A reader asks: A brand-new car or a secondhand SUV?

Help your fellow reader by taking the poll
by Botchi Santos | Oct 7, 2013

Hi, Botchi. Good day to you and to all the staff of Top Gear Philippines. I\'m an avid reader of your magazine.

I\'ve been a seaman for 15 years, and I want to make sure that I will spend my money wisely on my next car purchase. I already sold my first car, which was a Honda Civic LXI. I cannot decide which one to get for my budget of P900,000. My options are the Toyota Vios, the Hyundai Accent and the Toyota Avanza. I also looked at ads on secondhand 2008 or 2009 Isuzu Alterra or Hyundai Santa Fe. Their prices fit my budget.

Now, can you please help me choose the right car and make a wise decision. Should I purchase a brand-new car or a secondhand SUV like the Alterra or the Santa Fe?

My only hesitation about buying a secondhand vehicle is that I don\'t know its history: Has it been flooded or gotten into an accident? Is it a stolen vehicle? Does it have major defects? I would like to have an SUV, but I cannot purchase one in cash. And I don\'t want to buy a car via financing because I don\'t want to pay for interest.

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Thank you very much.

Jay Nalaza


Hi, Jay. Thank you for your e-mail, and much credit to you for being one of our modern-day heroes working abroad to provide for your family and our country! I salute you, sir.

On to the topic. Yes, it can be difficult to pick out which car to buy if you\'re out at sea, while us typical landlubbers can go to any dealership and test-drive our cars all we want. You failed to mention where you will be using the car mostly (i.e., city streets, provincial roads, highways, light dirt roads, farm-to-market roads, etc.).

But the cars on your short list are all pretty good choices given your budget.

Of the cars you listed, the Toyota Avanza seems to be the most versatile car: It has comfortable seating for five adults (in a pinch for short drives, at least) and a taller ride height/ground clearance for bad roads and the occasional forays onto flood-ridden streets. And increased cargo space out back means you can carry more objects and cargo piled up high as compared to a typical sedan. The Avanza is also a simple car, nothing too fancy. Hence, it should be very reliable and could last long. I like it myself a lot and keep wondering when I can afford to buy one precisely as a small, extra utility car (but with compact-car levels of refinement). The 1.5-liter 1NZ-FE engine is pretty grunty, too, down low: Paired with a manual stick, the Avanza scoots off the line with surprising gusto.

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The Toyota Vios is pretty new this year, and the looks have improved dramatically as well. You\'ll still find the same engine/transmission combinations (1.3- and 1.5-liter engines in both manual and automatic), although I feel Toyota should have used the opportunity to release a five-speed automatic and a six-speed manual to help performance and fuel efficiency. Inside, it also received a welcome change with the awkward instrument cluster now set in front of the driver\'s line of sight as opposed to the older model being in the middle. The quality of materials has improved, too. It\'s a better car in so many ways compared to the older Vios. But at the end of the day, it\'s still a regular sedan and no match for the Avanza\'s versatility.

The same can be said of the Hyundai Accent: really good value, decently enjoyable to drive, looks good, represents excellent value for money (the hatchback diesel is the pick of the bunch, by the way), but ultimately no match for the Avanza\'s versatility. The only good thing going for the Accent is that its hatchback diesel variant is really fast, fun and very much fuel-efficient. Even with the automatic, you won\'t experience any lack of performance because of the very strong torque output.

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As for buying a secondhand vehicle, I always tell people to be hopeful for a great bargain (especially if the purchase is a second car meant for weekends or number-coding days, or as a project car), but to prepare for the worst if it will be the primary car. I agree that there are many unscrupulous vendors selling questionable cars (with a bad history, basically), so it\'s always risky to buy a secondhand car. Plus, a secondhand car will always have maintenance-related issues to say the least. This isn\'t bad, but are you prepared to fork out more money for servicing and repairs on a car you recently purchased instead of enjoying its use immediately? Personally, I don\'t mind if the car is a bargain, and I take the servicing and repair as an opportunity to upgrade some of the original parts to higher-performing items such as wheels, tires, brake pads, suspension components, fluids, etc. But not everyone thinks like me.

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For other people, it\'s not even the money that is the issue, but the downtime involved. Even if you had time and money to spare on a secondhand car\'s foibles, other people in your family might not be as fortunate. This is because they need the car for their own use to make their lives easier, safer and more convenient, which is the primary reason we all buy cars, right?

There you have it. I strongly recommend against buying a secondhand car since you\'re out at sea most of the time. Buy brand-new, so your family and loved ones can use the car immediately, and all of you will have confidence in your purchase right away.

I hope this helps. Good luck, be safe, and thank you once again!

Botchi Santos
Consumer Editor

Do you want Botchi to help you pick the right car? Send your inquiry to topgear@summitmedia.com.ph.


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