MOTORING: Can you afford to be wrong? - Daily Nation

You may be right, but can you afford to be wrong?

Saturday December 30 2017

Understand what car you “need” – one that will do the jobs you essentially expect it to do... frequently. PHOTO | FILE

Understand what car you “need” – one that will do the jobs you essentially expect it to do... frequently. PHOTO | FILE 

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Most new motorists do not choose their first car. It chooses them. 

It’s a hand-me-down from the family, or a mate’s-rates deal with a friend, or a chance find that matches a nearly empty wallet with the burning desire for a set of wheels. Any wheels.

My first car, bought exactly 50 years ago, was a 1953 Standard Eight, so economically made that it had only one windscreen wiper and no boot lid (you put the luggage in behind a flip-down back seat.) Aah, but it was also state-of-the-art: it had synchromesh on nearly all the gears! 

When new, it cost 481 quid (about Sh50,000 in real money). Mine was 14 years old and cost me a token Sh200 (more than a year’s pocket money) – a win for the seller because it saved him the cost of having it towed to a scrap yard.  

I got all 26 of its horse powers to go, and it even stopped so well that at an early halt in our relationship the passenger seat fell through the rusted floor. 

The passenger was a vicar. He gave me a deal on his old Wolseley 1100 on condition I never took the Standard Eight on a public road again.  

The point is I had not dreamed of one day owning a Standard Eight (that would have been a Citroen Avant or a Studebaker Hawk), and I most certainly had not carefully considered the make or the model’s relative merits of performance, durability, economy, comfort, looks, resale value vis-a-vis other options.

It was a catch-as-catch-can process, based above all on the here-and-now coinage in the pocket. Much has changed for me and the motoring world (not necessarily in that order) in the subsequent half century, but one thing has not. The primary determinant, whether by choice or forced circumstance, is your budget. 


That resource may be big or small, precise or within a range, but it absolutely determines the menu from which you will decide “what car should I buy”. Within your limits, there might be brand new (but perhaps modest) options, nearly new (but a bit more prestigious), well used (but even higher specification), and downright decrepit (monsters and luxury limos). Any strong preference there will rationalise your choices even more.  

The next step is to understand what car you “need” – one that will do the jobs you essentially expect it to do... frequently. The number of passengers, the size of loads, the length of journeys, the type of roads etc. That will narrow the choice to a specific class of vehicle – a town runabout, a big family estate, an SUV or a 4WD. 

Only then should you move on (within the decided class) to the car you would “like”. By all means indulge that preference, of which you will have no doubt, but try, if you can, to analyse why it might not be your best selection. If there is a dilemma between a few short-list alternatives, consider the makes (with what this column said last week in mind) and the little compromise pros and cons of each of their designs. 

Locally popular makes offer the safer choices. “Unorthodox” selections (however well they may fit your individual motoring profile) carry risk. By all means go off-beat if you are sure you’re right… as long as you can afford to be wrong.