Buying? -- get into gear now
Focus puts the emphasis on family
I know it is only October and an awful lot of people are millions of kilometres from thinking about buying a new or newer car. By the same token, I've seldom had as many questions and enquiries from those who, for a variety of reasons, are on the verge of making a big decision.
The simple reason, I think, is that so many have reached the end of the road with what they have. It is a matter of having to buy, or risk big repair bills.
Firstly, there is the huge hurdle of getting the money for a newer motor.
After that comes the decision about what car they really need (as opposed to what they might like or want).
Since many families made their last purchase their circumstances have changed beyond belief. We can assume most are financially much worse off. Many have had to get rid of the second car. Families have grown and need a bigger car, or grown up and need a smaller one. It is a critical time for so many and their decisions have to be spot-on. They can not afford any mistakes.
I have been genuinely surprised at the number and level of enquiries about what to buy and what is good value. Normally there is a distinct increase from around mid-November; rarely this early.
Despite the vast advances in technology please believe me when I tell you there are still horror stories out there. Problems with electrics, gearboxes and clutches predominate. And by golly they can be expensive to rectify.
On top of that, a breakdown can undermine confidence in your car. Really, you are never at ease with it afterwards.
Remember, if you are buying new, you have a minimum of a two-year warranty. Some makers offer three, five and, in the case of Kia, seven years. Just make sure you are aware of exactly what is covered and for what -- parts and labour. Ask plenty of questions.
If you are buying secondhand, please, please, please be careful.
Buy from an established, respected, registered dealer. I'm telling you now that buying privately, or from someone you know, has its inherent dangers no matter how honest the disposition of seller and buyer.
You must insist on a 12-month warranty with any used car -- and be clear on what is included in that. Labour costs in garages are high and you don't feel a few hundred euro mounting up.
If you have the slightest doubt about any aspect of a used car or the person selling it, walk away.
And you must get it thoroughly checked out by an expert or good mechanic before you part with a cent. Please take nothing at face value with a used motor.
But before you do any of that be sure of the sort of vehicle you need. Now is the time to start doing a little bit of research and checking around.
Don't expect to walk into a garage in January or February and find the automatic with three rows of seats and sunroof waiting for you.
Dealers can't afford to have too many varieties of models soaking up space and credit. So you could have a three-month wait for some models.
That's why now is a good time to whittle down your range, where to get the best credit and how to get the best value. Shop around of course.
You can take it from me there will be huge competition and special offers over the next few months with dealers anxious to take bookings for early 2012. It is going to be a cut-throat market and you should be preparing to capitalise on the intense competition. But don't be swayed from what you need. That is essential. Stick to your guns and don't be taken in by the glamour and glitz of an alternative.
Knowledge is power in this game.
Take, for example, this week's review car. Did you know there was an estate version of the new Ford Focus? I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't because most of the emphasis has been on the hatchback and saloon. Yet here is a car that might, just might, suit a family better than the other two formats.
By the same token it might avert the necessity of buying a bigger, costlier saloon.
This has reasonable flexibility (you can drop one or both sections of the back seats for more luggage space) which might mean you don't need to spend more on a people carrier or small MPV. It might do the job. I'm not saying it will, but it might.
Certainly the engine had plenty of pep to it and there was a lot of room. It looks quite a bit different from the Focus hatch and would not be out of place in many a family's driveway.
However, as I've said before, we are not huge fans of estates in this country. The point I'm making is that we should start looking at them anew because they are, in the main, stylish and practical.
I had a busy few days in this with the luggage area expanded a few times. That's what I really liked about it -- switching to lower passenger space or vice versa takes no time at all.
Quite a few people remarked on how smooth and quiet it was. That is down to probably the best chassis in the small-family car market. The Focus is one of the big names in a market sector.
This version is well worth a test drive -- and so are several of its main rivals -- as it brings a decent level of room and comfort alongside some serious safety technology.
The latter can not be overemphasised because you want your family to be as well protected as possible, at all times.
So now might be a good time to start sampling a few cars to get a flavour of what is out there. Good luck and safe driving.