Throwing away your L-plates is exciting, but strolling onto a car forecourt can be a scary experience for any new driver. Parting with your hard-earned cash is a big deal, so we want to make sure you get the right car for you.
1. Does it do what I need it to do?There’s no point buying a car to find out a few months down the line that’s it’s uncomfortable for your regular long journeys, or that the boot is far too small. Think about how you’re going to use the car, and prioritise.
If you’re making long journeys regularly, look for something with adjustable lumbar support. If you have children (or are likely to soon), ensure there’s a spacious boot and easy-to-access rear seats. If you’re big into outdoor sports, perhaps look for something with a roof rack.
2. Do you trust the person selling it?
Go with your gut. Established dealers may be more expensive, but offer added peace of mind that no private seller ever can. Deals that seem too good to be true often are, and you should always insist on seeing the paperwork that comes with the car before agreeing to buy.
3. Can I afford to insure it?
Insurance for new drivers, especially the young, is famously expensive. Get plenty of quotes beforehand, and check what your payment options are. Even if the premiums seem affordable, you may find you only have the option to pay in a lump sum.
Be aware, also, that older cars can be more expensive to insure. They often have fewer (or more basic) safety and security features, making a claim either more likely or more costly when it happens.
4. How much is the tax?
The price of road tax can vary wildly, especially on cars registered before April 2017 – meaning your car is likely to be affected, if you’re looking at something a couple of years old or more. Prices vary from as little as £20 a year to upwards of £50 a month.
It all depends on the car’s CO2 emissions, and you can find these out in advance by checking online. You’ll need the registration number. While the DVLA’s online checker only gives you the emissions rating, you can use this to find out the cost of tax separately.
5. Will it be reliable?
Older cars may be cheaper in the short term, but buying used inevitable involves taking a gamble of some sort.
Some makes and models are well-renowned for their reliability (German and Japanese cars in particular), while others have a reputation for being flimsier. Often these stereotypes are based on cars from the 70s and 80s, but there are many buying guides online that outline telltale signs of neglect in newer models.
With your annual MOT a must, and repairs often running into the hundreds, you may find you’re better off in a new (or nearly new) car that’s under warranty, when you break things down on a month-by-month basis.
6. Are any major scheduled repairs due?
Scheduled maintenance is part of any car’s life cycle, and it’s not unusual for owners to sell a car shortly before expensive major work is due.
A typical example is the timing belt. These need changing every 5-8 years in general, and the work can cost several hundred pounds. It can be tempting to forgo the work, but skipping it can lead to catastrophic engine damage. And that spells disaster for your investment.
Always check the model’s maintenance schedule in advance and quiz the seller to see if the work has been done.