Archived — In the Driver's Seat

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You’ve already made some important financial decisions and the decision making isn’t over yet. The choices you make now may affect your financial situation for many years to come.

Find information for different jurisdictions through the following links:

While these decisions may seem overwhelming, making them is easier if you have solid information before you start. Whether you are buying, leasing, insuring or repairing your vehicle, there are some questions you need to consider before putting yourself in the driver’s seat:

  • Do I really need a vehicle at this stage of my life?
  • Is it better for me to buy or lease?
  • I’ve changed my mind on my newly purchased vehicle — can I return it?
  • Can I end a lease before the term is up?
  • How should I go about choosing a mechanic?
  • How much insurance do I need and how can I minimize my premium?

It’s important that you know your rights and responsibilities under the legislation governing your jurisdiction.

Before you buy or lease — Do you really need a vehicle? Can you afford one?

Next to accommodation, an automobile is probably one of the biggest expense items in anyone’s budget, so it is important to first establish that you really need a car — especially if money is tight. As you consider your options, it may be helpful to begin by assessing your situation. How necessary is a vehicle in your current circumstance? If you live in an urban area, for example, could using public transit, taking a taxi or occasionally renting a car be a cheaper and more sensible alternative?

Keep in mind that there are far more expenses involved in owning a vehicle than the initial cost of the car. Insurance, licensing fees, loan interest, vehicle maintenance, parking and gas will add up significantly, often far outweighing what taxis and public transit would ever cost.

If you have confirmed that a vehicle is indeed a necessity, you need to make some decisions about the type of car you want to drive. Is owning a high-end vehicle important to you? Perhaps you would rather put the extra money towards other investments. Decide on the make, model, year, horsepower, gas mileage, and options to suit your type of driving. For example, a small compact car may be easiest to park and manoeuvre, if you do mostly city driving. If you spend much of your time on the highway, gas mileage and horsepower are higher priorities.

Consider how much you can afford and how much you will be willing to pay for your vehicle. Setting the maximum price for yourself will ensure you don’t spend beyond your means.

Calculate how much the vehicle will cost, including any payments you may have to make, taxes, interest, fees, etc. You will also need to determine fixed yearly costs (insurance and licence fees), as well as daily operational expenses (gas and parking). You will have to estimate costs for maintenance, such as changing oil, filters, batteries, tires and antifreeze, as well as tune-ups and any repairs that may be required.

There is a wide variety of information available to help you make the best decisions for your circumstances. The following can offer you vehicle ratings for safety, reliability and price, as well as helpful information about the cost of maintenance and repair. Some of these sites require a membership fee to access specific information:

Buying a vehicle from a dealer

Check out the reputations of dealers before you do any business with them. Talk to friends, relatives and co-workers who may be able to recommend a dealer to you. Contact your local Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) for reports on various dealers.

Take the time to shop around and compare prices for similar vehicles with similar options. Test drive the vehicles and be sure to check consumer reports for ratings on everything from gas consumption to safety features. The following sites offer comparisons for both new and used vehicles:

Whether it is a new, used or leased vehicle you are considering buying, it’s always a good idea to have a mechanic of your choice check its condition before you buy. The condition of the vehicle is probably more important than the age, make or model.

You may also have local requirements for safety inspections that must be done before a vehicle can be licensed. Find out who will be responsible for the safety requirement check and, if the vehicle is then found to be unsafe, find out who is responsible for paying for those repairs. Keep in mind that even though a vehicle passes a safety inspection, it may not be in good mechanical condition and might therefore be unreliable. Be sure to ask when buying a used vehicle if there is a warranty that can be transferred to you.

If you feel that there was misrepresentation by the dealer in the sale of a vehicle, contact your provincial or territorial office of consumer affairs.