Car Buying Tips – Part 7. Buying Australian, European and Japanese Cars.

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

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10 tips on European, Japanese and Australian vehicles

Different vehicles, primarily targeting different markets, all have different attributes. These ten tips are by no way a hard and fast guideline, but as a rule of thumb, should help you decide between that stunning Alfa Romeo and the rugged Holden ute.

1: Safety
Europe has lead automotive safety initiatives for decades, while other regions also produce ‘safe’ cars; typically it’s the Euro models that top safety ratings year on year. It’s relative of course, it’s unfair to assume a 5 year old small European hatchback will be equipped with similar features as a 5 year old Lexus limousine. But apples for apples French, German and Swedish brands tend to pay more attention to crash avoidance / protection.

2: Operating Costs – Parts
Operating costs factor in a lot of elements. Part prices, fuel type and economy, service intervals and service costs all factor. For ease let’s take perceived reliability of out of the equation, but most mechanics will agree that European parts are more costly than equivalent Australian or Japanese components. Often the vast economy of scale on popular Japanese models mean parts pricing is very affordable.

3: Operating Costs – Service Intervals
Check with manufacturers regarding service intervals for the vehicle you’re interested in. More advanced engines in European and Japanese vehicles may have extended service periods of 15,000, 20,000kms or longer. High end European models may even calculate service intervals by monitoring the quality of the engine’s oil and the load the engine experiences. The longer intervals help reduce costs long term.

4: Operating Costs – Service Costs
Buy a premium brand and expect premium labour charges come maintenance time. Repair times and rates do tend to be higher on European vehicles. The larger Aussie cars are fairly easy vehicles to work on, so even major repairs are often relatively cost effective. The huge array of Japanese vehicles mean they tend to vary more model to model, often the engine bays are crammed full of components so common repairs like Cam belt replacements can be surprisingly time consuming.

5: Operating Costs – Fuel Economy
No brainer this one. Commodores and Falcons aren’t renowned for their fuel economy; the impact on the environment will be an improvement but don’t forget you pay a premium in terms of purchase price for more efficient and comparable European models. Well-engineered Japanese vehicles tend to be the most cost effective in terms of long term economy and reasonable purchasing costs up front.

6: Durability
Sure, they’re a bit rough around the edges, but Aussie vehicles are designed to last in one of harshest environments on earth. Suspension components aren’t lightweight aluminum for improved dynamics; they’re steel so they can ride over gravel / potholed roads for the life of the vehicle with minimal fatigue. This makes them pretty versatile for our poor roads also. European road are in large much better than ours and their vehicles are not really intended for this kind of continued abuse and can suffer from rattles and premature wear and tear in tough conditions.

7: ISOFIX / seatbelts
In modern vehicles the foolproof ISOFIX latch system for securing child seats consistently every time has become the global standard. Australia’s Design Rules (ADR) hasn’t approved ISOFIX so Commodores and Falcons don’t have the system fitted. In Japan many vehicles are sold without a centre rear three-point lap-sash seatbelt, instead opting for just a lap belt. These have been proven to cause internal injuries in severe accidents, we’d always recommend using them if you have now choice. But ideally, look for vehicles with the three point belts in all positions.

8: Driving Characteristics
German vehicles tend to be the benchmark for sporty handling, Audi, Mercedes, Volkswagen and BMW all have a strong suite of dynamic vehicles. Meanwhile the more cobbled or congested urban environment of Paris mean French vehicles put emphasis on ride quality and refinement. But don’t write of the Aussies, a well maintained modern Commodore or Falcon is a fantastic drive on our roads. Japanese vehicle seldom offer the top of the pack in terms of ride and handling finesse but Subaru and Mazda represent the best exceptions to that rule.

9: Fit and Finish
Again, the Europeans tend to invest more heavily in quality interior components and finishes while hard plastics are common in Japanese and Australian models. While the cheaper plastics often stand up to abuse better, if you treat your car nicely climbing into a nicely appointed European interior every day does keep you ‘in love’ with your car longer than the alternatives.

10: You forgot Korean.
Korean cars of course change everything. The Hyundai’s and Kia’s of this world are on the rise thanks to rapidly improving dynamics, styling and interiors. They still share a lot of characteristics as a Japanese car. Hyundai really came into their own around 2005, before then, they were still fairly ‘budget orientated’ but affordable operating costs and good practicality mean they can no longer be ignored.