Sunday, 30 March 2014

How does one choose their first car in Oz?

Hi S,

Need to seek your advice again. We are currently looking for a 2nd hand car and we have no idea how to begin. We've never owned a car (Can't afford one in SG). Can you give us some tips on which brand is reliable, not too pricey and fuel efficient? We'll probably need a hatchback because we need the space. We would appreciate some advice on what to look out for when looking for our first 2nd hand car as well. Thanks in advance!



Hi Snowflake,

Firstly, do have a look at this post. Of course, it's not entirely relevant for you. I have been a car enthusiast for years, and have had four vehicles in SG.

I think I will focus on trying to help you decide what you want out of your car. In my comment reply to your post, I asked you to identify what you will be doing with your car. I hope you have thought about that. Once that's in place, you can re-visit my post again and see the other points.

I don't know you as a friend, be it in person or even online. I don't know your character, What turns you on/off (in terms of motoring, or in life. Not talking about the bedroom)? Are you the purely practical sort? Are you the kind who wants to keep up with the Joneses? Are you the kind who goes for quality? Or do you just want bargain basement?

Essential features for:

Touring - Cruise control, big boot, preferably 2 liters and above in engine capacity, car interior must smell ok (over long distances you will know what I mean. Smell also tells you about the previous owner - did he care for the car properly?). Spare tyre - yes some cars come without one. Like the Swift Sport.

Some suggestions: Camry, Toyota Kluger, Subaru Forester, Subaru Outback, Subaru Liberty Wagon (this is my huge fav), Mazda 6 wagon, Honda Accord Euro, Honda CRV, Nissan X-Trail. Mitsubishi Magna

Kids - big boot, leather seats, child restraint anchor points (I think most cars come with that in Oz).

See touring suggestions.

City commute - Automatic transmission

Any car you wish, except for Honda City/Jazz/Fit with CVT. The conventional auto transmission on the newer City/Jazz/Fit should be ok. The CVTs on the aforementioned models are said to be finicky if not taken care of immaculately. $$$$$$.

Avoid big cc cars of 3.0 liter and above for city. They will have shit fuel consumption in urban conditions. But for touring, they may give you similar figures to smaller cc engines while providing a more refined and relaxed driving experience, with plenty of reserve power for mountains and overtaking.

Nice to have:

Touring - Moon/Sunroof, all-wheel drive for the added reassurance in the wet or frost, front passenger arm rests, nice sound system, built-in Sat Nav. Diesel engine for long-distance economy. Four wheel drive with ground clearance to really get you places. Tow bar to fit bike rack, or tow trailer IF extra luggage is required

Kids - In-car entertainment system with DVD/media player for rear passengers. MPV

City commute - Electrical power steering for that extra light, lifeless feel which makes the car so easy to park. Good fuel consumption. Hybrid technology or LPG dual fueled.

To haul goods: Knock down rear seats. Almost all hatches have this, but so do some saloons. Tow bar, for moving house yourself.

Specific car models to recommend, and why:

Based on my limited experience...

For touring:

- Subaru Forester XT. This is the car we have. 2.5 liter turbo, decent low to mid-range torque for overtaking and hauling full loads up the mountain without having to keep working the gear box. Available in Automatic as well. Cruise control, moon roof, good sound system, arm rests, leather seats (in "luxury trim" version). Good economy out of town, for something this capable. Permanent AWD which is really neat in the wet on tram lines and even for light off-roading.

Also available with a Diesel engine, albeit manual only, and more expensive. My mind favours the diesel but my heart favours the petrol version which is more engaging to drive.

- Subaru Liberty (called "Legacy" in SG). Had a few rides in one. This car handles BRILLIANTLY. Excellent seats, very planted ride. I couldn't feel the body roll in this thing. Yet the ride is not harsh.

- Subaru Outback. This is basically a Liberty which is taller and thus more off-road capable. Inferior to Forester off road. Will be better everywhere else. Will have more body roll than Liberty, less than Forester.

- Toyota Camry. You will see it everywhere. I found my dad's to be an utterly characterless car, but it worked. Pretty good pick-up for something of its size, but fuel consumption was disappointing. Figures I get from a friend here are similar, so I would just go with a Subaru instead. But this is not a bad choice.

There is a hybrid version of the Camry which should return excellent figures for city driving but not be much different from a petrol on the open road...

Parts for all the above cars will be easily available for a reasonable price, and they have decent reputations as far as reliability goes.

For lugging many kids around:

- Subaru Tribeca. Because it's huge and safe and AWD. I wouldn't want this for touring for up to four people, because I think it's thirsty and overkill.

- Toyota Tarago MPV. Same as the above, sans AWD.

- Any other Japanese-branded MPV.

Especially for city driving and nothing else. Some were the cars I was considering at first:

- Hyundai i20 auto or manual. No cruise control option though, which makes it a huge pain.

- Hyundai i30. This should have the option of cruise control. If you are buying used like you should, please take note of it.

- Volkswagen Up! The highest trim level has cruise control. However, requires RON 95 petrol. It's a very cute car.

- Nissan Micra. Otherwise known as the Nissan March in SG. Cheap and cheerful, with very light steering. Ladies will love it.

- Toyota Corolla, Yaris, Echo. In descending order of size. My friend has the Echo, without power steering. I find that a very useful omission, having experienced power steering pump failure at speed while approaching a corner in my Subaru WRX STi. One less part to worry about.

- Honda Jazz manual. This is supposedly a very frugal car. It has very clever fold down seats which give it the best interior room in its class. My only caution is against the CVT auto version as mentioned earlier.

- Mazda Metro, Mazda 121, Mazda 2, Mazda 323. Mazdas make nice handling cars. The newer Mazda 3 is a good all-rounder but wouldn't be my pick for mainly city usage.

- Suzuki Alto, Mitsubishi Mirage. If you want to scrape the bottom of the barrel without being foolish and getting something which is absolute shit. I wouldn't go there myself, but I think these choices could make sense if you have a very limited budget.

If I were you, I would avoid:

Anything Holden. Unless you are a petrolhead and tell me you want a HSV. I wouldn't say no to that... Dual-fuel LPG Holdens might make sense though...

Anything BMW. I really admire their engineering. If I could magically have free servicing for life, I would be a BMW fan for life and agree to only drive those (335i, M3). But servicing is a killer, and BMW's aren't famous for reliability

Anything with a dual clutch gearbox (e.g. Auto VWs), automated manual gearbox (auto Alfa Romeos), and most CVTs. Actually I would avoid auto totally but I know that most will insist on auto.

Diesel for city usage. Modern diesels don't fare well with mainly short trips. The exhaust filter (DPF aka diesel particulate filter to be exact) tends to clog without highway usage. This could result in expensive repairs or replacements.

Real 4x4s, unless you have an interest in going off-road. Fuel consumption and cost of maintenance are going to be a pain. These cars are overkill for any situation other than off-road. But I personally wish to own one some day.

City cars, period. Parking is expensive, jams affect little cars pretty much the same, and public transport will be getting more affordable, plus it's less crowded than in SG. You will suffer when in most city cars. Most cars in the touring category will do perfectly fine in the city apart from being slightly harder to park and having worse consumption.

If you are coming to Melbourne, I would be happy to help inspect the car for you if you are getting a used one :)

I know this post has probably been too exhaustive for you. You can always buzz me again when the time comes and you have shortlisted a few models which catch your fancy.

At the end of the day, you should test drive it yourself and with your other half because it is the two of you who will be living with the car on a day to day basis.



  1. Good write-up, but I guess it depends on how u intend to use the car. I believe for family with kids and does lots of DIY and groceries shopping, a SUV or MPV will certainly be the choice for a first car. If pocket permits, a performance car will make a nice 2nd one. I've been looking at for some time - a nice, used 2012/13 SUV (e.g. Mazda CX-5) can be gotten for around AUD30K. If u don't mind something older (e.g. 2010 or earlier), u can even get one with decent mileage for less than AUD20K.

  2. Nix has some great tips.

  3. More:

  4. He really wrote quite a bit on this. Just search "asingaporeanson blog car" on google and you can see all his posts on cars ownership, purchase and maintenance.

  5. Thanks S and everyone for chipping in and sharing your experiences. We are looking at Toyota Prius (2009). Any thoughts/feedback on this car?

    1. My only relevant observation on the Prius is that the last we were there, Prime was using it as a taxi in SG. I take that as a good sign for reliability

      However, 10k or so will only get you one with pretty high mileage. Maybe close to 200k kms. Not that I think it's an issue for Toyota engines which are serviced regularly.

      Try hunting for a reputable dealer here, or even consider the Toyota-certified used Priuses. I'd pay a little more for the peace-of-mind

      Personally I would not touch a hybrid myself because IF something goes wrong with the system, it could mean a huge repair bill if there's no warranty. Hybrids offer little advantage over extra-urban (highway) fuel consumption cycles, because there's practically no 'wasted energy' to recover on the open road.

      They do shine in the city, but once you land here, I'm not too sure you will want to spend too much time driving in city conditions.

      Either way it's a gamble. If you get a good used Prius, you'll eventually save a fair bit over the long run for fuel. If you get a lemon, all the best...

      An Aussie friend living in SG strongly recommended the dual fuel Commodore. Fuel cost wise if you run on LPG, you might find it pretty competitive too as LPG is much cheaper than petrol. Having two fuel tanks also gives you a nice range for touring as well..

      I didn't go that route because the Commodore isn't my kind of car. Build quality of Holdens is worse than Toyotas IMHO, but I would feel safer running a dual fuel Holden to a hybrid Toyota. I don't have any facts or figures to back this up though, I'll admit :)

      After reading this link here, it seems that you may be on to something ;).


  6. Thanks S, your advice is very much appreciated! Will probably check it out and do some test drives as you've suggested =)

  7. Hi S,

    This comment is largely irrelevant to the topic, but I don't know how else to contact you. My girlfriend and I are planning our escape to Adelaide, and we're about to lodge the EOI with help from an agent. Even though we're still a mile away from completing the process, we're already thinking of the longer term and what it really means to migrate to Australia. Emotional and psychological trauma aside, I am concerned about the level of income I would need to survive in Adelaide. I don't need a fancy job - enough to rent a room, food, and insurance. Could you give me your quick opinion on it's realistic for a couple to survive on a single income for two, and what would be a comfortable range? I know it's all subjective and depends widely on expectations. We are a simple couple who do not spend unnecessarily, do not buy branded stuff, do not shop often, etc. I figure I could settle for any job, even one that pays me the minimum wage, but i want to start planning on where to look, what I should expect, how much savings to accumulate before I move, etc.

    You've written some posts covering the cost of living, but I figure you are on a dual income. I will likely be on a single income. I would be grateful if I could have a quick opinion (don't need your lengthy reply here), from the perspective of a migrant such as yourself.

  8. Hi, excellent blog i stumbled upon. My family is finally convinced to attempt at Melbourne, after almost 3 yrs of self-persuasion when we got our PR. Giving up our current profession in SG to get afresh in OZ is daunting and with kids on tow is nerve wrecking.

    Anyways thinking of getting Ford Explorer XLT 2001-2004 model 2nd hand. Wish to get something big, easy maintenance for parts, big CC engine and must not be available in SG. Fuel consumption not too concerned.

    What are your thoughts?
    email -