How to buy your first car

Passing your driving test is a great achievement. Here’s how to build on that success by buying a safe, reliable car without breaking the bank

Words By Claire Evans

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Nobody ever forgets their first car, so it pays to make it a good one. Whether you're a parent looking to choose a safe car for a newly qualified teenage driver, or you’ve just passed your test and want to make your budget go as far as possible, What Car? can help.

On this page we’ll give you our tips for finding a safe and affordable first car, and advice on how to keep running costs, such as insurance, under control. We'll also give your our recommendations for the best first cars to buy.

Should I buy new or used?

Cars start to lose value as soon as they leave the showroom, and after three years on the road a second-hand car is typically worth 30-40% of the original price. So it's wise to let someone else take that financial hit and buy a used car.

There are benefits of buying new, though, such as the reassurance of the manufacturer's warranty, which will cover the cost of any faults that may arise in the first few years.

Unless you have enough funds to buy a car outright, there’s also the cost of finance to consider. This is when a new car, purchased on a competitive finance deal, can be less expensive than it first seems.

Can a new car make an affordable first buy?

Twenty years ago you needed a trust fund or generous parents to afford a brand new first car, but low-rate finance schemes with modest monthly payments have brought new cars within the reach of more young drivers.

The most attractive deals for new drivers are usually PCPs (personal contract purchase deals). These offer low monthly payments because they leave a large chunk of the car’s value until the end of the deal. Buyers can make the final payment to own the car, or hand it back with nothing more to pay. Alternatively, if the value of the car at the end of the term is greater than the final payment, this difference can be used as a deposit to start a new deal.

Special offers with low interest rates and manufacturer deposit contrbutions mean that if you are shopping for a city car, monthly bills of less than Β£100 aren’t uncommon after an initial deposit.

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