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Your first car

Teen driver with her first carDriving is an expensive exercise, with the costs of buying and running your motor always seemingly on the rise. Getting your foot on the first rung of the motoring ladder seems to get harder and more expensive every year.

A lot of choices need to be made around the same time, but the critical point is to choose the right car to start you off. Unfortunately there are as many unscrupulous car dealers out there as there are honest ones, so your purchase has to be made with good attention to detail.

If you go into car buying head first you may well end up with a poor vehicle, and you will find getting rid of it and getting ahold of a better motor much more difficult. If you give your money to a fly-by-night dealer or private seller, you'll probably never see it again.

You'll find a plethora of advice on buying cars here, but the main thing to keep in mind that there are always other cars out there. Just because you like a car of a particular model, it doesn't mean you have to choose the one you're looking at. If you don't trust the seller, the car seems to good to be true or there is anything else off-putting with the vehicle, it's best to walk the other way. Plenty more cars on the road.

Choosing your first car

Hundreds of cars to choose fromIf buying a car coincides with a new job, you may find yourself covering a lot of miles every week travelling from home to work and vice versa. This is where a vehicle's mileage should be put to consideration. If the car you're looking at has a few hundred thousand miles on the clock, it's doubtful it will last you long.

If your daily travels are short, or you do not need to make daily trips, then you can opt for a car with a higher mileage, as long as it has been looked after.

There are many costs and outlays to be made as a result of becoming a car owner, and you should always keep these in mind when looking at cars and deciding on your budget.

Value Depreciation

Depreciation means a loss of value of the car over time. The level that depreciation will affect you depends on the age of the car you buy, and how long you intend to keep it. If you buy new, or nearly new, you will probably want to sell the car on at some point in the future, and so you want it to hold as much of it's value as possible. If the car you're buying is older, it may be best to keep hold of it and run it until it's on it's last legs (or should that be wheels...).

Do your checks

After finding a car that suits your needs, it's time to run a few checks on it. It may look great to you, but behind the shiny paintwork can hide a dodgy background.

If the seller is asking for a deposit to keep the car for you, or you want to put some cash down to make sure it's yours, remember to cover your back. You should make the seller aware that you only intend to buy the vehicle if all your checks come back positive, and you will want your deposit back if they do not. Also make sure you put this down in writing, and get the seller to sign it along with yourself. An honest seller should have no problems with this.

If you know any local mechanics or engineers, you can ask them to look the car over for you, and even so, you should also invest in a car data check. There are many providers to choose from, such as HPI or the AA, but they will all be able to give you information that you would never have been able to source yourself. This includes if the vehicle has been reported as stolen, if the vehicle has any outstanding finance on it, or if the vehicle has even been written-off.

A car check will also give other helpful information, including the number of previous owners, previously recorded mileages, VIN checks and more.

Getting insured

One cost that is particularly disheartening when you first start driving is your insurance premium. You'll have to accept that the first couple of years that you are on the road will be expensive, and in some cases you may be paying more for insurance than you did for the car you're driving. As long as you keep a decent driving record, you will see your premiums fall. Insurers rate cars according to risk, and you should try and find the insurers rating for your prospective car before buying it. If the insurance premiums will be to high then it may be best finding another vehicle.

'Pay how you drive' car insurance

This new scheme gives newer drivers the opportunity to prove that they can drive responsibly, by using a black box recorder and tracking their driving habits. By measuring your speed, mileage and braking, insurers can determine what level of risk your driving poses, and may lower premiums depending on how responsible they view your driving skills.

Car tax

There are two main things that govern the amount of car tax you'll be paying. Firstly is the age of the car. If the car was manufactured and registered before March 2001, it is taxed based on engine size. Anything below 1.5L is taxed at a lower rate.

Secondly is the vehicle's levels of CO2 emissions. Any car manufactured after March 2001 is taxed based on this value. The data for the level of emissions a car makes comes from it's manufacturer, and is recorded in the car's V5C certificate. CO2 emissions come from fuel consumption, and thus choosing a vehicle with lower emissions will save you both fuel costs and tax charges.

It is possible to avoid paying car tax completely (legally!). Any car manufactured before 1973 is exempt from road tax, but it is unlikely you'll be buying one as your first car. Your other choices are to purchase a car in band A of the CO2 emissions table (emitting less than 100g/gm), such as a Toyota Prius or a Vauxhall Ampera Earth, or you can opt for a fully electric vehicle, though this comes with it's own problems to overcome.

Car safety

It may be last on your list of things to think about, but you really don't want to be driving round in a possible death trap. Newer cars benefit from newer technology and many improvements to vehicle safety have been made over the past decade, and could well mean the difference between walking out of the car after a crash or being pulled out. Remember too, that it is not just your safety that you need to think about, but your passengers' too.

A newer car will include safety features tested to EU guidelines (the Euro NCAP tests) and are better at absorbing the impact from crashes. Additional safety equipment such as airbags and complex seatbelts are also commonplace on newer models.

It's not all about protection during a crash though - newer cars are better equipped to prevent accidents in the first place. With antilock breaks and other stability systems in place, newer cars are simply safer to drive on the whole. As with all new technology though, the tradeoff is increased cost to repair, and in order to pass MoTs all systems should be in full working order.


Your first car will probably be with you for a while, so you need to make sure that whatever you buy is mechanically sound, and economical. Don't go for something flashy or expensive, as you will end up paying far too much for insurance, adding to the other debts that young people have nowadays.

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