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Motoring expert Marius Roberts covers some of the mistakes he sees vehicle buyers often making. He shares some important advice about how to save money on service plan agreements, car options, balloon payments and more.

Marius Roberts, respected motoring expert, well-known television presenter, and self-confessed straight shooter, shares what the sales brochure doesn’t tell you, and how to prepare for some of the hidden costs when buying a car in South Africa.

“There are many pitfalls,” Marius states. “I think the onus is on each of us to be more educated. Be aware of all of our available buying and purchasing options and obviously be aware of things that could potentially trip you up.”

The first consideration is services and warranties. “South Africa is one of the only countries in the world that actually sells a service plan with the car. Thanks to the Consumer Protection Act, car dealers are no longer allowed to bundle deals. So when you are buying a car, that list price of the car should be the base price of the car less the service plan. But, for most consumers, the service plan is peace of mind. It’s not. Peace of mind is your warranty. The warranty comes standard from the factory. No one can take that away from you.”

Are service plans worth it?

He suggests that you carefully evaluate the value of service plans. He explains. “Do you go to your doctor and say, hey doc, here is money upfront for the next five years for visits that I may be doing or will be doing once a year? You keep it. Of course, you are never going to do that. Yet it’s exactly what you do when you buy your car. You take the service plan and add it onto your finance deal. Why not rather take that money and put it into your own interest-bearing account?.”

According to Marius, service plans are generally not worth it. Rather, putting funds aside to cover your car’s maintenance schedule in an account that earns you interest, instead of paying interest on financed service plans, can save you money.

“You do not lose peace of mind because you still have the warranty. The service plan is literally there for you when you go once a year for your service, whether it be a minor or major,” he says.

Frequently asked questions
  • Service plan vs. maintenance plan – what’s the difference?

    Service plan vs. maintenance plan – what’s the difference?

    The difference between a service plan and a maintenance plan is that while a service plan focuses on covering your car’s major and minor services in its first few years, a maintenance plan is more comprehensive, also covering labour and a range of wear and tear components.

  • How often should I service my car?

    How often should I service my car?

    Kilometres-based service intervals for your car vary according to make and model, but most manufacturers suggest a minimum of every 12 months. Servicing your car at the stipulated intervals is critical for maintaining its warranty. 

    With most cars, you may choose either kilometre-based service or an annual service (whichever comes first) is acceptable.


The ‘right to repair’ - do I need to service my car at the dealership?

Last year in South Africa, the ‘right to repair’ also came into play. This means that when you purchase a new car from a dealership, you no longer need to service that car at that particular dealership. You only have to keep the car serviced at a reputable dealership (they will give you a list).

He notes, “Ask the dealer what the base price is for a minor service and a major service and then do the same thing with a reputable aftermarket service centre. Compare those two... I can tell you now you can be saving money here big time. You do not need to take a service plan and add that onto your three, five, or seven-year term.”


Couple at a car service centre

Ticking the option box

When you see an advertisement for a car, they usually include a ‘from this price’. “You get super excited but when you get to the dealership and you do your test drive, the car is spec’d to the hilt, it's got everything. Good luck trying to buy a base model. It would be the steering wheel and the four tyres,” Marius observes.

That’s when you start ticking the car's options list. “The manufacturers and the dealers started bundling deals into packs, so you can get your light pack or style pack or whatever it might be, and that gives you four or five elements grouped together. You pay R30 000 or R40 000 extra for it. That amount is added to your finance deal, so you actually end up paying even more, especially with the interest.”

Many consumers are not aware that when you are selling your car in a few years, the book value of your car is based on the base price of the car. “Whatever you spend on extras, say goodbye, that's gone. The only people that are going to benefit from this are the second-hand car salesman and the buyer.”  

For the buyer, there is real value because the car has all the things they want, but could not afford to buy in a brand new car.

Say bye to balloon payments

Although he confesses it could sound old school, he’s always believed that if there is a car you want, you should go and price that car without a deposit, with full interest. “What is that going to be? Can I afford it or not? The minute you start slapping 20% into a balloon payment to make it affordable, you are looking for problems. For me, a balloon payment on a private deal is really something you need to steer away from.”

In a business environment, there are some lease deals with balloon payments that might work. “But you need to be so careful on those lease deals because they are based on buyback. Those buybacks are listed and closely linked to kilometres. The minute you go over those kilometres, you are in for a world of trouble, because you literally are going to be paying big time on that.”

He says that it’s important to think of the future, not just about the now.With interest increasing, you might find yourself in a position where you can no longer afford your car payments. With a balloon payment, getting out of it is going to be really, really difficult.”

Never, ever cancel your car insurance

In South Africa, you are required to have car insurance when you buy a car, but no one follows up with you to make sure that you maintain that insurance.

“Never cancel your car insurance, just to make it more affordable. What happens when you have an accident?”

“I see this all the time,” he states. “If people can't afford the car, the first thing they cancel is their insurance. What happens when you have an accident and that car gets written off? You are going to be without a car, but still committed to making your monthly payments. That is really a position you don’t want to find yourself in. So please, never cancel your car insurance, just to make it more affordable.”

Marius Roberts
Marius Roberts, Motoring expert

I think like most boys growing up in this country, I was completely car crazy... What didn't help is I grew up in a racing family so that only added more fuel to those flames... I found myself drawn into reviewing cars and doing motoring journalism. That is something I've been doing for the last 15 years.


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