Whether you’re buying new or used there are a number of factors to consider before you sign on the dotted line.

Johannesburg - Many South Africans look at buying a new car at this time of year, for a variety of reasons: they are on leave and have time to do the necessary legwork, they plan to use their bonus as a deposit or they want to take delivery early in the new year so as to register the car as a 2018 model.

Whether you’re buying new or used, says the Automobile Association’s Layton Beard, there are a number of factors to consider before you sign on the dotted line - and the two most important, he says, are cost and safety.

In November, the AA partnered with Global NCAP to launch #SaferCarsforAfrica, starting with the safety ratings of five entry-level cars available on the South African market - with spine-chilling results.

This is crucial when buying on a tight budget, especially for wheels for a student about to leave home. Be careful not to put more emphasis on ‘wow’ features such as upmarket audio or performance, at the expense of less glamorous stuff such as airbags, anti-lock braking and ‘crashability’.

“A car for a student doesn’t need off-road capability, nor does it need the performance of a racing car,” says Beard. “Be practical about the car you’re buying, and think about who’ll be driving it. A car with a solid safety rating is a better option for a student than a car that has lots of optional extras but fewer safety features.”

Here are the AA’s seven steps to buying a budget car:

Draw up a budget and stick to it - and remember to factor in insurance and servicing costs, as well as consumables such as fuel and brake pads and tyres.

Ensure that the models you’re considering are suitable for the purpose the car will be used for - a cheeky little two-door hatch is great for a student, but impractical for a soccer mom.

Check out the safety options offered for the models you’re considering and, if possible, go online and compare the NCAP safety reports for those models.

Consider buying a used or demo model with a higher safety rating, rather than a new car with a lower rating.

Read road tests of that model, in print and online, making sure that the tests feature the same engine and transmission as the car you’re looking at buying - that’ll give you an accurate idea of the car’s fuel consumption (see step one, above!)

Keep it real

Consider practical aspects such as rear-view parking cameras, to avoid parking by braille, and ease of entry and exit; your doll-sized daughter may fancy a chunky SUV but will find it hard work to get into, while older drivers may battle to get out of a low-slung Mini.

If you’re buying a used car, check its service booklet; that will tell you how well it’s been looked after by its previous owner.

Think ahead to the resale value of the car you’re buying; a well-known and respected badge will command a higher trade-in when you come to sell it, as will a car that has been kept clean and well-maintained. Even regular smoking in a car can have a significant impact on its trade-in value, according to research in the UK.

“As our country’s road fatality statistics mount,” says Beard, “it’s important to consider not only consider your driving behaviour, but also the safety of the vehicle you’re driving.”

IOL Motoring