buying your first car

What to look for in your first set of wheels

The things to think about before parting with your hard-earned cash

If you have just started a new job some distance from home then you are going to clock up the miles and there's no point in buying a car with 180,000 miles as there isn’t much life left in it.

But if you only have to travel a few miles every day then a high mileage well maintained car will be OK.

You will need to think about all the costs that will be part of ownership too.

Depreciation (loss in value)

This is something you only have to worry about if you have a fairly new car and intend to keep it for a couple of years. Resale value will be much more important than if you buy an older car and run it until it’s worn out.

Buy with care

Make sure you do all the right checks as even fantastic looking cars can have a murky past.

If you leave a deposit on a car you want to buy make it clear, in writing, that the intention to buy is subject to satisfactory checks on the vehicle and the deposit is refundable if the car is not as it should be.

Arrange a vehicle inspection or if you know a friendly mechanic ask him to check the vehicle over and ALWAYS get a vehicle data check. This will pick up whether there is any outstanding finance – if there is money owed to a finance company they will take the car back. Similarly, if it has been stolen the car will be taken from you and returned to the owner – and there’s no compensation.

HPI provides cover if the car has been cloned (that’s when the number plates of another car have been copied and fitted to a stolen vehicle). Data checks also confirm the mileage is genuine, number of owners etc.


Premiums do fall as you build up a good driving history, but the first year or two will be very expensive – the insurance often costs more than the car. Check the insurance rating of the car before you buy it. Cars are categorised by insurance companies according to risk – price, performance, repair costs.

Pay how you drive schemes

Pay how you drive insurance relies on a black box recorder to track how and when you drive. Mileage, measurements of speed and braking helps the insurer decide whether you drive safely and if they can lower your premium.

Vehicle Excise Duty (Car tax)

Cars registered before March 2001

  • There are two rates of tax – a lower rate for cars with engine capacity up to 1549cc and the higher rate for larger engines.

Cars registered between March 2001 and March 2017

  • These are taxed according to their CO2 emissions. This figure is recorded on the V5C registration document and is fixed, based on data supplied by the manufacturer – there is nothing you can do to alter it.
  • The higher the CO2 emissions, the higher the fuel consumption so you can save on both fuel and road tax by choosing a car with low CO2 emissions.

Cars first registered after March 2017

If you want to avoid car tax altogether then, in broad terms, you need a car which was built before 1973, one first registered between March 2001 and March 2017 with CO2 emissions of less than 100g/km (band A) or one first registered after March 2017 that cost less than £40,000.

Don’t exclude safety from your purchase plans as improvements to vehicle structures and safety systems have dramatically improved the chances of you and your passengers surviving a nasty crash.

Thanks largely to the Euro NCAP crash test programme, buying a newer car means it will better protect you and your passengers in an accident.

Newer car bodies are generally better able to absorb crash energy without major crush of the passenger compartment. Restraint systems are better too - seatbelts have become more complex with features like pre-tensioners and load limiters. Multiple airbags are commonplace.

Safety's not just about how well a car protects you in a crash. With features like antilock brakes (ABS) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) newer cars will be better equipped to help you avoid an accident in the first place.

It's not all good news, though, as all of these modern safety systems can be very expensive to repair if they do go wrong. You won't be able save money by ignoring faults as a warning light showing a fault with airbags, seatbelts, ESC, ABS and others is a reason for MoT failure.

updated 12 February 2017