Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bought a new car - Maruti Swift Dzire

I made my decision to buy a car in Feb 2010. I haven't driven on Indian roads much - other than the few days of driving lessons that I took in 2002 (just before going to US). The thought of driving a car on Indian roads, was very scary. I still wonder how people drive these giant vehicles on the road, without bumping into each other. I consoled myself when I saw these huge buses and trucks maneuvered on the roads with ease, by our dexterous drivers. (Also read: Driving on Indian roads - pleasure or pain?)

The following are some items that influenced my decision to buy a new Maruti Swift Dzire. The parameters given here should be useful for others, as well. Of course, the actual values others apply, may vary :)

Used vs New

When I made my decision to buy a car, I started looking for used cars. Since I haven't driven on Indian roads, I thought it is a good idea to buy a used vehicle - so that, I don't have to worry about the wear 'n tear or damages. Religiously, I looked at the "Classified" section in Hindu to get some understanding of the models available in the market & the price range. I visited even a couple of "Maruti True Value" exhibits to find out the "quality" of the used cars available in the market. Used cars are REALLY USED in India. Either, the cars have become very old (or) there is lot of miles on the car in a short time. If the car is relatively new or used very less, they charge you almost equivalent of the price of new cars.

Buying used cars directly from "known" people is good. Otherwise, buying used cars directly from a third-party has its associated risks. When you want to play it safe by buying used car from a dealer, you should be ready to pay the extra price. For example, Maruti True Value used cars sell you cars with 1 year warranty. However, they charge you nearly 10 - 15% more than the open market. In essence, used cars aren't very "attractive". Well, actually the smell of brand new cars mesmerized me more !

Small vs Big

Should I buy a small/compact car or should I go for a big/sedan car? Should I buy a car or should I go for a SUV/minivan? There were lots of questions.

Small cars are easier to drive in Chennai streets and city interiors. Taking a 180 degree turn in crowded/congested streets is easier, too. It is convenient for ladies & short people to drive a small car. Even from a budget point of view, small cars are very attractive and there are so many models/options available in that segment/category. But, it would be extremely hard for a 6.2 ft person (like me!) to squeeze into the driver seat. Also, it would not be convenient for a family of 5 members to sit comfortably - especially, when you have to go on a long drive. So, I ruled out the option of buying a small car.

I decided to buy a sedan, because it is spacious & at the same time, it is NOT as BIG as a SUV/mini van. So, relatively it is easier to drive on Indian roads.

Financing vs Paying by Cash

This is a "no-brainer". I straight away went for "Financing". The interest rates are very attractive and they're hard to resist. For example, for a 3-years fixed deposit banks give you an interest of 7.5%. However, for a 3 years car loan, they charge you just 8.5% interest. You are better-off investing the money in an 'appreciating' asset - instead of throwing the money on the car. I would recommend you to check with the bank where you have salary account (instead of going with the creditor that the car dealer arranges for you). Also, it is always recommended to check with multiple banks before finalizing on one creditor. Remember "When banks compete - you WIN" :)  (Also read: Loan application process in India - very simple)

Banks may force you to buy an extra 'insurance' for the loan amount. Don't ever do that. It is not a must to get insurance cover for your car loan. Car, by itself is an asset. Moreover, you would be taking insurance for the car. If something happens to you, the banker can always come and take your car. If something happens to the car, you'll get the car's insurance provider pay for it. So, don't buy a separate insurance from the banker/creditor. On instances where you have to take delivery of the car "soon", bankers/creditors may force you to get insurance for speedy processing. Don't fall into the trap.

Automatic vs Manual

Cars with "automatic" transmission are very easy to drive. In fact, some of the modern automatic cars are even 'optimized' for fuel consumption. However, I wanted to be a Roman in Rome. So, I joined the "herd" :) Honestly, there were two reasons why I didn't go for a car with  "Automatic" transmission. First, they were pricier than the "stick-shift" ones. Second, I wanted to be able to drive a "manual" transmission car. That way, when I have to drive other(s') cars in India, I would be able to drive them with ease.

Having driven a stick-shift car in India for a month, I feel that it is painful to drive them in "stop 'n go" traffic. So, if you are buying a car that will be used mostly in city interior roads, do consider "Automatic" ones.

Diesel vs Petrol

Petrol cars provide more driving comfort than Diesel cars. Diesel engines are noisier. If you have driven Petrol cars before and trying Diesel cars now, you'll notice the difference right away. From the point of mileage & cost of fueling, Diesel cars are very attractive. However, the cost of Diesel cars are 10 - 15% higher than Petrol cars. You should go for Diesel cars only if you anticipate driving long distances, frequently. Otherwise, it would take a long time for you to "break even" the premium that you paid for Diesel car. I did order a Petrol car initially. However, I had to change my order and settle for a Diesel car, due to the long wait time for the Petrol version of Maruti Swift Dzire.

Why Maruti?

There are so many brands available in India, today. The prices are very attractive/competitive. Almost all the car manufacturers (that, I know of) sell cars in India - Mercedes, Volswagon, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Tata, Maruti and the list goes on ! I wanted to avoid 'premium' cars. Based on the information that I gathered from friends, maintenance costs of 'Premium' cars are HIGH. Also, the resale value is LOW. Maruti Cars provide low cost maintenance and also high resale value. The maintenace cost of Tata cars is also LOW. However, Maruti's post-sales service (for maintenance) is considered the BEST.

In fact, I did consider TATA Indigo MANZA, before settling down for Maruti SWIFT Dzire. Honda City was also very attractive in terms of features & convenience - however, it went above my budget and I also heard that the cost of parts replacement/maintenance is high.  Hence, settled for Maruti SWIFT Dzire. I like the features and convenience of Maruti SWIFT Dzire (for the price that I paid!). No wonder, why Maruti is still the #1 brand in India.

How did I get adjusted to driving a car on Indian roads? How did I learn to drive a stick-shift/manual car? Lots of interesting experiences to share... wait for my next blog post :)

Also read:

Self Adjusting Traffic - Miracle on Indian Roads
Two wheeler service - Can't escape from those long lines and hours of waiting
Heavy Rain made Chennai into Venice

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Filing Tax Returns in India - Made Easy !

I'm phobic to "standing in queues" - be it a theatre or a government office. I hate to stand in long lines, especially when things can be done from your home, over the internet, with the click of a mouse button. The thought of standing in long lines to file my tax returns made me nervous, in July. Thank God ! Indian government has brought a number of e-governance initiatives and "filing tax returns online" is one such initiative. (Also read: I love IRCTC.CO.IN)

I didn't have to file tax returns in India for the last several years, since I didn't have any income in India. The last time I filed tax returns in India, I had to stand in the queue for at least 2 hours to just submit the application and to get a stamped acknowledgment. I was thrilled to hear about the online service for filing tax returns. I initially envisioned it to be an equivalent of Turbo Tax or Tax Cut - but, it is no where close to those services. However, it is lot better than the hard copy "Saral form" that I filled years ago.

I got some tips from my colleagues and decided to file the tax returns online. All you need to do is download an Excel Spreadsheet, fill the relevant information from Form 16 and upload it online. You'll get an acknowledgment right away. In addition to doing this, you need to "mail" the hard copy to NSDL processing center. The process involved is very simple and you can complete it in just an hour or so. The refund amount gets automatically deposited in your bank account, if you provide bank account details. I was not eligible for any refunds and hence, couldn't validate that work flow. But, I heard that you DO get refunds from the IT department :)

In the past, I had to rely on my friends to understand the different fields in the Saral form. Having filed tax returns in US on my own, several times, I could now understand the fields easily. Moreover, the Excel Spreadsheet has lots of 'intelligence' built-in. It does all the basic checks that prevent you from entering wrong data.

Overall, I liked the online interface for filing tax returns. Someday, I want it to be as intuitive and easy as Turbo Tax / Tax Cut.

Also read:

Filing tax returns in US after your R2I - Some tips
Getting a PAN card in India - Not Easy!