Car Advice

Buying your new car – Head or Heart?

Buying your new car is, after buying a house, probably the second biggest investment you’ll ever make. So, how should you choose such a massive purchase – with your head or your heart?

MOST OF YOU RELY ON YOUR CARS FOR TRANSPORT, perhaps your livelihood, and aside from the initial investment the running costs will be a big hit on your weekly budget. So it makes sense to buy as logically as possible, to minimise the financial and other risks… But we don’t.

If we did, then Toyota would sell a lot more Camrys and Yarises, and there’d be a worldwide shortage of white paint. So, being human, every car buyer struggles with the same basic problem – head, or heart. Your cool logical brain telling you what you can afford, what you need, what will be practical. But your hot, romantic, adventurous heart arguing that you need to live, need to enjoy yourself, there’s just one life you have and it should be lived to the maximum.

After all, we could drink water instead of beer, coffee or wine. But what you don’t want to do is end up with the car you love breaking the life you lead. So if your budget is say $40,000, then diving into debt for an $80,000 dream isn’t going to work. And if you’re dependent on reliable transport then buying the bargain old Italian sportscar will lead to a life of misery. How do you reconcile head and heart? After advising countless people on car buying I believe I have an answer. I’ve boiled it down to just two simple steps:

Step 1

The first step in the process of purchasing a perfect car is to set constraints, and do so without thinking about which car you’ll buy. Buying cost. Running cost, particularly for older luxury models as while the sticker price comes down the running costs go up even further. Practicality too – got a family on the way? Need to tackle dirt roads? Carry lots of people? Make all these dry functional requirements, none related to fun, and make them limits such as “no more than $40,000 to buy, must be able to take four people even if uncomfortable, must be able to tow at least 1500kg”.

Step 2

Step 2 is the fun part, the chocolate cake after the vegetables. You’re now free to choose whatever car you like so long as it falls within your constraints. Let’s say, for example, you have a need for a small, fairly economical car with a bit of loadspace and on rare occasions you’ll carry three or four people back from the pub and your budget is $40k.

Logically, you’d buy a Toyota Yaris or some other whitegoods appliance of a vehicle. But you know what? A Toyota 86 can do the job too. So can numerous other hot-hatches, and some of the beautiful Alfa Romeos are an option. So too is the Suzuki Grand Vitara even, or a Jeep Wrangler. Now there’s two important points in Step 2. First is to think different.

You wouldn’t normally cross-shop a Toyota 86 against a Jeep Wrangler, but both are fun vehicles around the same price point so there’s more in common than you might think. Second point is to realise that Life’s Too Short For Boring Cars, and that if your budget is $40,000 then you can spend $40,000, so tell your logical brain to shut up about that doesn’t-tick-all-the-boxes $25k borebox.

The rationale behind this thinking is simple. You will spend a lot of money on your car. You will spend a lot of time in your car. Therefore, the car should be something that gives you pleasure as well as fufil its basic function. That’s why, because life is for living, you will be happier in slightly impractical car that fits your dreams than a perfectly logical one that doesn’t.

Even if you’re not truly a car person you’ll appreciate the difference between a car that’s right for you and one that’s merely functional, just as you’d appreciate the difference in clothes, food, coffee or anything else. And here’s more good news. The car that’s right for you need not be the more expensive option. I mentioned before the Jeep Wrangler and the Toyota 86, which I consider to be two of the most fun and coolest cars on the planet, a point on which I will brook no argument.

Yet both are under $40k in basic models, which these days aren’t so basic. Or maybe an Toyota FJ Cruiser instead of a Toyota Camry? Think different, it’s the spice of life. Now just like choosing your life partner, any car will have drawbacks, and even the perfectly logical ones aren’t perfect (aside from not delivering any joy of ownership). But in general the cooler cars have greater drawbacks.

If we continue with the Toyota 86 and Jeep Wrangler vs the Toyota Yaris then both will drink more fuel, be harder to park, carry less and cost more than a Yaris. All true. However, if all three meet your constraints then all three are options. And don’t forget that each cooler car will have its own advantages. The Toyota 86 will zip around corners, the Wrangler does dirt superbly well and can tow trailers.

Cooler cars also usually have clubs and that can open up new social adventures. There is, to my knowledge, no Yaris Owners Club of Australia, and no small children have posters of Camrys on their wall. So by now you have your constraints, and an open-minded, wide variety of potential vehicles. Next you must research, starting of course right here on Practical Motoring.

If you don’t see a review you need, send us a question and we’ll help as best we can. But ultimately, the true joy of car ownership is personal and you need to experience the car itself, in the flesh. More on that later, after you’ve drawn up your constraints and shortlist.

Please note – you may gain the impression that I think the Toyota Yaris and Toyota Camry are bad cars. They are not bad cars, they are superb cars. However, even their mother wouldn’t describe them as exciting and they do not deliver joy of ownership any more than boiled potatoes deliver a gourmet culinary experience. The point is – given there are less logical but much more interesting vehicles available then you should consider the alternatives.


6 Comments

  1. April 28, 2014 at 9:22 pm — Reply

    Buying a new car is a big decision and requires proper planning. The tips you have listed sound amazing and helpful. As one of my friend also planning to buy his dream car and I will definitely share these tips with as these will help him taking right and correct decision.

  2. bruno
    August 24, 2014 at 8:27 pm — Reply

    Thanks Robert this helped a lot…
    I looking to buy a car and at the moment driving a camry equivelant. However my critetria is awd and have a fun, luxury and performance as well as practical.
    My choices are WRX, GOLF R, AUDI A4 all similar price except for WRX which is cheaper. Like your article I picked my top 3 but the last choice is which one will be more practical and give me the wow factor.

    • August 26, 2014 at 8:27 am — Reply

      Hi Bruno, Thanks for getting in touch. Answering your question is a bit tricky, but if it was my money, I’d be looking directly at the WRX. Yes, I know it’s not available in a hatch anymore, but I managed to fit four into it (two adults and two children) without any fuss, so it’s definitely practical enough. And, it’s definitely quick enough, and the one to buy is the CVT – it really is better than the manual variant. I hope that helps. Cheers Isaac (editor).

    • Robert Pepper
      August 26, 2014 at 8:37 am — Reply

      Hey Bruno, thanks for the comment. I’d work out your minimum level of practicality required, and then choose the most fun car!

      I think the Golf and Audi would perhaps be the best fit as you mentioned ‘luxury’, and the WRX is many things but you’ll never confuse it with a limo!

  3. Royce
    March 26, 2015 at 5:43 pm — Reply

    The funny thing is, im having that exact same problem, jeep wrangler or toyota 86/subaru brz! im still in uni and it takes about and hour and half to commute. ive done tons of research but still dont know which to choose! help!

    • Robert
      March 27, 2015 at 11:37 am — Reply

      Well Royce, what’s important to you? As yourself that first and foremost. Perhaps rent an 86/BRZ from Hertz or similar first. I’ve driven both types quite a bit (an own an 86, check the long-term tests on PM) so ask away.

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper