The decision to buy a car

Last weekend, we bought a car. And a few factors contributed to this decision.

Over the previous seven months, my car usage had become sufficient to suggest that Streetcar, or Zipcar as it recently became, was no longerthe most economically valuable solution. My four-times weekly 35-mile each way commute was arguably viable when the 500-mile fair use mileage was in place under Streetcar. But when this was lowered to 200 miles under Zipcar’s charging model, the financials changed.

And tax rules mean that once you’ve commuted to the same location for a certain length of time, it is no longer allowed for that travel to be put through the company. That time limit was hit in October.

These factors meant that car ownership was the most sensible option. So I started the search.

I wanted to spend four figures. My wife is more comfortable with an automatic. The car needed to be sufficiently sizeable to cater for the family of three. And it needed to be relatively fuel efficient, both for the environment and for my wallet.

The default choice was the second-hand market. And the default choice therein was Auto Trader. (I didn’t even consider going directly to a dealer.)

I did my research. I looked for cars that interested me, and refined the options over the course of a few weeks. At first, I was looking at bigger cars: the Nissan Qashqai and the Kia Cee’d SW. But then I realised that apart from legroom, we don’t have huge space requirements. So the options moved to the dull yet solid Ford Focus, the Citroën C3, the Fiat Grande Punto and the pricier Audi A3. A late entrant on the list was the Mazda 3.

Most of my research was done online. Although I also took some advice from friends old and new, including Pete Chivers, an old friend from school.

Having done the research and identified some options, and after a thoroughly enjoyable game of golf last Friday, I popped in to see a semi-private dealer near Croydon about a Mazda 3. It ticked all of the boxes and seemed a good deal. I didn’t have time for a test drive, but my initial viewing of the car was positive. I caught the train down to Purley the following day and after a short test-drive, I drove away with having bought the car.

And so far so good.

First, the dealer: On Four Wheels. Not a dealer in the traditional negative sense. A truly positive experience. Not pushy, just seemingly genuine. I wouldn’t hesitate in advising people to go straight to him if you’re looking for a user car.

And the car itself? It’s great. It’s not going to pull away from you at speed when the lights change. But it’s safe, solid, roomy and pleasant to drive. And it’s ours. And my daughter’s happy because it’s purple (more blue than purple, but she’s convinced) and she has a new car seat furnishing the back seat.

As for the financial comparison with Zipcar, time will tell. But I’m estimating that once all of the ad hoc costs of a car are factored in (petrol included), I’ll be saving a sliver over £100 per week against their increased pricing model, not taking into account the cost of the car itself.

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