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Buying Your First Car

There's probably not a lot that's more exciting than buying your first car.  Once you have passed your driving test a car of your own will give you the independence that you've been dreaming of. 
There are a number of things that you should consider before setting your heart on the car of your dreams though.

Insurance will be your biggest cost, so you need to understand the insurance terms that you will come across. 

The most important thing to consider first is your budget

What do I need as a budget for buying a first car

You may have been saving for a while to buy your first car, but your 'car fund' is only the start. 

You can get a decent little car for around 1,000, but by far and away the biggest cost will be the insurance.  Teenage car insurance is extremely high, and since December 2012 female drivers have had to pay the same premiums as men.   

As a new drive you can expect a year's insurance premium to be at least double, and possibly 3 times or more that the cost of your car.  You therefore need to think about which first car you will be able to afford to insure, rather than which car you'd really like to own.

There are some ways to reduce your insurance premium - your insurance policy might be lower if it's from a company that offers Smartboxes or Coverboxes which measure how well you are driving.  Taking Pass Plus can also mean money off your insurance - and the good news is that this reduction will continue year on year.

As well as insuring your car you will need to tax it.  Just like cars are in different groups for insurance, there are different road tax bands the Parkers Guide will have information about what tax band the car you are looking at is in.  You may find that your car still has some tax on it from the previous owner.

How can I find out how much the insurance will be?

It's easy to find out how much the insurance might be for a car you like the look of.  Go to an insurance company online (the Co-operative Young Driver insurance) is a good one.  Fill in your details, and then put in either the make and model of the car you want, or the registration number if you know it.  (sites like AutoTrader have pictures of cars and their registration numbers so you can pick a registration number of the kind of car you fancy).  If you save your quote you'll find you can then go back in and put in another registration number to compare.  You can also alter other details like who else will be driving the car (adding both parents can bring the premium down) and how many miles you will be doing in a year. 

Buying a first car
It is a really good idea to do this before you go out and fall in love with a car that the insurance companies won't even give you a quote on!

What is an MOT and do I need one?

All cars over three years old have to have an MOT certificate to prove they have passed the test to show they have the minimum requirements to be safe on the road.  All cars over this age have to have an MOT test every year.  You should make sure the car you buy has a long MOT with it - a minimum of six months to give peace of mind.  As cars get older some owners sell them just before the MOT is due as they know, or suspect, the car will fail the test.  If a car fails the MOT it cannot be driven on the road until the work is done to bring it to a road worthy state, and it has been retested and passed.

Don't rely on an MOT to tell you that an older car won't need anything doing to it - the MOT mainly covers brakes, lights, suspension and tyres, and although the car passed on the day, there might be other things that have gone wrong since.

How do I know if the car I want to buy is a good one?

It is always a gamble buying an older car - even the current owner might be unaware that there is anything wrong.  Take someone with you when you go to see it who knows what they are looking for.  If a car is well cared for outside and in, then the engine has probably been cared for too.  A scruffy neglected looking car may well not have had such tender loving care.  If you are buying from a garage they should give some kind of guarantee.

Direct Gov has some good advice for things you should watch out for when buying a used car.  Check out this video - Buyer Bewarned!

What about a newer car?

If you have a regular income coming in you might want to consider buying a newer car.  Some insurance companies think that if you have a newer car you'll take better care of it, and that means being more careful with your driving. 

Young Marmalade have a scheme where you can buy a car up to 3 years old, and get a very much reduced insurance premium on it.  They have a number of cars suitable for new drivers.

How much will it cost me to run a car?

There's not getting away from the fact that the cost of petrol is sky high.  You may well find that driving to work or college is actually more expensive than taking the bus - but of course a lot more convenient and more fun! 

You will need to find out how many miles per gallon your car is supposed to do.  You can find this out by searching on the web for the make and model you are looking at - be sure to include the year of manufacture, as cars have become more efficient over time.  Most mileage is quoted in gallons, and there are approximately 4.5 litres to a gallon.  The higher the better, obviously.  You want to aim for a car that does as many miles to a gallon as possible. 

You can reduce the amount of petrol you use by driving carefully - this means gradually accelerating and braking, not driving too fast and always being in the highest gear you can for the speed you are doing.  You can experiment with different driving styles to maximise your petrol consumption.
See also:

Insurance Terms Explained