How about a half-price car?

New Zealanders could get their cars for up to 50% less if they did their homework first, says the car buyers’ Dog & Lemon Guide.

Dog & Lemon Guide editor Clive Matthew-Wilson says that many car buyers end up paying far too much for their cars or buying lemons.

"Next to out homes, our cars are often our most expensive purchases, yet most car buyers have zero real information about the cars they want and the prices they should be paying. That's why I wrote The Dog & Lemon Guide."

He gives the following advice for anyone wanting a cheap car:

  • Buy the last version of an old model rather than the first of a new.
  • Dealer prices are around 30% higher than private sellers. You don’t need to use dealers merely to get a warranty. Instead you can buy a mechanical insurance policy yourself that will give you similar protection.
  • If you're buying a current model, get a version that's about 18 months old. That way the depreciation monster will have taken its biggest bite, but the vehicle should still have some factory warranty left.
  • Borrow from a bank rather than trying for expensive dealer finance.
  • Get a car that's unpopular but reliable. Examples include those old and battered Toyota Corollas and Camrys that are basically sound; the Daihatsu Materia, which is essentially a boxy version of the Toyota Yaris and also sold as the Toyota bB; versions of popular cars with small engines and a uncool shade of paint; post 1999 Nissan Pulsar station wagons; the late model Mazda 626/Capella/Ford Telstar (the 626, Capella and Telstar are basically the same vehicle with different badges. They offer Mazda reliability at its finest, but look a bit dumpy and uncool, says Matthew-Wilson).
  • Take your time and do your homework.
  • It's a buyers market. If the first seller won't sell you a car at the price you want, the next one probably will.
  • Don't be afraid to buy a car with a few minor scrapes or dents. These really lower the price of a car and mean that most dealers won't want it. Provided the rest of the car is up to scratch, you'll probably save a great deal by buying something with a few parking dents, and you won't be so upset when your vehicle gets bumped at the supermarket.
  • If you can, wait until early winter to buy. Prices usually come down as the weather cools, and by April or May of next year the recession will be biting hard and there will be great bargains to be had. Matthew-Wilson predicts a 30% second hand car price drop by the end of next year.
  • If you're looking at the most reliable Japanese cars, such as Toyota or Mazda, don't worry too much if the mileage is high. "I would buy a Toyota that had done 400,000km provided the price was right and it had been regularly serviced,” says Matthew-Wilson. However, he adds, a 400,000km Toyota that hasn’t been regularly serviced should be avoided.
  • When you go check out a car, take a mechanic, not a friend ‘who knows a bit about cars’. Mechanics can help highlight problems and help you drive the price down.
  • No matter how cheap it appears to be, never buy a car you haven’t seen. If you’re buying online and the car is in a different town, arrange to get a car check done by a local vehicle inspection service. If the seller won’t help arrange this inspection, don’t touch the vehicle.