/ Motoring

Is buying a car just plain stressful?

Car driving fast

Buying a car is something most of us have to go through, be it purchasing the car second hand, shaking hands with a salesperson in a dealership or buying online. But does the whole process stress you out?

When any of us buy a car, it tends to be a significant purchase. For most of us, it’s the second biggest expenditure behind buying a house. And, as with any big purchasing decision, there can be an element of stress involved.

I’m about to stress my point…

The first phase of this can be around deciding if you even need to buy another car in the first place. The majority will be replacing a car, and the idea of letting go of a long-lived motoring companion can be hard. There’s a difficult choice to be made between increasing repair bills or paying out a lump sum for better reliability.

Then there’s the new-car selection process: How far will your budget go? Will it be a reliable model? Will it suit my needs better than others out there? Is there a car that will have cheaper running costs? With so many cars available on the new and used market, this can be a pain-staking selection process for some people, especially when car knowledge is somewhat limited.

Car buying choices

And of course, there’s the purchasing process itself, which you can break down into three phases.

The first is deciding where to buy from. If you’re buying new, do you go for a local dealer, venture further afield in order to find a dealership with a stronger reputation, or head online to a broker? Used buyers will be scouring private and trade ads, preferably trying to find vehicles within a realistic distance radius that look to fit requirements.

Secondly, there’s the phase of identifying the running costs of the vehicle you want. Running car insurance quotes, checking VED car tax bands and working out approximate annual fuel costs are vital to make sure you can afford to keep the car on the road.

Finally, there’s the process of buying the car in person. New-car buyers will feel the pressure of haggling to better their deal and negotiating a higher spec, while used buyers will feel the demands to reduce the listed price.

How Which? can help

For Which? members, much of this stress can be relieved by our testing. Not only do we recommend cars based on our rigorous testing and the UK’s largest car satisfaction survey, we can also tell you more realistic fuel efficiency figures.

We also have guides to advise you on how to buy a car, and the best way to go about it.

Anyway, back to the debate. Do you get overwhelmed by the stress of buying a car? Or are you always filled with excitement? And vote in our poll to tell us which part of the car-buying process stresses you out most.

What about buying a car stresses you out most?

The haggling process (44%, 398 Votes)

Choosing which car to buy next (20%, 181 Votes)

Deciding if I need to buy another car or not (17%, 156 Votes)

Choosing where to buy the car from (11%, 101 Votes)

Working out if I can afford to run the car or not (7%, 60 Votes)

Total Voters: 896

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For me, the stressful part is selling the old car, not buying the new one. I don’t want to accept low prices from dealers (even if the price is elevated to provide a disguised discount on the new car). I believe that as an informed consumer, I’m very good at buying, but I’m not good at selling anything.


I don’t find buying a new car stressful at all. I know what model I want and where I want to buy it. I go back to the same dealer as I am happy with the brand and the staff at the dealership are very nice. So no need to go anywhere else.


If I go to a main dealer I have dealt with for many years, there is very little stress and hassle.

On the other hand, the last time we purchased a vehicle we visited local Audi and VW dealers. In both dealerships, the staff insisted that before we discussed anything we had to have an interview with the “business manager” who of course wants to sell us financial and insurance products (oh and bodywork protection).

They both wanted our address and bank details as apparently “it is the law”. They couldn’t tell me which law so we walked out. Two hours of our lives wasted.

Back to our “normal” dealer, and yes they explained various financial and insurance options but not pushy and happy to accept our decision.

On another occasion I had a long conversation as to why GAP insurance was not really relevant to a cash buyer.


Stephen, I too take exception to car dealers insisting on long interviews and extracting personal details before agreeing to an often ambiguous price for one of their products. I regard car dealerships as shops and they should behave in the same way. Walking out is the best way to deal with them.


I don’t find car buying stressful but I do find it a bit of a chore, where many hours are spent talking to people who clearly think you came down with the last shower of rain.

Lot’s of people seem to feel safe buying from a main dealer, and it’s true you are give all kinds of assurance you’re buying a quality product and can look forward to trouble free motoring because of the back up they say they’ll provide. But don’t you ever pay for it?

My preference is a private seller who doesn’t want to get ripped off with trade in prices. For a good car with service history and from someone who is either the first owner or who has owned the car for a good while I’ll offer more than the trade in value but less than the forecourt price.
You need to do your research carefully and you need to check out the car carefully but I’ve had some very good cars that way, and from sellers who have done better than had they traded their cars in.
It’s all a bit labour intensive and a bit of a chore but I’ve had some great cars and saved a small fortune with this approach over the years, but you do have to be careful and you do have to be prepared to walk away and move on to the next if the deal isn’t 100% right.

Main dealers impress me no more than the scruffy car lot down the road, both outfits try to “hoodwink”, sorry “sell”, and the difference is pay well over the odds or pay a reasonable price but for what could be an iffy product.

Life is you have to work at getting a good deal or pay out a lot of money for the illusion of peace of mind.

No short cuts, your choice.

Simon says:
7 November 2013

Firstly, I keep my cars for a long time (current car is a BMW 2.5 litre 16 years old). For this, the repairs are easy parts are cheap if you know the right web-sites, and have a local mechanic. Now, buying a new car – know what options you want and the price you want to pay in total. Remember that those extras depreciate faster than the car. Go prepared with all this, and have a business-like, no time-wasting attitude and you will get the service you deserve.


I don’t regard buying a car as stressful, but it is a hassle. I agree with Simon. I don’t know why so many people change their cars frequently.

At one time I was able to phone up dealers in the region, ask for prices for new cars and find out what they had in stock. Last year I put a deposit on a new car that a dealer had registered in its own name and was prepared to sell at a very attractive price. Soon after they phoned six times and left messages for me to call. Their other branch had already sold the car.

I loath the haggling and declining the extras that salespeople try to sell me. I have a pretty good idea of what I want, but it is a challenge to remain polite when they will not take no for an answer.

When I did buy a car from the local dealer, I was given the wrong delivery date and had to rearrange the insurance, which cost me extra. In the event, handover was delayed because a problem had been found with the paintwork during the pre-delivery inspection. When I arrived to collect the car there was a large notice in the window saying something like Wavechange’s New Car. I suppose there are some people who like this sort of gesture, but definitely not me.

Despite the fact that I told the salesman that I planned to keep my car for at least ten years, I think I have now had four letters suggesting I should look at new models. The latest arrived this morning.

What I did enjoy was pointing out various relevant consumer issues, such as misrepresentation of fuel consumption, the need for spare wheels, pushing credit on customers so that cash buyers are actually disadvantaged, and so on.

PaulA says:
8 November 2013

Visiting dealer showrooms stresses me out which is why my last five cars have been purchased via a well known broker from whom I get not only the best price but by far the best service.

I’ve never understood why, after a couple of hours on the internet, I know far more about the cars that I’m am interested in than the dealer who spends all his time just getting to know (or not) about four or five models.

Then there is the stupid sales techniques. Ask for a discount and the salesman has to make several trips to a back office ‘to discuss with his manager’. Ask for a part exchange price and it’s “I’m sorry I’m not allowed to quote a price until you’ve signed to buy the new car”. Ask about options and their face glazes over. But ask about finance and they become all helpful and knowledgeable. Sorry, boys but I’ll do my own research and buy from someone who doesn’t give me the hassle.

Simon says:
8 November 2013

I agree with ‘Wavechange’ about spare wheels, I would never choose a car without one. Although the fuel consumption in the brochure is rarely achived, it is an EU prescribed test (Directive 93/116/EC) and it is is not (as I keep telling Which) a manufacturer’s ‘claim’. It should only be used for comparisons. See http://www.dft.gov.uk/vca/fcb/faqs-fuel-consumptio.asp


To be meaningful, fuel economy tests have to be done under standard conditions. Unfortunately, the EU figures are widely used to promote car sales. When I was looking for a new car last year, I deliberately asked what fuel economy I was likely to achieve from the model I was interested in. I was quoted the EU figures without any mention that I might not achieve them. As a result, the salesman received a short lecture about the importance of not misrepresenting the facts.

My suggestion is that the EU tests are done in a way that produces fuel economy figures that we can reasonably expect to achieve. As it is, most drivers are disappointed. If the majority of drivers achieved or exceeded the published fuel economy figures, we would feel less cheated. One obvious change would be for the EU tests to be carried out from a cold start rather than on an engine that has achieved normal operating temperature. After all, most motorists embark on a journey with a cold engine.

Which? certainly is not ignorant of the EU tests, Simon. This has been mentioned in the magazine and discussed on Which? Conversation. Their tests are more realistic and one of their tests is from a cold start.

Until the manufacturers publish fuel economy figures that are likely to be attainable by most drivers there should be a warning to prospective purchases, and not a disclaimer hidden in the small print. WARNING: Fuel economy tests are carried out in compliance the relevant EU directive and unlikely to be attained by most drivers.

Alex says:
9 November 2013

It would make it a lot easier when buying a car if they finally diced to retire the archaic imperial system rather than trying to force it to work a good example of this is regarding fuel economy which in the UK is sadly still quoted in mpg which is both frustrating and illogical they should start using just l/100 km at once. Mpg is very misleading as it deals with a range rather than fuel economy with l/100 km I can see the range over a certain distance. The original consumption figures are given in l/100 km and have to be converted which leaves room for error it also means they have to print two columns with two seats of figures rather than just one on the fuel economy rating. There is also the issue that nobody else uses imperial mpg as the US gallon is a completely different measurement while l/100 km used by most of the world and is the same unit throughout. Emissions are already measured in grams per kilometre and metres are widely used in fact it is only on the road signs where miles still persist so I am pretty sure people are confident with kilometres. Then there is the major fact that petrol is sold in litres not gallon and nobody have brought a gallon of fuel on UK soil in over 20 years. Although the only way I can see this ending is if the signs go metric which sadly the political will is lacking.


Actually I’m not all together sure I agree.
I’ll admit that what you suggest would appear tidier but figures give be it in imperial or metric have to be such that they are readily perceived by the recipients.

In the UK we think distance in miles not kilometers, we think of a tank of fuel as so many gallons even though we buy by the litre so it follows that consumption is thought of as MPG.

Not tidy but historically natural. Even now I do spot calculations on the consumption of my car based on the speedo trip reading and a factor of 4.54 litres per gallon to end up with MPG which is a result I understand.

To be honest if someone gave me a L/100 Km I’d probably re-calculate to give a result that means something to me, MPG.

It get even more of a maths challenge when you think in the US they too use the mile but a gallon is only about 0.625 of a proper gallon, and they even sell fuel by this short measure gallon.
Can’t see them changing any time soon, they still do everything by the foot, the inch and the pound too

It’s also a bit like thinking of cold in centigrade and hot in Fahrenheit, buying beer in pints and veg by the pound however it’s labeled and priced.

It’s just the way people are, but don’t worry current perceptions are mostly kept going by the over 50’s and I’m sure it’ll all go proper metric eventually. Who knows we might even end up driving on the right one day. Change over day will be fun.