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Top Tips For Choosing a Family Car

Choosing a family car is a process that requires careful consideration, as there are a large number of variables to think about.

Vauxhall CorsaFor most families purchasing a vehicle or taking out car lease is a long term commitment. You will usually pay back finance instalments or lease repayments for a number of years. Therefore the vehicle has to be fit for your needs and major compromises should not be accepted. The exact requirements for each family car will be different; some require minibuses and others only a small city hatchback. But between all these differences are some common areas which can be advised on.

This post will act as a guide for car buyers on how to make the best decision when searching for a new family car. It will be broken down into several stages including price, acquisition type, fuel economy and tax costs.


The first thing (and probably the most important) to consider is the price of the vehicle. Most families are on a tight budget; something that has not been helped by the economic difficulties in the UK over previous years. A typical family car will cost anything between £9000-15,000 and so it is by no means a cheap commodity.

Most people acquire cars via monthly repayments and do not purchase them outright. This means you need to keep in mind that the actual cost of the car will be more than the list price; as you’ll be paying interest to a finance company.

The main thing to remember on price is that it is always negotiable; you just need to use the right leverage. So for example when at a car dealership the more of the deal you process through them the more you can get off the stated price. This means you can arrange a discount if you take their servicing package or use their preferred finance company. In most cases you can make a net saving by doing so; but always double check as some dealerships have uncompetitive finance rates. Car dealers like to play games, pretending that they’re going to talk to their boss when you ask for discounts. Just keep a level head, ask for what you want and remain firm. If there’s a deal to be had car dealers won’t let it go (basically your discounted offer is either acceptable or it’s not so stick to it).

Acquisition type

Ford FocusAnother big question to think about is whether you want to purchase a car outright or lease it. Purchasing a car means that you have full ownership of it and can sell it on at any time. Whereas leasing a car means you are essentially paying a fixed sum per month to use the vehicle for the length of your contract. Both have their advantages and the decision will come down to what your priorities are.

If you want the absolute lowest cost way to run a car then leasing is the option you should go for. You don’t have to worry about the value depreciating or maintenance/breakdown costs. It is basically a nice fixed cost way to run a car month on month. However keep in mind that with this lower cost come restrictions. You have to stick to an agreed mileage per year and the car is subject to an inspection when returned at the end of the contract. Normal wear and tear is catered for, but if you have any additional damage then it may be deductible. So if your family are into off road driving and extreme sports then a lease deal may not be for you.

Purchasing a vehicle outright will result in higher monthly payments, but you have an asset that you can do with as you wish. This means no worrying about going over your mileage allowance, getting charged for dents or bashes and you can sell up and get a new model at any time. Some people worry about having to pay off a car purchase loan until the balance is paid. But you can often sell the car on and only take a small hit on the outstanding balance if done at the right time. The decision between buying and leasing essentially comes down to a trade-off between flexibility and cost. It is up to you to decide which is more important in relation to your circumstances.

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is another critical factor as it will directly affect the amount of money in your pocket at the end of the week. Diesel cars have higher MPG (miles per gallon) rates but the fuel itself costs more and so do the cars. You also have to do a fair bit of driving to get value out of modern diesel cars. The reason being is that they have filters which become clogged if the engine is not running regularly. Petrol is cheaper per litre and smaller cars which are generally more fuel efficient tend to be run on petrol.

Most families will want to find a good mid-point between car size and fuel efficiency. When considering alternative cars the MPG statistics should play a big part in your final choice. You can go to the car manufacturer’s site directly to find out the MPG; but these statistics can sometimes be misleading. Car manufacturers always state the very maximum MPG which may not reflect normal driving conditions. The best way to check (if possible) is through an independent source which has tested multiple models. There are a couple of UK and EU sites which have this data available for all models, which save you manually searching around yourself for various models.

Road tax costs

Road tax is something that can be quite variable from vehicle to vehicle. Some cars now qualify for zero road tax if they emit a low enough amount of CO2. Basically you want to get a car that has the lowest emissions possible for the size that you need. This way you’ll have a vehicle that is practically suited to your needs at the lowest cost possible.

Considering alternative fuel vehicles is another way to cut back on road tax. However the practicality of this for a busy family may not work out. Obviously electric vehicles don’t directly emit any CO2 and so are exempt from road tax. Hydrogen fuel (autogas) run vehicles are also charged at lower rates, autogas is now available from a lot of Shell petrol stations.

Finally you have to consider the intervals in which you’ll pay the road tax. When possible it’s advisable to pay in 12 month blocks (compared to 6 months). When doing this you receive a discount which saves you money in the long run. The only time that it would be sensible to invest in a 6 month tax disc is when you’re running a very old car that may need scrapped soon.

Peter McAllister is a writer for Intelligent Car Leasing

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