Looking to get back on the road, but not sure a fixed rate car loan is the right choice?

Comparing fixed rate car loans can be tricky, as lenders have different terms, fees and charges to consider.

If you're in the market for a new car and you're looking for car finance options, get all the facts before you act and use the RateCity website to compare loan features and fees.

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What is a fixed rate car loan?

A car loan is a type of personal loan that is taken out by a borrower specifically to buy a new or used car or other eligible new or used vehicle. Fixed rate car loans lock the borrower into the same interest rate and repayments over the life of the loan term.

Fixed rate loans can help you avoid any financial stress should interest rates rise. As you’re locked into a set rate, the lender can’t make any unexpected changes to your repayments.

Is it better to have a variable or fixed rate car loan?

The best car loan for you will not be the best for someone else, as it depends on your financial situation.  If you’re looking for security, then you may prefer the certainty of a fixed rate car loan. To find the lender with the best car loan, whether variable or fixed, you need to compare the loan type, account fees and interest rates.

Benefits of a fixed rate car loan 

The main advantage of a fixed rate car loan is the certainty it offers and protection against future rate rises. Borrowers know exactly what their repayments will be, and that amount is locked in for the life of the loan. Set repayments provide a level of assurance that variable rate loans just can't.

Benefits of a variable rate car loan 

As the interest rate is variable, the lender can adjust it at any time. The main advantage of this is that your repayments may fall if your lender cuts their interest rates, reducing your interest costs. Variable car loans may also offer more flexible features, such as the ability to make extra repayments or pay out the loan early, features that are typically not available on fixed loans. 

Disadvantages of a fixed rate car loan 

While the benefit of a fixed rate car loan lies in its pre-agreed repayment structure, this is also a disadvantage. If your lender cuts interest rates, this will not be passed on to you if you have a fixed rate loan, only to borrowers on variable loans. In addition, interest rates on fixed loans may also be higher than rates on variable loans given the certainty they offer. Much like insurance, you need to pay a little extra to protect against rising interest rates. 

Fixed rate loans may also have more restrictive conditions than variable loans. For example, repaying your loan early may attract financial penalties, to ensure the lender recoups the loss of interest that an early exit brings.

Disadvantages of a variable rate car loan 

The main disadvantage of a variable rate loan is that the lender can raise the interest rate on your loan at any time. A sudden, unexpected increase in your repayments could exceed your budget, especially if you’re on a tight one.

How do interest rates work for car loans?

Interest rates are charged by lenders in return for the risk they take on when they lend money to individuals. The example below shows how interest rates can be calculated on a car loan with a 7 per cent interest rate and a monthly repayment of $400. 

The interest cost on car loans is usually calculated daily and accrued monthly.  As this is a principal and interest rate calculation, it does not include other fees or charges such as ongoing management fees, early exit fees, or late payment fees. These may apply to your car loan, so be sure to check this before signing anything. 

Month Starting Balance Interest Rate Daily Calculated Interest Monthly Interest Monthly Payment End of Month Balance
January $5000.00 7% 7% ÷ 365 = 0.02% 
0.02% x 5000 = $0.96 
$0.96 x 31 = $29.76  $400 $5000 + $29.76 - $400  
= $4629.76 
February $4629.76  7% 7% ÷ 365 = 0.02% 
0.02% x 4629.76= $0.89 
$0.89 x 28 = $24.86  $400 $4629.76 + $24.86 - $400 = $4254.62 
March $4254.62  7% 7% ÷ 365 = 0.02% 
0.02% x 4254.62= $0.86 
$0.86 x 31 =$25.29  $400 $4255.40 + $25.29 - $400 = $3880.69 

Note: Different banks will calculate interest rates over different times, so be sure to check with your preferred lender how they calculate them. 

 

Types of fixed rate car loans in Australia

Fixed rate car loans come in two main forms, secured and unsecured.

Secured fixed rate car loans 

Most car loans on the Australian market are secured by the vehicle purchased with the loan. This means that the car you buy is used as security against the loan, and your lender can repossess your vehicle if you do not make your repayments. The lender sees secured car loans as less risky compared to unsecured loans, as they can sell the car to recoup their losses if you default on your repayments. 

Some lenders will only offer secured loans for certain makes and models, or cars under a certain age, to further reduce their financial risk.

Unsecured fixed rate car loans

If the car you’re buying doesn’t qualify for a secured loan, or if you prefer not to risk losing your vehicle, some lenders offer unsecured car loans. Unsecured loans do not require collateral against the loan, such as the car. However, as they represent greater risk to lenders, unsecured loans typically have higher interest rates than those on secured loans. 

Unsecured fixed rate car loans usually have stricter eligibility criteria too, such as more stringent affordability tests and may only be offered to high income earners with a steady income stream.

What to look out for with fixed rate car loans

A fixed rate car loan with a low advertised rate may seem to be the best option. However, it’s important to look further than the interest rates to calculate the total cost of your fixed rate loan.

The car loan with the lower interest rate is not always the cheapest 

Even if a fixed rate car loan has a low interest rate, you’ll most likely still pay fees and charges in addition to interest costs. This could potentially make a low rate car loan ultimately more expensive than a higher-interest rate car loan with lower fees and charges. 

Let’s look at an example. Claire wanted to borrow $11,500. Lender A offers an 8% interest rate, with only a monthly fee of $5 and Lender B offers a 6% interest rate, but has multiple fees and charges throughout the loan term. Lender A actually works out $99 cheaper than Lender B, despite the 2% lower advertised interest rate. 

  LENDER A LENDER B
Loan Amount $11,500 $11,500
Loan Term 5 years 5 years
Advertised Interest Rate 8% 6%
Monthly Repayments $233 $222
Ongoing Fees $5/month = $300/total  $10/month = $600/total 
Other Fees $0 $450 
Total Amount to Pay $14,291  $14,390 

Source: RateCity Car Loan Calculator

 

Check the comparison rate 

From July 2003, the Australian government made it mandatory for lenders to display a comparison rate alongside an advertised interest rate. This comparison rate includes most fees and charges on a loan, and bundles this with the advertised rate to give an overall interest rate, called the comparison rate. Comparing different comparison rates is a helpful guide to borrowers as it gives a more accurate understanding of what the total cost of the loan might be.

However, it’s important to note that even a car loan with a low comparison rate may have additional non-standard fees that are not included in this rate. Using the comparison rate as a guideline to narrow down your choices is wise, but make sure to ask about all the fees and charges on a loan before signing on the dotted line.

Hidden fees and charges  

Fixed rate car loans offer a stable, simple repayment system. However, extra fees such as break costs may apply if you try to repay your car loan earlier than agreed. If you find yourself with extra funds available, and want to clear your debt with your lender, make sure you look at the fees associated with additional car loan repayments. Repaying early may attract financial penalties, to ensure the lender recoups the loss of interest that an early exit brings.

Variable rate car loans tend to have more flexible arrangements than fixed car loans. If you want to make extra repayments, you can often do these without charge. Loans that include the option to make extra repayments may also offer a redraw facility, so you can access any additional money you have paid on the loan if need be. A variable rate loan could be a more suitable option if you want flexibility and the opportunity to repay your loan early without financial penalties applying.  

Types of fees and charges that may be applicable include:

  • Application fees
  • Establishment fees
  • Extra repayment fees
  • Redraw fees
  • Early payout/Early repayment fees
  • Other ongoing or account keeping fees

High LVR on your car loan

A Loan to Value Ratio (LVR) is the percentage of money you borrow for a car loan, in comparison to the vehicle’s value. Some lenders have 100% loans available, where you borrow the full value of the car and don’t need a deposit. This may seem appealing, but often, a higher interest rate is charged by lenders on such a loan compared to one with a lower LVR to account for increased financial risk. 

Before you sign up to a fixed interest rate car loan, check the lender’s terms and conditions, their Product Disclosure Statement (PDS), lending criteria and loan fact sheets. Only with all the financial information can you make an informed decision on which loan will work best for you.

How long can a car loan last?

The length of time you have to pay off your car loan, known as the loan term, generally ranges from 1 year to 7 years. While you will typically have the option to choose the loan term that best fits your budget, it's important to keep in mind that the longer your loan term, the more you will likely pay in interest charges over the life of the loan. 

On the other hand, your regular fortnightly or monthly repayments will typically be more affordable on a longer loan term. Taking out a car loan on a 5 year term, for example, means the total loan amount will be spread over 5 years and repaid in regular instalments until the end of this period. In contrast, taking out a 2 year loan means you have a much shorter period of time to pay back that same loan amount, making the regular repayments higher.

When it comes to choosing between a shorter or longer loan term, the best option is the one that works for your individual needs. Consider using RateCity's Car Loan Calculator to get an estimate of how much your repayments might be on different loan terms.

How long can a fixed rate last?

Different to a fixed rate home loan, when you take out a fixed rate car loan the interest rate is fixed for the entire length of the loan term. A car loan term will in most cases be a much shorter loan term than a mortgage - which is commonly on a 25 to 30 year term - meaning it is more feasible for a lender to fix the interest rate for the duration of the term.

Put simply, if your fixed rate car loan is on a 3 year term, the interest rate will be fixed for the whole 3 years.

This can be beneficial, as interest rate rises won't be passed onto you at any point during your loan term, though neither will interest rate cuts.

Frequently asked questions

What is a variable-rate loan?

A variable-rate loan is one where the lender can change the interest rate whenever it wants. For example, if you sign up for a variable-rate loan at 8.75 per cent, the lender might change the interest rate to 8.90 per cent the month after and then 8.65 per cent the month after that. By contrast, if you take out a five-year fixed-rate loan at 8.75 per cent, the lender is obliged to leave your interest rate at 8.75 per cent for at least five years.

What is a fixed-rate loan?

A fixed-rate loan is one where the interest rate remains constant for an agreed amount of time. For example, if you take out a five-year fixed-rate loan at 8.75 per cent, the lender is obliged to leave your interest rate at 8.75 per cent for at least five years. By contrast, if you take out a variable-rate loan at 8.75 per cent, the lender can change the interest rate whenever it wants.

Can you get a car loan as a single mum?

Getting a car loan can be tricky if you’re a single mum, but it’s not impossible. Juggling your finances can be difficult, particularly if you are reliant on a sole income or on Centrelink payments (or a combination of the two), and having a car is a necessity rather than a luxury for many who have to look after children. Luckily there are specialist providers and services that can help you get the loan you’re after, even if you’re in a tough spot financially.

What is a finance broker?

Finance brokers help borrowers organise car loans with lenders – that is, they act as middlemen between borrowers and lenders. While lenders will only recommend their own products, finance brokers recommend products from a range of lenders. Finance brokers need to be accredited with a lender to do business with that lender; a typical broker will be accredited with between 10 and 30 lenders. Finance brokers generally don’t charge consumers; instead, they receive commission payments from lenders.

Where can I find car loans for single mothers?

Single mothers can sometimes find that due to their circumstances the bigger banks can be less inclined to lend to them, but there are smaller companies and specialist lenders who can be willing to provide loans to people in a range of circumstances.

Single mothers could benefit from getting in touch with a car finance broker, as a broker is likely to have knowledge and access to options that are suited to their needs.

Advantages to using a broker:

  • Finance brokers often don’t charge for their services as they work on a commission basis from lenders.
  • Brokers will have industry knowledge and contacts within lending companies and is therefore more likely to be able to find the best deal for your circumstances.
  • Brokers are qualified professionals who are licensed under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act so have an obligation to follow responsible lending practices and to work in your best interests.

 

What is repayment frequency?

Repayment frequency is how regularly you have to make car loan repayments to your lender. The most common repayment frequency is monthly, but many lenders will also give you the option of making fortnightly or weekly repayments.

What is an LVR?

The LVR, or loan-to-value ratio, is a percentage that expresses the amount of money owed on the car compared to the value of the car. For example, if you take out a $15,000 loan to buy a $20,000 car, you have an LVR of 75 per cent. LVRs change over time as you pay off your loan and your car depreciates in value. For example, two years later you might now owe $10,000 on your car, which might now be worth $15,000. In that case, although there would still be a $5,000 difference between the size of the outstanding loan and the value of the car, the LVR would now be 67 per cent.

What is collateral?

Collateral, or security, is an asset you agree to surrender to a lender if you fail to repay a loan. Generally, the collateral for a car loan is the car itself. So if you fail to repay the loan, the lender might seize your car, sell it and then use the proceeds to recover their debt.

What is a finance lease?

A finance lease, also known as an asset lease or car lease, is an arrangement by which a finance company buys a car on your behalf. You get to borrow the car in return for making regular payments to the financier. At the end of the lease, you can either buy the car or hand it back. 

What is a CHP?

A CHP, or commercial hire purchase, is an arrangement by which a finance company buys a car on your behalf. You get to borrow the car in return for making regular payments to the financier. Once the final payment is made, you take ownership of the car. 

What is the principal?

The principal is the value of the loan that is still outstanding. So if a borrower takes out a $20,000 loan, the principal is $20,000. If the borrower repays $5,000 in the first year, the principal is now $15,000.

What is a credit score?

Your credit score is a number that represents how credit-worthy you are. The higher your credit score, the more credit-worthy you are and the more likely you are to receive loans from credit providers.

There is no industry standard for credit scores – different credit reporting bodies use different methodologies. For example, Equifax gives consumers scores between 0 and 1,200; Illion (through the Credit Simple service) gives scores between 0 and 1,000; and Experian gives scores between 0 and 999.

When it comes to car loans, lenders tend to offer lower interest rates to borrowers with better credit score. There are steps you can take to improve your credit score, including paying bills on time and paying off existing loans.

How much is your car worth?

If you already own a car, you could potentially bring down the cost by selling your car in the process. Before that happens, though, you’ll need to find out how much your car is worth.

One of the first places to find this value is to research the value of your current car, giving you an idea of roughly how much it’s worth in its peak condition.

There are plenty of websites that offer a free online valuation, allowing you to enter your car’s make, model, year, badge and description, with results listing a price guide based on both selling your car privately and through a dealership.

Of course, dealerships will try to profit on your trade-in by buying it for less than they can sell it, making it highly unlikely that you’ll get the same price selling a car to a dealer as you would selling a car privately.

However, private car sales can be costly and can take months to sell, making car trading more convenient with a guaranteed return, even if you may not be able to realise the total value of your car’s worth.

Remember that everything is negotiable. If the dealership is offering you less for your trade than you wanted, try to negotiate elsewhere to gain that money back. Start by negotiating on the price of the trade and then ask them if they can give you a further discount on your new car.

What is salary packaging?

Salary packaging is an arrangement you can make with your employer that can allow you to buy a car from your pre-tax salary. The advantage of salary packaging is that it will redue your taxable income.

What is an establishment fee?

Some lenders will charge you an establishment fee, or one-off upfront fee, to cover the cost of setting up your car loan.

What is an upfront fee?

An upfront fee is a one-off fee that many lenders charge when you take out a car loan.

What is comprehensive insurance?

Comprehensive insurance protects you in the event you’re responsible for a car accident. Policies vary from provider to provider, but comprehensive insurance generally covers you for damage to your car and property, as well as the other parties’ cars and property. A comprehensive insurance policy may also protect you from theft, vandalism and natural disasters.

What are loan repayments?

Loan repayments are the regular payments you make to pay off your car loan. Loan repayments generally occur on a monthly basis, although many lenders will also give you the option of making fortnightly or weekly loan repayments.

What is a commercial hire purchase?

A commercial hire purchase, or CHP, is an arrangement by which a finance company buys a car on your behalf. You get to borrow the car in return for making regular payments to the financier. Once the final payment is made, you take ownership of the car. 

Where can I find car loans for single mothers?

Single mothers can sometimes find that due to their circumstances the bigger banks can be less inclined to lend to them, but there are smaller companies and specialist lenders who can be willing to provide loans to people in a range of circumstances.

Single mothers could benefit from getting in touch with a car finance broker, as a broker is likely to have knowledge and access to options that are suited to their needs.

Advantages to using a broker:

  • Finance brokers often don’t charge for their services as they work on a commission basis from lenders.
  • Brokers will have industry knowledge and contacts within lending companies and is therefore more likely to be able to find the best deal for your circumstances.
  • Brokers are qualified professionals who are licensed under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act so have an obligation to follow responsible lending practices and to work in your best interests.

Find car finance through a broker.