topic" rules apply in the chat: I let everyone know that I brew good beer a few days back.

In terms of using the standard Q&A format, I would discuss the question that you'd like to pose with the chat first. They (and I) might be able to help you formulate an on-topic question if you're still interested. I suspect that your "my car is broken and I need a new one" is closer to the front of your mind than "how can I get more rep on this SE site?"

  • I think you need to rephrase ... let everyone know that I brew good beer is very subjective. :-) How do we know unless we've sampled the wares? (Then again, what am I getting at?? I don't drink!!) – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jun 20 '15 at 12:15
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    @Paulster2, pshaw. Beer is just barley soup. Chill to taste. – Bob Cross Jun 20 '15 at 16:24
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There are a number of factors you need to consider;

Budget - Are you buying new, nearly new or used? Given your lack of mechanical skill, most new or nearly new cars can include both a warranty and servicing package.

Use - What do you use to car for? If it's typically just you driving or you and one other you won't need as large a vehicle as if you have a family. Also, if you use your car for work, a large luggage area may be useful. My brother is a musician and has a car where the seats can be removed effectively turning it into a van.

Condition - If you are buying a pre-owned car, irrespective of age, you need to assess the mechanical condition. Knowing that you know very little it may be worth taking a mechanic with you or a "car person". There are motoring organisations which offer professional inspection services for a fee which, unless you are buying a 10 year old plus car, would be worth considering.

Maintenance - When viewing a car you need to know about it's maintenance costs and service schedule. Whilst a brand new car may go a year or two before it requires any significant time in a workshop, an older car may need maintenance work right away. Look at how often a car is supposed to be serviced and look at when it was last serviced. Most cars have a handy book which shows mileages and has a space for a mechanic to stamp or sign to say work has been done. If a used car doesn't have any stamps in its book and comes without any receipts for any parts, you want to consider the cost of a full service and get the price reduced by at least this amount.

Fuel type - certain cars make a great noise and accelerate quickly but use a lot of fuel. Others might be slow but you can go a longer distance between fill ups. Typically for longer drives, a diesel will give better economy than a petrol but if you only do relatively short journeys (just a couple of miles) then a petrol may make more sense as diesels can silt up their emissions control kit if they don't get taken on longer journeys which can be expensive to repair.

Regulatory Inspection - in the UK we have a test known as an MOT where a qualified mechanic must warrant that the car is still safe to use on the road. Most countries have such a system with cars being inspected every year or two. If the car you are looking at hasn't been inspected in a while, either get the seller to have it inspected or budget for some expense when this falls due. A car which doesn't have any current road worthy certification should be avoided unless you know what you're doing mechanically.

Colour / Trim / Model - If the aesthetics of the car are important to you, you pay a premium for this. I am a "car guy" and my current car is black. I could have had the same car is gold with beige seats for about three quarters of the price I paid but the look of the car was important to me. If you aren't bothered by this you can save a fortune in buying a well maintained but unfashionable car but bear in mind that such a car will be harder to sell when the time comes. The model / trim / specification may also be important. You might find a car which is the type you like but doesn't have features such as air-con or cruise control. Again, only you can answer if these things are important to you.

Hidden costs - alongside fuel and servicing costs, you need to take into account how expensive the tyres are to replace, how much the insurance costs, how much road tax or registration costs will be.

Finally, when you've decided on a car you like, Google; read reviews, join the owners club forum and ask what the common faults are, watch independent road tests from when it was launched to help you confirm if you've made the right choice.

The only other piece of advice I can give is to listen to your gut. If you're looking at a car, the numbers all look good, you like the car but there is a voice inside your head telling you something is not right - walk away and find something else.

  • You didn't answer the question. – David Winslow Jul 24 '15 at 14:00
  • My answer is intended to give the OP a framework by which he can decide what car to buy. I don't see how this fails to answer this question. – Steve Matthews Jul 24 '15 at 14:03
  • He asked if it would be alright to ask that kind of question. – David Winslow Jul 24 '15 at 14:05
  • Yes but his problem is that he doesn't know what car to buy because he doesn't know where to start. I've addressed the problem he has, not the question he thinks he should ask. Typically vehicle related questions are not what they appear to be. For example, someone might ask why their engine management light is on. Simply telling them that this means a fault code is logged doesn't help them. Working out the proximate cause actually addresses this problem quickly. It's similar to the old hot air balloon outside a Microsoft office building joke. – Steve Matthews Jul 24 '15 at 14:08
  • You wrote a really good answer, to a different question. It's off-topic for meta. Meta is for questions about the site. – David Winslow Jul 24 '15 at 14:15
  • That explains why the question disappeared when I went back to look for it then! Hadn't realised it was in meta (or knew what meta was until just now). – Steve Matthews Jul 24 '15 at 14:17
  • You should ask a question here! – David Winslow Jul 24 '15 at 14:21

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