'First Car' Survey

AA Insurance asks, "how was it for you"?

17 September 2009

  • Half of male drivers own first car before they're 20
  • Women wait before buying their first car
  • Third pay less than £500 for first car – but third of women get theirs free!

As you get older, do you look back with misty-eyed nostalgia to your very first car? The chances are it was a bit of an old banger: with limited income you may well have had equally limited choice.

And you probably had a love-hate relationship with it: especially as it might well not have been your ideal choice.


Hate because of things going wrong; like the battery going flat at the first sign of cold; failing the first MOT you put it through. Swearing at it because it wouldn't start when it was pouring with rain. Getting annoyed with a rattle you just can't find the cause of.

Yet it gave you your first taste of freedom. You might have taken out your first girlfriend or boyfriend in it. You could visit places for the first time without endless bus and car journeys or having to rely on parents or friends. It opened all sorts of new travel opportunities.

And for one out of every five of you (according to insurance industry statistics), you will have had your first serious accident in it.

New research

AA Insurance has conducted a major piece of research to find out about that 'first car'. This AA/Populus survey amongst 21,173 AA members was carried out during August 2009 and it explores the experience of drivers in relation to their first car – how old respondents were when they got their first car, how much it cost, whether they paid for it or it was given to them (or the cost of it was partly contributed); how old their first car was when they bought it and how long they kept it. It asked drivers from age 18 right through to age 65-plus and compares the results.

We'd like to hear about your own 'first car' experiences. What was it? How old was it? What did your first car mean to you? Share with us on The AA Zone.

The headlines

The main findings show that:

  • Men have always tended to get their first car at a younger age than women
  • Women are much more likely to have been given their car (either it was bought for them or passed on by a friend or family member)
  • Respondents' first cars were most likely to be between seven and 10 years old although the older respondents are, the younger their first car was likely to be
  • A third of people paid under £500 and another third paid under £2,000 for their first car
  • Men are more likely to change their car within two years than women

The research also showed marked differences between age groups – particularly between those buying their first car today and those who are now aged in their sixties – as well as interesting regional differences.

How old were you when you got your first car?

The striking result is that drivers have been getting their first car at a younger and younger age. Men tend to be in possession of their first set of wheels before women (age 17-19, men 47%, women 37% and age 20-25, men 32%, women 36%).

Compared with those now aged 65 and over, who were most likely to have taken to the road in their own car for the first time aged between 20 and 25, a majority of young people today become car owners while still in their teens. However, across all ages, the first car was most likely to have been acquired between 20 and 25.

Remarkably, a minority acquired their first car at age 16, before the legal driving age: men being significantly more likely (3%) to do so than women (1%)

Age Total Male Female 18-24 now 65+ now
16 2% 3% 1% 4% 2%
17-19 43% 47% 37% 64% 26%
20-25 34% 32% 36% 28% 44%
26-30 9% 8% 11% 0% 15%
  • Those living in Northern Ireland are least likely to own a car (34%) followed by Scotland (39%), before age 20
  • Those living in Southern England are most likely to have a car (54%), followed by East Anglia (50%) before age 20
  • Those in the North East (31%) and North West (30%) are most likely to have their first car between the ages of 21 and 25

Who buys the first car?

An extraordinary finding is that up to a third (33%) of women didn't pay a penny for their first car – it was either bought for them or they received a car passed on by family or friend. This compares with 22% of men who got their first car for free.

In addition, women are more likely to receive a contribution towards the cost of their first car.

Only 54% of women actually paid the entire cost of their car, while 69% of men fully paid for theirs.

As might be expected, the older respondents were, the less likely they were to have got their first car for nothing, the number progressively falling until respondents now aged 65+. Of this group, only 15% did so, compared with 37% of those now aged between 18 and 24.

Who Paid? Total Male Female 18-24 now 65+ now
Paid for it entirely 63% 69% 54% 48% 74%
bought for me or given to me 26% 22% 33% 37% 25%
partly paid for it 11% 9% 13% 14% 10%
  • The Welsh are most likely to get their car bought for them, or given to them by a friend or family member (29%) followed by those in the South West of England (28%)
  • Those in Northern Ireland and Yorks and Humberside are most likely to have paid for their first car entirely themselves (68%)

What was it worth?

We asked "Roughly what was your first car worth (adjusted to today's relative value)"

Of all respondents, roughly a third (32%) paid under £500 for their first car and another third (35%) paid between £500 and £2,000. These figures are pretty consistent over all age groups although those aged 65+ are four times more likely to have paid less than £100 than those aged 18-24.

Value in today's terms Total Male Female 18-24 now 65+ now
Up to £100 7% 8% 6% 3% 12%
£100-£499 25% 26% 23% 23% 25%
£500-£1,999 35% 35% 34% 41% 24%
£2,000-£4,999 8% 8% 9% 8% 10%
Over £5000 10% 11% 9% 14% 13%
  • Those aged 65+ are four times more likely than those aged 18-24 to have paid less than £100 for their first car
  • Men are most likely to have spent under £500 for their first car (34%)
  • Those aged 55-64 and 65+ are most likely to have paid less than £500 for their first car (37%)
  • 18-24 year olds are most likely to pay between £500 and £1,999

How old was your first car?

The popular perception that young people start their driving career with an 'old banger' is more true today than it was in the past.

The most likely age of a first car is between 7 and 10 years – 36% overall. But 40% of today's 18 to 24-year-olds can expect their first car to be that age while the percentage gradually falls over time to just 22% of those now aged 65 and over.

Only 4% of 18-24-year-olds can expect to be driving a brand new first car although remarkably, 11% of over-65s say their first car was new.

Paradoxically, the over-65s are also most likely (18%) to have had a first car that was over 15 years old – while only 7% of those aged under 25 will have had a first car that old.

Women are more likely to have a new car – 7% compared with 5% of men as well as a nearly-new car (under 3 years old), 8% of women compared with 7% of men.

Car aged Total Male Female 18-24 now 65+ now
Brand new 6% 5% 7% 4% 11%
Under 3 7% 6% 8% 7% 10%
3 to 6 24% 23% 25% 23% 26%
7 to 10 36% 36% 36% 40% 22%
11 to 15 16% 18% 14% 18% 10%
15 and up 25% 28% 20% 27% 28%
  • Those in Northern Ireland are most likely to have a new first car (9%) or a car under 7 years old (56% total)
  • Londoners are most likely to have a brand new first car (8%)
  • Those in the South and South West are most likely to have a first car 15 year old or more (12%)
  • Those in Scotland and Northern Ireland are least likely to have a car aged 15 or more (6%)

How long did you keep your first car?

Men are in more of a rush to get rid of their first car than women: 32% of men had changed theirs before they had kept it for two years, while only 21% of women had changed theirs in the same time.

How long? Total Male Female 18-24 now 65+ now
Less than 1 year 10% 11% 7% 15% 7%
1 year 19% 21% 16% 22% 17%
2 years 32% 33% 30% 28% 34%
3 years 20% 19% 22% 17% 23%
4 years 8% 10% 10% 8% 8%
5 years and over 11% 14% 10% 10% 11%


Simon Douglas, director of AA Car Insurance, says: "At a time when the cost of car ownership is higher than ever, with both fuel and insurance costs rising steeply, getting a car remains a priority – especially for young men.

"Although the number of drivers of each sex who have passed their test before they're 20 is similar (38% of men and 35% of women1), owning a car seems to be a 'rite of passage' for young men.

"Unfortunately, one out of every five will also experience a serious accident within their first year of driving2. Young men are twice as likely to be killed or seriously injured in a collision than young women and although the number of accidents on Britain's roads is thankfully falling, the proportion suffered by young drivers is rising.

"Although most young drivers expect their first year's car insurance premium to be expensive, it still comes as a shock when the cost might be twice what their first car is worth. The cars they are buying tend to be more powerful than they used to be. This contributes to higher accident rates and thus higher premiums."

But it's got little to do with the value of the car – and much more to do with the fact that young men especially are likely to injure themselves, their passengers or other people when they lose control, with consequent personal injury claims and legal costs. But with claim- and conviction-free driving, a no-claim bonus will quickly be built up and premiums will fall dramatically over subsequent years.

"I urge all learner drivers to take lessons with fully qualified driving instructors3", says Douglas, "to ensure that their skills match the improved safety we are seeing in more modern cars. For those new drivers who have had an accident the AA Charitable Trust offers free Drive Smart4 training to help them improve their skills."


1according to the Department for Transport Travel Survey for 2008 (latest figures): 36% of drivers aged 17-20 have a full driving licence (38% male; 35% female)

2source: Association of British Insurers (ABI)

3The AA Driving School only uses fully qualified driving instructors whilst some other national driving schools do not.

4See www.theAA.com/drivesmart for details.

The AA/Populus study for AA Insurance interviewed 21,173 AA members between 3rd and 10th August 2009.

Would you like to take part in surveys such as this? You can do so by joining the AA/Populus Panel

Join the discussion in the AA zone


18 September 2009