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What to know when buying your first car

If you’ve just passed your driving test, you’re no doubt itching to take to the open road with your new-found sense of freedom, in a vehicle that’s your own. Even if test day is still a few weeks away, your mind is probably turning to what set of wheels you’ll be choosing when you – hopefully – pass. 

But buying your first car is not a decision one should make lightly. Young and newly qualified drivers face particular financial pressures that can be alleviated or intensified by your choice of car and model. 

We’re here to help you make sense of it all, and find a set of wheels that suits your needs and budget. 

How will you use your car?

The first, and possibly most important thing to reflect on, is what you’ll actually use your car for. You’ll want to find something that can comfortably handle whatever you need, but at the same time, it’d be uneconomical to buy something far more powerful than you really require. 

Think about what category of driver you fall into. If you’re going to be tackling a lengthy motorway commute five days a week, a small used car with high mileage may be a gamble, and you’d perhaps be better looking for something newer and more powerful. On the other hand, if, for the foreseeable future, you only plan to zip friends and family around town as and when, that small used model could be just the ticket. 

Thinking about budget

When deciding what your budget is or whether a car you’ve found is suitable, you’ll need to not only think about purchase price, but about how much you can afford each month to keep the car running. Consider and cost up the following:

New or used?

One of the big choices is whether you begin browsing through new or used vehicles. 

If you’ve got your heart set on something custom made, personalised or fresh off the forecourt, you’re going to need a much bigger budget – though there are lots of finance packages that could help you spread the cost. 

Because cars depreciate fast, opting for a used model could bag you a real bargain. As with new cars, you could even choose to spread the cost of this through a finance package. 

The downside to buying a used car is that you can’t personalise features, and warranties on the vehicle are likely to have expired. You’re also more likely to encounter faults and repairs with each year on its clock. 


New and/or young drivers will face higher insurance premiums than most on the road, as a result of their age, lack of experience, and the higher risk this brings. While there’s little you can do about this, there are other factors you can do something about. 

One of these is the insurance group of the model you end up buying. Insurance groups are bandings, numbered from 1 – 50, which take into account things like the performance of a model and the cost to replace or repair its parts. The lower the insurance group, the lower your premium is likely to be, so new drivers are often advised to look to the lower groups when buying their first car. 

Car tax

How much car tax you need to pay each year will depend on the model of your car and when it was first registered on the road. 

Most cars on the new and used market today will have their tax figures calculated on emissions, with some low and zero emission vehicles being exempt altogether. Before you go ahead and buy, remember to check what band the vehicle will fall into, and check its annual tax fits your budget. 


It might seem obvious, but there’s no point owning a car if you can’t keep it moving. 

Whether it’s a diesel, petrol, hybrid or electric you’re eyeing up, be sure to check you could afford to keep the car running on the journeys you’ll need to take, day-in day-out. 

MOT, servicing and repairs

After its third year on the road, you’ll have to pay for your car’s annual MOT.  The car may be under manufacturer warranty for some time after you buy it, but if you expect it to expire or if it already has, you need to be confident you can cover any repairs – or get a comprehensive insurance policy that can help you cover most of them. 

It’s worth remembering that the older a car is, the more likely you it is you’ll need to spend some money on maintenance and repairs. 

Buying your first car – top tips

Searching for your first car is an exciting time and should be a process you enjoy. To make sure things run smoothly, we’ve gathered some extra bits of advice: 

The search:

If you’re opting for a new vehicle, then shopping around local dealers and getting quotes online will be your next steps. 

However, for used cars, you can take your search much further. Don’t forget to check a number of store-based and online sellers, as well as pages in the local newspaper or ad boards, where you’re more likely to find private sellers and potential bargains. 

Viewing the car:

If you’re buying new, you’ll be covered under warranty for any faults, but may still want to give the car a visual once-over before you take it anywhere. 

Those buying a used car will need to be much more thorough. Dealers are bound by law to make sure the cars they sell are in good condition, which should give you peace of mind. Just be sure to check their accreditation and ask about their codes of practice. Also, make sure to inspect the vehicle for any signs of wear or tear that could make or break the sale for you. 

Things are riskier where a private seller is involved. If you’re thinking about buying this way, always remember to: 

  • Ask to see all the paperwork and check all the details match the vehicle you’re viewing.
  • Check the mileage seems correct compared with the car’s age and wear, and that it fits with the MOT test certificates.
  • Look under the bonnet and check everything looks healthy. Be wary of any signs of welding or rust. The same goes for the bodywork and interior.
  • Ensure there is enough tread on the tyres. If there isn’t, you may find yourself paying to replace them once you buy.
  • Check if all the seatbelts, lights, wipers, locks and windows are working.
Test drive:

With used cars, the best thing you can do is ask to take it for a test drive. This should uncover any problems that can’t be picked up by a visual inspection. 

During the test drive, be sure to: 

  • Test the brakes, clutch and acceleration.
  • Get a feel for the steering and whether it’s handling right.
  • Listen out for any unusual noises or vibrations.
  • Test the gear shifts and check they feel smooth.
Agreeing a price:

Even if the used car looks and handles like a dream, you’ll want to check you’re paying a fair price for it. Compare it with similar and similarly-aged models on the market, or use an online valuation tool to see what it should be worth. 

If you have noticed problems that go beyond the usual wear and tear, like scratched paintwork and interior damage, don’t be afraid to ask for a price reduction below the market value to account for this. 

If you’re dealing with a private seller, you may consider haggling to get an even better price. But whether you think this is worth the risk is entirely up to you. 

Once you’ve finally got your hands on your first ever car, you’ll need to make sure its tax is paid and that it’s covered by insurance. To see what we could do for you, get a car insurance quote from Rias today >