Case study: A Car Comparison Calculator

Bubble Car by Allen WatkinYou’ve seen a bargain second-hand car: it looks sound, and the price is right. All good – but how can you tell what effect the running costs will have on your purse?

That was the question that sparked our latest project, an online interactive tool for the Money Advice Service. The Car Costs Calculator, built by mySociety, allows you to see outgoings at a glance, and compare one second-hand model against another.

The client

Money ASdvice Service logoThe Money Advice Service helps people manage their money. It does this directly through its free and impartial advice service, and by working in partnership with other organisations to help people make the most of their money.

It is an independent service, set up by government, which proactively offers advice and services to help people with the big financial commitments in their lives.

The brief

The proposed tool was to be part of a wider, content-driven campaign about the process of buying a car, the possible pitfalls of doing so, the financial implications, and the best ways to save money.

The costs of car ownership aren’t always apparent until you’re up and running – and that’s not helpful when you’re browsing the second-hand car ads.

The Car Costs Calculator gives potential buyers a clearer understanding of exactly what outgoings are associated with each make and model of car.

Several factors make up the costs of running a car: fuel, servicing and maintenance, vehicle tax, annual insurance, and the likely annual depreciation. Before making the decision to commit to what is, for many people, one of the largest outgoings in their monthly budget, it pays to have a full understanding of all of these costs.

Car comparison tool by mySociety for MAS

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We needed to build a tool that could present this complex data, simply and clearly. It made sense to model it on the sort of comparison service that we’re all familiar with from online electronics retailers – that way, most users would have an intuitive understanding of how to access the data.

Our approach

Before we started work, the Money Advice Service gamely answered all our many questions, allowing us to create a collaborative scoping and feasibility document.

This, together with clear guidance on the branding and house style, was indicative of what was to come – open communication, with frequent meetings and calls throughout the entire build.

We worked to our preferred Agile method. This approach allows for the overall build to be divided into small chunks, each of which is presented to, and tested by, the client on a regular basis: feedback can then be incorporated into the next sprint.

The tool was given plenty of use and testing by the Money Advice Service stakeholders at every stage, and their comments were a valuable resource for our developers.

We also benefited from the client’s in-depth understanding of their audience. With their help, we drew up user stories, including characteristics and motivations, so that we knew we were all on the same page and could really focus on the tool’s users.

Car tool - add further info

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While the build went smoothly, we did encounter one issue. It just happened that the Money Advice Service had only recently introduced new styles across its website, and mySociety was the first third-party supplier to use them.

As it turned out, they weren’t entirely pinned down, meaning that some finished pieces of design needed to be re-done as the project neared completion.

Remember all that communication we talked about above? This is where it came in really useful, and we got there in the end.

The outcome

The Car Cost Calculator launched in July, fitting into the Money Advice Service’s wider campaign on financial advice about buying, selling and running a car.

Both sides are pleased with this innovative tool that gives buyers such a simple route to the financial information they need to make an informed decision.

For the Money Advice Service, the project represents what every client would like to see: “low input, high output”. That is to say, for a relatively low overhead, they have provided the UK with an online tool that will make a real difference.

Try it out

Whether or not you’re in the market for a second-hand car, it’s still fun to try out – have a go with the tool here.

Need something similar? We can build it for you.

Image credit: Allen Watkin (cc)