WITH car sales falling off a cliff, there's never been a better time to buy a car. The number of new cars sold in Ireland last year was a third the number sold in 2000, when the Celtic Tiger was alive and well. The industry is on its knees as a result – so you've a better chance of getting a bargain.
"It's definitely a buyer's market," said Conor Faughnan, director of policy with AA Ireland. "You can push the car dealer on price, particularly if you've got the cash to do a deal."
Cash of course is the cheapest way to buy a car – but not many of us have the luxury of having the cash to buy a car outright. Chances are, you'll have to borrow to buy your dream set of wheels. Choose the wrong car finance however and you could pay as much as €6,000 more for your car than you would have, had you borrowed the money elsewhere.
You usually have two choices of car finance – a hire purchase agreement, where you pay monthly repayments for the hire of the car, or a car loan. You'll typically be offered hire purchase if you go to a dealer; while a bank will usually offer you a loan.
The Sunday Independent examined the car finance offered by AIB, Bank of Ireland, Danske Bank, Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank as well as the hire purchase deals offered by a few dealers. We found that hire purchase can work out a lot cheaper than a loan – but only if the interest rate is lower than 9 per cent and there are no hidden charges lobbed on top of that.
Up to €2,350 more expensive at the bank
If borrowing €10,000 to buy a car, one of the cheapest ways to do so is through hire purchase with Renault Finance.
If you're buying a Renault Megane (Coupe, Hatch or Grand), Renault Finance offers interest-free hire purchase of up to €11,000 as long as you pay off the money borrowed over three years – and pay a 30 per cent up-front deposit off the price of the car.
If you're not interested in a Megane, but have another Renault in mind, you could borrow €10,000 from Renault Finance at an interest rate of 4.9 per cent under hire purchase – as long as you can stump up the 30 per cent deposit. Under that rate, the monthly repayments are €185 over five years – and the cost of your credit, including interest and fees of €150, comes to €1,250. That's up to €2,350 cheaper than the banks.
If you're buying from a BMW dealer, BMW Financial Services charges 7.95 per cent interest under HP if you're borrowing €10,000. The monthly repayments over five years are €198.67, which brings the cost of your credit to €1,920 – almost half what some banks charge. You don't have to pay a deposit to get the 7.95 per cent interest rate.
Our survey found that Bank of Ireland is the most expensive for car loans. It charges 13.6 per cent interest on a fixed-rate loan of €10,000. Under that rate, your monthly repayments over five years are €226.82 – which brings the cost of your credit to €3,609.
Bank of Ireland will knock off 1 per cent from your interest rate if you get your loan online – but even with that discount, its €10,000 car loans still work out more expensive than those offered by AIB, Danske Bank, and PTSB. Ulster Bank is the second most expensive for a €10,000 car loan. Ulster charges 12.3 per cent interest – which clocks up to €3,238 after five years.
Permanent TSB offers the cheapest €10,000 car loan. Permo charges 9.9 per cent interest, which will cost you €2,595 after five years.
Check if your bank offers hire purchase as that may work out cheaper for you than a car loan. Bank of Ireland charges 10.5 per cent interest on €10,000 borrowed under hire purchase, which brings the cost of your credit to €2,756.40 after five years – about €800 cheaper than the bank's fixed rate loan.
Up to €5,731 more expensive at the bank
If buying a Renault, Renault Finance should work out a lot cheaper than your bank. It costs €3,510 to borrow €30,000 over five years under Renault's 4.9 per cent interest rate for hire purchase – but again, you need a 30 per cent deposit to get that rate.
If you don't have the 30 per cent deposit, you'll be charged 6.9 per cent interest – which is still cheaper than the banks.
It costs €6,068 to borrow €30,000 over five years under BMW Financial Services' hire purchase plan – which charges 7.95 per cent interest.
Borrow the €30,000 through Bank of Ireland's variable loan however, and you'll pay €9,241 in interest over five years – between €3,173 and €5,731 more than the hire purchase offers we examined. Bank of Ireland charges 11.7 per cent interest on this loan – which makes its variable loan the most expensive of the €30,000 car loans examined.
Danske Bank's variable loan is also expensive. Danske charges 11.47 per cent on a variable loan of €30,000, which will cost you €9,054 after five years.
The cost of Permo's €30,000 car loan, which has an interest rate of 9.3 per cent, adds up to €7,277 after five years. The hire purchase offers from Bank of Ireland and AIB worked out cheaper than Permo's loan however.
Up to €6,192 more expensive at the bank
One of the cheapest ways to borrow €60,000 is through hire purchase with BMW Financial Services. You'll pay 7.95 per cent interest on €60,000 and this will cost you €12,290 after five years. Get a €60,000 variable loan at 11.7 per cent from Bank of Ireland however, and you'll pay €18,482 interest after five years – about €6,200 more.
Avoid Danske Bank's variable loan – it charges 11.47 per cent interest on €60,000, which will cost you €18,107 after five years.
At 9.3 per cent interest, Permanent TSB's car loan was the cheapest €60,000 bank loan surveyed. The cost of that loan came to €14,555 after five years.
Bank of Ireland's hire purchase however works out cheaper than Permo's car loan. The cost of borrowing €60,000 under Bank of Ireland's hire purchase over five years adds up to €13,515.
If you own your own business and you've no desire to own a car outright, leasing could work out cheaper for you in the short-term.
For example, it could cost you €29,560 to buy a Toyota Avensis diesel saloon. If you lease it for five years from Merrion Fleet Management, your monthly repayments come to €512.67. These repayments include the cost of maintenance such as road tax, servicing and tyres. By contrast, the monthly repayments for a €30,000 bank loan over five years range between €619 and €654 and these repayments don't include costs such as road tax and servicing.
The cost of leasing a car will however add up over time. After five years, the monthly repayments for the lease of the Toyota Avensis add up to €30,760 – and you won't own your car but must hand it back to the leasing company at an agreed time. As long as you meet the repayments on your car loan or hire purchase agreement, you'll own your car.
You need to understand everything about a hire purchase agreement before you sign up to it, warns Dermott Jewell of the Consumers' Association of Ireland.
The main advantage of a loan over hire purchase is that you can sell your car to repay the loan should you fall behind on your repayments. You can't do this with hire purchase. As a result, you're more likely to have your car repossessed under hire purchase than a car loan. With hire purchase, you don't own the car until the final payment is made.
"The inability to pay later has given rise to significant debts when devalued cars are repossessed, sold for small market value and leaving unmanageable balances to pay," said Jewell.