OpinionThe Student Driver

The Student Driver: Introduction and Q&A

In The Student Driver, our resident car guy Alex reviews cars in an all new year-long Gateway Exclusive series that will launch its first review on October 15th. It will be comprised of monthly car reviews, released on the 15th of each month.

The series will focus on reviewing (mostly) affordable cars for students and young professionals. Cars will be awarded a grade (F to A+) on the attributes like handling, value and safety. Exemplary cars will be awarded a coveted “Editor’s Choice.”

Many students are absolutely disoriented by the staggering level of choice available in the automotive market. Alex is passionate about cars, and will hope to help guide your buying decision. The Student Driver will hope to give some direction to the potential car-buyer who is absolutely lost in choosing a car. Check out our Q&A with Alex below!

What made you interested in doing this?
It was completely random. I was just sitting at my desk studying physiology when I thought “hey, I like cars. Why don’t I review them?”

How do you choose what cars you review?
I’ve been around cars for all my life, and I tend to have a sixth sense of which cars are good and which aren’t. I usually start with a list of all the cars and narrow them down by choosing the biggest manufacturers, and what fits into a student budget.

Also, I usually prefer to review cars that are highly rated by other reviewers to see if they’re the real deal or just all hype.

What car should I buy?
To be honest, my reviews are a general guide, not the be-all-end-all opinion on cars. Buy what you like because that’s what’s most important. What I value may not be the same for you, this is just what I think.

What’s a “preferred dealer?”
It’s the people I would buy a car from.

How do you approach your vehicle reviews?
I approach reviews with German luxury sedans being the standard of perfection. I love Audis and BMWs, and that’s the yardstick I use for driving experience.

For me, the three most important things about a car are the seat, handling, and price—in that order. I believe that if you’re going to invest a huge chunk of time (and money) in a car you should love it as much as possible. A car that’s fun to drive and has a comfortable seat go a long way.

Lastly, price. A car with good value is extremely important. I spend a lot of time talking about handling and comfort, but the price tag matters too.

Where did you get your interest in cars?
My Grandpa. He just turned 80, but can diagnose car problems in his sleep.
After owning dozens of cars, he has a huge knowledge of what makes them tick. I still ask him today what he thinks about certain cars. He says cars have come along so far since he was my age.
In ‘59 he used to have to tune the engine in his Dodge every year; the cars needed much more maintenance. In those days radios were luxury items, airbags didn’t exist, and power steering was optional (imagine that?).
Today, you put in the key and the computer resets the valve timing (DOHC) and keeps the car running. 87 octane in a Porsche engine? Today, No problem! People who says cars from the past are better than today’s car don’t know what they’re talking about.

How do you review the cars?
I receive vehicles from manufacturer’s press fleets for one week review periods. After a little bit of research and a lot of thought and writing, you get to read the finished review.

Are you paid to give “good” reviews? How close are you to the industry?
Absolutely not. Everything I tell you is what I would tell my family and closest friends. I don’t get paid for this—and never will. I like to keep it real: if I don’t like a car I’ll let you know.

Why do you like cars?
Because I’d rather not walk to Calgary.

How long will you do this for?
Don’t know. If people like it I’ll renew The Student Driver for another season.

How much time does this take?
Between writing, planning and test-drives, quite a lot. I do it because I love it.

Is it hard (reviews)?
Sometimes, yes. For example, scheduling conflicts can be stressful and hectic. Also, writing a critical review of a car isn’t fun if the manufacturer believes their car is the best ever made.

Who are you?
I’m a third year Science student from Edmonton with a love of things that move. I love cycling and most physical activities. I’m currently studying Economics as my minor. I realized doing car reviews on the side in light of my degree is random, but hey, this what University is for! Try new things, right?

What’s your favourite car?
Social mobility.

Seriously, what’s your favourite car?
To be honest the ultimate irony is that even though I review dozens of cars, I don’t have a favourite or “dream” car. I just want a car that works and works well.

What do you think about the car buying process?
To be honest, I believe that if you throw a dart at any new car today you’re going to be happy and think your car is the best car ever. The car market has become ultra-competitive; there is a race to the bottom. At first Japanese cars changed the car market, and now it’s the Korean cars that are doing it again.

Car companies that couldn’t hack it are gone (SAAB, Suzuki, AMC, Saturn etc…) leaving only good car companies left. Also, new cars sold today are sold with razor thin profit margins to compete.

Erroneously, people believe dealers make loads of money on new cars. That is the furthest thing from the truth. The only time the dealer makes money is when your start purchasing add-ons. That’s where the cost comes from and also the profit for dealers.

What was your first car?
A 10 speed bicycle. 0-60km/h in never.

Lease, finance, or buy?
Buy, if possible. Leasing and financing should be absolute last resorts, not first choices. Finding yourself in a position of negative equity (paying for something that depreciates) feels bad, man. Don’t do it. Just remember, in 10 years after you buy a new car, the motor insurance will be worth more. Psychologically, owning your car is a gratifying feeling. Also, the rule of thumb is you can afford a car up to 1/3rd your net income.

Used or new?
That’s a very tough question. It all depends on a combination of price, mileage and age.

The rule of thumb is a car loses 10 per cent of its value when it leaves the lot, 20 per cent in the first year and 30 per cent in three years. After five years the car loses over 40 per cent of its value.

I usually like to buy vehicles that are less than 2 years old and less than 40,000KM since the car is practically new. The best bang for your buck is a 3-year-old used vehicle. If you want to keep the car for a long time, buy new. If you want to trade it in in the near future, used. For your first car (if you plan to keep it for a while, which is unlikely with our 21st century attention spans) buying new is not a bad idea.

When should I buy a new car?
When the repair bills outweigh the value of the car. Until then, drive your car into the ground (metaphorically, not actually). Every time you trade in, you get burned in the pocketbook.

What if I get bored with my car?
That should be irrelevant. If you get bored with your car it’s a sign you bought the wrong car.

And yes, I know the average student cant afford a brand-new Audi, but I have to have fun sometimes. Stay tuned for that review!

4 Comments

  1. Very well-written and informative for those who may potentially be new to the car buying process. As an avid car enthusiast myself, I’m looking forward to the monthly editons.

  2. Hi James,

    I don’t know a ton about the rx-7. From my understanding it was a lot of fun to drive and won many awards. It also had a rotary engine that apparently sounded like a turbine at speed. It also had fewer moving parts in it. Unfortunately, the rotary engine fell out of favour post 70s as it had lower fuel efficiency, wore more quickly (ironically), and leaked oil frequently. I’ve personally never driven one. Thanks for commenting.

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