How to find the best first car

Written by AMT Team

26 September, 2019

Passing your driving test and getting ready to buy your first car is a major achievement – whether you’ve saved up for it yourself, are looking to finance it or are getting a gift from your parents. You’ll never forget your first car, so it’s important to do your research to make sure you’re getting the best one for your budget, driving requirements and preferences.

With a wider choice of cars available on the market now than ever before, it can be difficult narrowing down your options. We’ve put this guide together to help you find an affordable car that’s right for you.

Car buying choices - new or used?

The first decision you need to make when finding a new car is whether you’re looking to buy a new, nearly-new or used model. Cars depreciate as soon as they leave the showroom, meaning a second-hand car is typically worth around 30-40% of the original price after a few years on the road. This can be beneficial for drivers on a budget who need to keep costs low, but many prefer to buy a new car for peace of mind. 

A new car will generally be more reliable than a used car as none of the components will have faced any wear or tear, and it will also be covered by a warranty. Buying a new car also means you can decide what technology, safety features and specification you want. The vast majority of cars in the UK are bought on finance, which allows drivers to get a new car but spread the cost over an established period of time. To find out more about financing your car, take a look at our guide to leasing.

How to find the best first car

The most important thing you need to do before looking for cars is set your budget. While it can be tempting to have a vague price in mind and then build on it with a higher specification or additional perks, it often means you’ll end up choosing a car that’s way out of your budget. This should be avoided – especially when leasing. As well as considering the upfront cost of the car, whether you’re buying it outright or providing the lease deposit, you’ll need to think about all of the running costs that can’t be avoided. These include:

  • Insurance: It’s a legal requirement to take out car insurance before driving in the UK, but what type of cover you get and how much you pay per month is up to you.
  • MOT: If your car is over three years old, it will need to have an MOT every year. As well as this annual safety check, you’ll need to factor in the cost of servicing and repairs.
  • Fuel: One of the most common costs that drivers don’t consider when selecting a new car is the cost of fuel. Whether you go for a diesel, petrol or hybrid model, you’ll need to bear this ongoing cost in mind.
  • Road Tax: Unless your car is a zero-emission model, you’ll need to pay road tax. This is based on CO2 emissions for the first year and then moves on to the standard rate: £145 for petrol and diesel, and £135 for hybrids.

Once you’ve taken these running costs into account and know what budget you’re working with, you’re ready to start looking for your new car.

Choosing the best car

Before you buy a new car you’ll need to check the details match up with the DVLA’s records. To do this, you’ll need the registration number, make, model and MOT test number. Once you’ve bought the vehicle, you’ll need to register it with the V5C registration certificate, then sort out road tax and insurance. To find out how to save money on your car insurance, read our handy guide on the cheapest cars to insure in 2019.

If you’re looking to buy a second-hand car through a private seller or dealership, there are plenty of online sites and showrooms to browse. It may be helpful at this stage to make a shortlist of the brands, models and features you’re considering to save time. If you’re buying from a dealer, be sure to check that they’re independently checked and are members of a trade association to ensure that they follow codes of practice.

Used car dealers are legally bound to make sure that everything they sell is of satisfactory quality, is legal to drive and matches its description, but private sellers don’t have to follow the same requirements. When buying from a private seller be sure to check all of the paperwork. If the seller can’t provide documentation or paperwork looks like it contains mistakes, think twice before purchasing. You should also check that the mileage and MOT date is consistent with the service records.

Before buying a used or nearly new car, check the following:

  • Tyres – Check that the tyre tread meets the legal minimum requirement of 1.6mm.
  • Bodywork – Look for any dents, scratches or signs of kerbing.
  • Fluid levels – Check all the oil, brake fluid and power steering fluid levels.
  • Electrics – Test all of the electrics, including winding the windows up and down, turning the radio off and trying the air conditioning.
  • Glass – Look for chips on the windscreen, particularly any that are in the driver’s eyeline.
  • Upholstery – Inspect the interior for any stains, tears or unpleasant smells.
  • Spare wheel – If the car should come with a spare wheel, ensure that it’s there and is in good condition.

Although it’s important to bear in mind that all second-hand cars will have a certain level of wear and tear, if the car shows unreasonable signs of damage, you may be able to negotiate a discount.

Once you’re satisfied with the above, the next stage is to take the car for a test drive. If the owner or dealer is reluctant for you to test the car, you should consider walking away. Make sure that the engine is cold before you begin as a warm engine could be hiding some issues. When you are driving, make sure that you: test the clutch, monitor the general performance, look for smooth gear shifts, test the brakes, and see how the car handles at high speed.

The best cars for new drivers

If you can’t decide which manufacturer or model to go for, you may want to start by looking at the best cars for new drivers on the market right now. Whether it’s because these models are easier to drive, can fit into a lower budget or have fewer emissions, three of the best cars for new drivers are:

  • Fiat 500. The Fiat 500 is a popular choice with young drivers as it’s stylish, affordable and efficient. All models have seven airbags and a five-inch infotainment system, along with a range of petrol turbocharged engines and trim levels.
  • Kia Picanto. Kia Picanto is a personable and punchy city car with a choice of three petrol engines and a manual or automatic gearbox. It offers competitive running costs when compared to other models in its class and offers an impressive amount of tech with each trim level upgrade.
  • Audi A3. The Audi A3 is similarly priced to the ever-popular Volkswagen Golf, despite its prestigious reputation There’s a generous amount of standard equipment across the range, as well as a choice of petrol and diesel engines which benefit from Audi’s four-wheel-drive system.

It’s entirely up to you which car you choose to be your first and how you want to finance it, but it’s important to make sure that any model is in good working order and that you’re getting a good deal.

At AMT, we’re committed to providing a service that’s tailored to you. If you want to make driving your dream car a reality, take a look at our latest car lease offers, or contact our dedicated team today to discuss your lease requirements on 0113 387 4241.

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