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Choosing your car

How to buy your first car

Buying your first car is exciting, but daunting, thanks to the numerous things you have to decide on and remember. Here's how to take the stress out of everything from what model to choose, to which insurance to buy.

What's the best first car to have?

Buying a very fast, powerful car will cost you a fortune in insurance, never mind the initial outlay. A performance car isn't a great idea for an inexperienced driver, your speed is likely to 'creep up' in a powerful car, making it easier for you to lose control. Consider buying a smaller car because the controls are lighter, parking is easier and insurance is cheaper.

How do I go about buying it?

First, figure out your budget. You should include the cost of insurance (see 'Running costs'), road tax, and a bit extra for any work that you may need to get done. Then do your homework and research reviews to decide on the right make for you (check out the AA price guide so you can see relevant prices and avoid being overcharged). Extra fins, spoilers, etc, may mean higher insurance cost, so make sure you know the cost implications before you get tempted.

Where should I look for a car?

If you're buying a new car go to a recognised dealer. If you want a used car, try franchised dealers for the best after-sales support. Independent dealers are good for slightly cheaper cars, and classifieds and the Internet for private sales which are cheaper still, but your legal rights are limited.

What do I do when I find a car?

Ask about its service history and check the car's documentation, including vehicle registration certificate (V5C), which shows the registered keeper of a car; MOT certificates (make sure they are annual if the car is more than three years old); and paperwork showing its full service history. Be aware that an MOT certificate doesn't mean a car is roadworthy or safe. It means it passed the MOT test on the date the test was done.

Should I test drive the car?

Absolutely, and when you do, make sure you drive it for at least 30 minutes. The aim is to see if you like the feel of the car and if the steering and brakes work properly. If you're unsure about the car in any way then get it checked out by an expert (see AA Checks). Don't be pressurised into buying on the spot, and don't be afraid to haggle (all dealers expect this).

When should I get insurance?

Firstly make sure you're covered for your test drive via the dealer or the private buyer. Then as soon as you decide to buy the car, shop around for insurance (see 'Running costs') – most dealers will take a deposit (make sure you get a receipt) and save the car for you while you do this.

How and when do I pay road tax?

Road tax is valid for six or twelve months and the tax disc is displayed on the vehicle. When the tax has run out (check the date on the disc) you need to apply for a new one by filling out a form (V10) at the post office and producing your Vehicle registration document, a valid certificate of insurance and an MOT certificate. With the right documents you can also renew your car tax on the vehicle licence website.

How and when do I pay my MOT?

A valid MOT certificate is required when a car has been registered for three or more years. This requirement starts on the vehicle's third anniversary.

An MOT costs £50.35 for a car which seats up to 8 passengers and the certificate is valid for 12 months from date of issue.

Do I need breakdown cover?

In the first year of driving, one driver in five is involved in an accident.1 On top of this many cars break down because of poor maintenance. So if you want to ensure someone will come and fix your car at the roadside at any time of day or night, or tow you to a garage when you can't start up at home, then you need breakdown cover.

AA pupils get a great deal on breakdown cover! Find out more about other savings AA pupils can make.

1 Passplus

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