The influx of numerous automobile companies in India has resulted in much more variety and choice for the people of this nation. Power, mileage, design, etc., each company is known for its own specialty. For example if you desire power, there is Honda and Ford offering you brute power and enhanced pickups. Hyundai and Maruti-Suzuki have managed to become middle class household favorites and maintain the “value for money” tag with them.

So how do you finalize your next car in the driveway? The answer to this million dollar question is explained in the next few lines and steps. It’s better to get a pen and paper alongside you for it shall help you in crossing out options and listing extra requirements in a much more organized manner.

Step 1: Decide the budget

carMost people enter a car showroom with a decided budget in their mind but end up buying a vehicle, costing a couple of lakhs more. And then this afterwards haunts you every month when it’s time to take out your hard earned money for paying the EMI’s.

While deciding the budget do consider two factors – purchase price, running cost, and maintenance cost

Purchase price is the price you pay to purchase the vehicle. This is the one time cost and you can either pay it in lump sum or installments. Do not get fooled by the price quoted on brochures by manufacturers. Accessories come at extra price and can increase the price of the car by 0.5L – 1.5L.

Finance Cost – If you purchase the car on loan the nearest bank branch, you will have to pay the interest on the loan amount. This will essentially drive up your total cost of ownership. More importantly as you pay EMIs, money available for consumption will reduce.

Running Cost – A big factor in deciding whether you should purchase diesel or petrol car. Government has been steadily increasing the price of diesel every year. But it is not going to catch up with petrol prices in near future. So far as there is a difference in these prices, running cost will be a big factors in deicing which car to buy.

Maintenance Cost – Diesel cars need more maintenance than petrol cars. After 5000KM Maruti Swift Petrol Cost Rs.5300 as service charges while diesel version costs Rs.6500.

Diesel Or Petrol – Diesel engines are more powerful than petrol engines and hence the diesel cars need to be sturdier than petrol cars. For this reason, diesel cars are expensive. The good part is that these cars have lower running cost as diesel is cheaper than petrol. I have given an equation below to help you make decide which car you should buy

Cost of ownership for 5 years = Purchase Price + 5*365*number KM you plan to run daily*difference in price per KM of petrol and diesel car considering difference fuel price and mileage + 5*365*(maintenance cost of diesel car per KM – maintenance cost of petrol car per KM) [I have considered the discounting factor here but you get the logic]

Maruti swift diesel has cost per KM of 3.65 while petrol version has cost per KM of 7.12

Step 2: Decide Car Type

For those who don’t know much, basically there are 3 types of cars you can buy.

This is an important decision as it largely depends on your daily travel.

Hatchback – The smaller looking cars are called Hatchbacks (like Santro, Wagonr, Alto). These are good to seat 4 or 5 people. They are also the cheapest – starting from 1.4 lac upto 8L+ (Volkswagen Polo GT) Generally hatchbacks are more fuel efficient than sedan and SUV since these engines have lower capacity engines.

Sedan – The cars having an extended boot or what Indian’s call “Dikki” are called Sedans (like Honda city, swift dZire). While most of my friends started with a hatchback when they got married, they quickly upgraded to premium hatchback or sedan once they had kids. A hatchback can make you feel stuffy inside if you have a family of 4. They are more expensive – start from 4.7L upto 25L (ignoring premium brands like Audi and BMW) Then can seat upto 5 people.

Special Utility Vehicle (SUV) – An expensive category, SUVs are more powerful and are generally diesel cars. Prices start from 7L (Ford Ecosport). They can seat from 5 to 9 people.

If your majority travel is in the city, commuting to office, a sedan and hatchback are preferable as they don’t require much parking space. However if you have a large family and go out frequently, it might be a good idea to buy an SUV. But experienced auto-journalists often advice that one hatchback is a must for each household as their maintenance is easier, and can be used for daily jobs as well. Sedans give a luxurious appeal to the person and nowadays most sedans are competing with hatchbacks as they have increased mileage.

Step 3: Get an overview

After you have decided on the external aspects that are type and looks, it’s time to get down to some technical aspects. There are various websites and video hubs which provide you with ample of information regarding cars and bikes. You could also switch on the TV and watch automobile shows tuning into news channels.
However the key aspect here is to actually comprehend what the specs mean. It’s useless to boast of horsepower and torque of a car unless you have knowledge about it. So some of the key aspects you must keep in mind, especially if you are Indian driver, are:

1)      Ground Clearance: If too much, you will feel nauseous and unstable. If too low, probably your car’s going to end up having extra repair expenses. Ground Clearance by definition is the difference in height between your lowermost point of the chassis (i.e. in most cases the fuel tank) and the road. A ground clearance about (160-185)mm is just about right for Indian roads. With bumpy Indian roads, full of speed breakers, ground clearance is a major point while selecting a car.
Even if you are eyeing the luxurious segments of Mercedes, Audi and BMW, you should definitely consider the ground clearance aspect as these high performance cars have low ground clearances due to stability at higher speeds.

2)      Chassis Dimensions: Chassis or body dimension is a very important factor that a buyer must take into consideration as it affects the space inside the car, the legroom, headroom and comfort. Also it’s decisive in calculating the road tax.

3)      Mileage: Well if you are an Indian buyer, this will most probably be on top priority while buying the car. Mileage or kilometers driven per liter of fuel is also the efficiency of the car. Nowadays cars can notch up mileages up to 20kmpl both in petrol and diesel but here diesel always performs better and is advantageous when it comes to the running cost of the vehicle.

4)      Boot space – The space around your feet. If you do not have enough boot space you will not feel comfortable driving long distance. Head room is important for the same reason.

5)      Wheel Size – If the roads on which you drive are bumpy, you will have a more comfortable drive in SUVs because of the larger wheel size.

6)      Turning radius: Radii of the circle circumscribed when the car turns at its maximum capacity

7)      Engine Capacity and Power More engine cc means more power: This is definitely a wrong notion. If you want to see the power of the car, there are only two ways to find out. First, go for a test drive. Nothing is better than a test drive to judge a car. If you don’t have that much time, check out the bhp of the car mentioned in the specs in units Horse power. More the horse power more is the pickup and more is the power.

8)      After Sale Services: A key aspect which is often neglected. After-sale services and the maintenance cost should be kept in mind. It has been the reason for failure of good companies such as Fiat in India. Here is where companies like Maruti and Hyundai have benefitted and still continue to do so. Locate service centers near your residence/office, of the manufacturer before buying the car as it might benefit you while giving your car for service.

Step 4: Go for a test Drive

Going on a test drive is a best way to understand if you would be comfortable driving the car and if the drive quality is good enough. Going to showroom to test drive the car is also an option. But that way you only get to drive it for 1km or so and that too in a new car. A better way is to ask a friend or friend’s friend who owns that same car. I have found this to be much more reliable as you can ask the owner more questions about the maintenance, mileage, etc.

When you have done all the research work, it’s finally time to get the feel of it. Go to your nearest showroom and grab the keys. Now while taking the test drive, do keep in mind the following factors:

1)      Comfort: Comfort means steering height, driving view, ease of gearshift, and location of the center and side mirrors. Stretch yourself into a comfortable position, both in the front and back seat and ensure there’s enough space. Never compromise on comfort.

2)      Turning: Try to go on a track where you can take a U-turn to check the turning radius and ease of handling while turning the car.

3)      Pickup: Concentrate more on the pickup than the top speed. Possibility is that you wouldn’t get chances to cruise at 100-140kmph in the city but you will surely need a quick 0-60kmph for overtaking on city roads.

When to buy –

Buying cars during festive seasons is a good idea as they are numerous schemes and offers availed at that time like cash back, and free accessories.

Recommended cars


a)      Petrol: Hyundai i10 grand, maruti Suzuki Swift, maruti Suzuki wagonR, Hyndai Santro.

b)      Diesel: Maruti Suzuki Swift, Maruti Suzuki Ritz, Tata Indica, Fiat Punto.


a)      Petrol: Honda City, Hyundai Verna Fluidic, Honda Amaze, Nissan Sunny, Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire

b)      Diesel: Honda City, Maruti Suzuki Swift dZire, Honda Amaze, Tata Manza.


Toyota Innova, Tata Safari, Mahindra XUV-500, Toyota Fortuner, Ford Endeavour, Renault Duster, Ford Eco-sport

The above mentioned vehicles are among best buys in their respective segments. Each car provides either mileage or power, sometimes also with the extra bonus of super comfort and luxury. The key factor while selection of a car is to list of priorities in order, as in practicality it’s very tough to get all features in budget. Happy Buying!

Written by Ramesh. He runs the website –

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  1. Ravi says:

    Now a days Renault also doing well both in hatch-back and sedan segments.
    Cheap and best sedan in diesel is Mahindra Verito. Because this engine and chasis comes from Renault.

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February 2024