PERSONAL FINANCE: Don't Be Blinded by '57 Plate, Car Buyers Warned

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Byline: By Jennifer Hill Special Correspondent

The new '57' registration plate is with us and showrooms are buzzing with new car hunters.

But while they may have thought carefully about make and model, they could pay through the nose if they haven't done their financial homework as well.

While a fifth of car-hunters spend more than 20 hours flicking through car magazines and viewing cars before choosing a make and model, a quarter would spend less than an hour - if any time at all - researching how to pay for it, according to research by insurer esure.

More than 40 per cent of 1,000 people surveyed say they would not find out a car's insurance group before signing on the dotted line and 35 per cent would not think to get an insurance quote to gauge the cost and whether they are insurable.

Meanwhile, 11 per cent say they would not haggle over the actual purchase price.

Colin Batabyal, underwriting director at esure, said: "As a nation we're always out for a bargain and value for money, yet motorists aren't putting this into practice when it comes to buying a new car.

"Being shrewd and shopping around for the best price, finance and insurance deals could slash hundreds, if not thousands, off the cost of driving away in a new '57' plate."

Buying a car remains the second largest purchase most people will make - behind a house - and most drivers have to borrow to meet the cost.

There are various means of funding the purchase - from dealer credit and zero per cent finance to loans and hire purchase.

The cheapest option is, clearly, interest-free credit. But obtaining this and a discount on the price can prove tricky.

Such offers often come with stringent conditions too: many require a hefty deposit and the loan might have to be repaid over a short period.

Drivers unable to meet minimum deposits could part-exchange old vehicles to help bridge the gap. If you still have insufficient funds, you could consider taking out a competitive unsecured personal loan to fund the up-front cost.

Personal loans allow drivers to become "cash" buyers - owning their new set of wheels from the outset.

Despite rising interest rates, the market for personal loan business remains competitive. Rates of little over the base rate (currently 5.75 per cent) are achievable.

Best buys, according to price comparison service, include Money-back Bank at 6.3 per cent and Masterloan and Sainsbury's Bank at 6.5 per cent.

Be aware, though, that achieving headline rates on low-cost personal loans will depend on your credit rating.

Watch out, too, for costly payment protection insurance. …