New versus used vehicles? Which is the right choice for you?

Should you go for the cheap and cheerful luxury car or settle for basic no frills commuter? Michael Mwai explores the nuances of the car buying decision

The thought that replacing my ageing car was going to be an exciting automotive adventure is turning out to be a nerve-racking, somewhat pointless excursion. there must be more to life than the car we drive. If you have never owned a car, it may not make sense, but without an organised transport system (aside of the matatus and boda bodas), we all need to get to work and go about life with some level of comfort.

With the many great cars in the market, making up my mind has never been so difficult. take the Audi A4 and A6 for instance — good looking understated elegance that does not date. the flagship A8 defines what a luxury cruiser should look and drive like. if you have watched the Transporter movie or series, you will admit that this is one vehicle that will have you feeling dangerously macho and requiring a keen eye of the law enforcers as you attempt those dangerous stunts.

Value for money

Choosing between the Toyota Camry and Mercedes E-Class may be easier for most because they are miles apart in terms of character and perceived value. My point in this comparison is that you must never judge a car by its price. While the camry may be overpriced and under-specced, it has a sibling in form of the Lexus GS 300 and here you get real value for money. The Lexus, although not available as new locally, competes head to head with the Mercedes, Audi and BMW abroad despite sharing mechanicals with the Toyota Camry and Mark X.

In terms of specifications, the Lexus gives you all the bells and whistles and in some cases, more than its German rivals.

Where am i going with this argument? If you are in the market for a new car, you will buy one, whether or not a highly specced used one is available. On the other hand, if you are economically challenged or just more sensible and tight fisted, you will look for a good and clean used car and keep it only long enough to avoid its expensive repairs that will undoubtedly befall you.

For instance, with the sh2.5 million you would spend to get a pre-owned Audi A6 or BMW 5 series, you can get a brand new, well-specced Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze or Renault Fluence.

At this point, it would help to put vehicle pricing into perspective. For the same sh2.5 million, you can get 20 eight-year-old Toyota Probox’es or 12 Toyota Corollas. at the same time, you get trouble free motoring for about three years with a new car.

So, while the decision to buy a new verses used vehicle may be purely economical, even the small and medium size businesses have opted to settle for used cars to keep their capex (capital expenditures) manageably low.

Today, there is a new middle ground in form of the Chinese brands. For less than what you would pay for a new car and a little more than you need to pay for a pre-owned vehicle, you can get a brand new Chinese vehicle. It may not yet offer that same quality of the established brands, but it is an interesting proposition to those seeking a new car. This especially, makes sense for commercial vehicles like pickups and trucks, which you plan to expense and dispose after a specific project or task. You, however, must be wary of expensive downtime. You might want to seriously reconsider this option if you are looking for a private vehicle for personal use where quality, safety and reliability are key considerations.

Duty structure

Beyond the chinese, we also have the Indian-manufactured products. Competitive pricing would seem like a key advantage here. To find out what this variety had to offer,I took the Ford Figo for a test drive. While it looked very good at a first glance and drove well, on closer scrutiny, it did not deliver real value. It is so basic it would not even impress a six-year-old. No power windows, no centre seatbelt at the back and only two airbags. No ABS (antilock brake system), no ESP (electronic stability control) and EBD (electronic brake distribution). You get wheel caps instead of alloy wheels and all this for sh1.5 million. Think about what else you can get for that money and you will see why it offers little value for the typical car buyer. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, for it comes with a superb sound system. But as soon as you begin to enjoy ‘audio-candy’, you realise that there is nowhere to plug your usb to listen to you favourite mix of music.

In this digital age, nobody carries around cds except for a different kind of entertainment. What would it cost to have such basic features in a brand new car and how much will it affect the overall price?

Other small cars that have attempted to make sense of the entry-level new vehicles are the Toyota Yaris (formerly Vitz), the Suzuki Swift and the Cherry QQ from Stantech. Success cannot be used in the same sentence in either of these models.

Will new cars ever make sense? Perhaps not in the near future, but it would take a proactive government to change the duty structure to make new cars accessible to the majority. For now, you will need to really think through your decision before forking out millions for a set of wheels. Save for a lottery win, i will continue to look for that sensible car that gives me value and pleasure in one great package.

About the Author

Michael Mwai

Creator and founder of, is a respected motoring journalist and vehicle consultant based in East Africa. His passion for motoring has seen him pen a weekly column for local newspapers in Kenya for over a decade. He has written for the Standard Newspapers, Nation’s Business Daily and he contributes for Msafiri (KQ inflight), Kenya Yetu, True Love and SME Today magazines.

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