Monday, 16 September 2013

Forgotten Factors

Selling cars these days has become like a morning routine for salesmen. You see a customer tell him about the price, fuel economy, take him for a test drive that lasts as long a 4 year olds attention span and then floor him with the amazing gifts, “free” insurance and “limited period” discounts.

Buyers need a car that will get them and their family from point A to B while consuming as little fuel as possible. You would be surprised at the number of high end cars that have CNG kits hidden away like pimples. One fact that most salespersons will agree upon is that safety rarely features as a priority to a prospect. There’s a reason why every billboard and spec sheet has fuel economy figure printed like a badge of honor and the word “best in class” tossed around like salad, but none ever says “best in class safety” as that is seen as more of a luxury than a necessity. 

Which is what brings me to the issue at hand. This is a piece about the factors that people turn a blind eye towards while buying a car. The factors that you only consider when it’s too late.

1. Build Quality:

Before I go on to explain how important it is to consider this, have a look at the images below:

The Volkswagen Polo was travelling at an average speed when a bad patch of road caused the tyre burst resulting in the car toppling over multiple times. Looking at the damage sustained it’s hard to imagine that both passengers got away with nothing but a few scratches. Analyzing the damage closely will show you that thanks to Volkswagen’s international standard build quality the damage was veered away from the main passenger cabin keeping them safe. This is where terms like “crumple zone” come into play.

Now have a look at this crash test of the Maruti Suzuki Alto K10, one of the highest selling cars in the country today.

Evidently the king of efficiency wouldn’t save its people if it crashed. The entire body caved in like someone crushed a piece of paper to throw into the dust-bin while bored at work. Not so much fun when you’re the thing being thrown. This lack of build quality is what puts the lives of its passengers is serious danger. Just imagine if the people who were in the Polo were in the Alto. The outcome would be a lot worse than having to worry about an insurance claim.

2. Safety features:

ABS, EBD, ESP are seen as just a bunch of abbreviations that make you pay more. It's high time to recognize the importance of safety features in the car you buy. A bare minimum of ABS and airbags go a long way in ensuring a sensible purchase, in fact in many countries they are mandatory by law for manufacturers.  Indian road conditions and driving standards are at an all-time low and dropping, while the number of motorists is climbing. Since the country’s focus is on getting people cars rather than getting them into safe ones it’s up to the buyers themselves to take the right decision.

An accident doesn’t have to be your fault. All it takes is one rash youngster trying to impress his friends, a drunk driver or even an innocent motorist who instinctively swerved to avoid a crater on the road, but didn’t see a car in the lane next to him. You can expect your car to do 0-60 in 7 seconds, you can expect it deliver 15 kilometers to the litre, but accidents are something you can never see coming and don’t come with an ARAI certification.

This is why your build quality and safety features are like pants you wore when you were fat. You hope you never have to use them again, but you’re glad to know they’re there.
3. Ground Clearance:

Let’s face it. Unless you’re in a purpose built sports car your undercarriage doesn’t need to flirt with the road like Pepe Le Pew, no matter how sporty it may make the car look. Try and look out for a car that has enough ground clearance depending on the locality that you drive in. This is one factor where your type of driving must be reflected in your test drive.

If you plan to have your family or friends along often make sure you take them along to see how the car handles when packed. This is how you can know how hard or soft your suspension is, if the car struggles or strives when put under a heavy pay-load and if the car rides high enough. It’s not a deal breaker, but can save you a lot of grief. The sound of your bumper giving a high-five to a speed bump is quite heartbreaking.

4. Post- Sale Follow up:

Researching on your treatment after you’ve bought the car matters a great deal. People have often sold their vehicles after being given sub-standard service repeatedly. Have a look online at different forums to see if customers are getting their money’s worth. Better yet, go on to the brand’s Facebook page.

People love to bring their issues under the spotlight as there is no better revenge against a brand than making their flaws public. Don’t let it brainwash you. If there is a real problem, a pattern will emerge. Use your judgment to see who pointed out a genuine issue and who is just a customer who had a fight with his wife and needed an outlet.

5. Upcoming launches/updates:

Always, ALWAYS! Keep an eye out for launches that are soon to arrive. Follow car magazine pages and websites to know if there’s a better option coming out later. Salesmen function on the basis of monthly targets. So if they want to make a sale they will push you to book a car immediately so as to fill up their quota.

Keep yourself updated to see if the car you’re looking at has a new upgrade or version coming out. Bear in mind the fact that an upgrade doesn't have to mean higher prices, even though the guy selling the car may say otherwise. Especially around December, salespersons use the “prices will go up” tactic, when in fact the prices may even drop. The period of January to April sees a flood of discounts and offers as everyone is trying to close the books with the big numbers. This is the ideal time to strike as dealers get desperate and their arms can be twisted to a certain extent.

Festive season offers are a dime a dozen thanks to the sheer number of festivals throughout the year, but don’t let the offers get in the way of trying to strike a bargain. The free gifts you get for your purchase are never free. Everything has been added to the final price of your car so make sure you get what you paid for.

Be smart while buying a car. While some of these factors should be long term considerations, some are just about getting the most bang for your buck. Shelling out a little more money to get a safer car and taking a little more time and effort to do your homework and get a great buy is worth it when the car you buy looks after you and not just your wallet.

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