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What’s the best used automatic car for a new driver? 

A learner driver is looking for their first car and wants to know which models to consider and what to look out for...

Automatic gearbox

I'm taking driving lessons and hoping to pass my test this year. I want to buy a small car with an automatic gearbox for when I have my licence, and have a budget of £2500 to £3500. 

As I don’t know anything about cars, I’d be grateful for your opinion on which models I should consider.

What would be reasonable mileage for a used automatic car? And do you have any other advice/tips on things to look out for or check before purchasing the car?

Ehtasham Tariq

What Car? says…

We’d recommend a small hatchback with a low-powered engine as a first car because that will help to keep your insurance premium down. Used models we recommend that can be bought with an automatic gearbox include the previous generations of the Ford Fiesta (below), Kia Picanto and Volkswagen Polo.

Ford Fiesta

Your budget should stretch to a 2005 Polo 1.4 petrol, a 2009 Ford Fiesta 1.4 petrol and a 2011 Picanto 1.1. The Picanto will be the cheapest to insure and will be fine if you do most of your driving around town. However, if you’re going to make frequent longer motorway journeys, the Fiesta or Polo would be more comfortable, as they’re larger and have more powerful engines that are better suited to high-speed driving. 

We’d recommend that you look for a car that has full service history and hasn’t had many owners. If you can find a one-owner car with less than 60,000 miles and a good service history, it’s likely to have been well cared for and should therefore be more reliable than one with multiple owners. You can find out more about which small cars are the most and least dependable in the What Car? Reliability Survey

When you’re making a shortlist of potential cars, check the MOT history of them online because it’s a good indicator of how well they’ve been maintained. Cars with a string of passes without any advisory notices will be a better buy than those that have failed their MOT test each year and only passed after remedial work has been carried out.  

Once you do start looking at cars make sure you take a reasonably lengthy test drive and listen out for any knocks and rattles that could indicate problems. With an automatic, it’s important to make sure that the car goes into forward and reverse easily and that if it’s a stepped gearbox it changes up and down through the gears smoothly. If you have a mechanically minded friend or relative it may be worth asking them to come with you to drive the cars, too. 


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