Finding the perfect car for newly qualified drivers can be a tough ask. New drivers, who might have been coveting that provisional licence for months, are inevitably excited about their first car and have high expectations before heading to the forecourt.
On a practical level though, there are certain criteria that first-timers should be mindful of. Style, invariably, is important but so is safety. It also needs to be easy to drive, and affordability is understandably an important requirement, both in terms of price and running costs.
Ensure that you always get a vehicle data check before purchasing a car. A data check is inexpensive, the AA only charges £6, which is money well spent in the long run as it confirms if the mileage and number of previous owners are accurate and it picks up whether the car has been stolen or if there is any outstanding finance associated with the vehicle. For extra peace of mind it’s also worth arranging a pre-sale vehicle inspection.
Check for active safety features, such as antilock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC), which will help to prevent road accidents. Euro NCAP’s car safety ratings are an important guide, but bear in mind that they’ve changed their test criteria over the years so you can only make direct comparisons between ratings of cars of a similar age.
Check the insurance rating of the car before purchasing. Starting out as a new driver often involves high insurance premiums as new drivers have limited driving experience and do not have a no claims bonus. Sometimes, the insurance can cost more than the vehicle so it’s vital that you check the insurance rating.
Find out how much Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), commonly called car tax, you will be paying. This can also drive the cost of your car up, depending on how eco-friendly the vehicle is and how old it is. VED can cost between £0 and £555 per year so it’s important to check before you buy the car. For cars first registered since April 2017 it’s likely to be £140 per year unless you’re looking at a car that cost more than £40,000 when new.
Use the DVLA’s vehicle information service to find out the car’s official CO2 emissions figure and its MOT status.
Since we’ve covered what to bear in mind when buying a car for the first time, to help you make your choice here’s a list of the top 10 used cars on the market for newly qualified drivers.
One of the best small cars around, the Vauxhall Corsa has everything a new driver is looking for in one compact, stylish package. It’s small, dynamic, fun and perfect for urban driving. It’s available in a variety of engine sizes for economical driving and is affordable from around £8,900 brand new, with fairly low insurance costs. You can typically find a used Vauxhall Corsa with 2010 plates or newer with relatively low mileage and have change from £5,000.
Stylish, fun and practical, the Renault Clio is perfect for new drivers. With a number of affordable and small engine sizes available, its sporty and fashionable exterior comes with an impressive number of technological features, such as the seven-inch touchscreen and automatic headlights/wipers on the latest generation. It’s safe and reliable, making it ideal for the style conscious new drivers. Used prices range depending on the model. The Rip Curl 16v offers a leather gear stick and steering wheel along with attractive colour trim upholstery and can be found for less than £3,000 second hand (but it is over 10 years old now). If you have a budget of £8,000 or under, you could pick up the S Media Nav model which has parking sensors, cruise control and a built-in sat nav.
The best-selling car in the UK of all time, it’s no surprise the Ford Fiesta is highly recommended for new drivers. It boasts several high-tech safety features, including the innovative MyKey, which was introduced in 2012. The MyKey system allows parents to limit the maximum speed that the car can reach and restrict the stereo volume when their children are driving to prevent any distractions. Newer models also feature seven airbags and Electronic Stability Control (ESP), plus optional autobrake. To support its safety claims, the newer models scored 5 stars in Euro NCAP safety test. It offers variety since it’s available with a wide range of engines. In terms, of price, insurance premiums for Fiesta’s tend to be reasonably low. A brand new Ford Fiesta can start from around £13,000 but on the used market you can pick up a bargain. Models with 2015 plates are available second-hand for under £6,000, while you can find some from the early 2000s for a few hundred pounds.
For new drivers after a larger vehicle, a used Nissan Qashqai could be the solution. This compact SUV only arrived in 2006 but with a second generation released in 2013 it means earlier models are available for under £5,000. It’s highly practical and great for festivals, road trips and dog owners. Many versions have a 1.2 or 1.5-litre diesel or petrol engine making them inexpensive to insure.
The VW Polo is a very popular choice among newly qualified drivers, which comes as no surprise. Polos are known for their reliability, quality and holding their value. They appeal to the image conscious new driver who seeks a compact, but stylish car with a strong resale value. They boast safety features, including autonomous emergency braking and an anti-lock braking system. 1.0-litre used Volkswagen Polo cars for sale are the most economical choice for those seeking their first car. If you’ve got a bigger budget (think £13,000) and want the latest technology then a brand new model may suit you better.
The Audi A3 is a great first car for drivers looking to break into the luxury segment. It’s a classy compact that boasts a well-designed interior that easily matches its stylish exterior. Beautifully built and punchy to drive, its compact size makes it an ideal choice for city and urban drivers, but its spacious interior guarantees that you, and your passengers will have a comfortable ride. It has impressive safety ratings and long term reliability. It is also a great car for the price conscious first-time driver as it is surprisingly efficient, boasting excellent fuel economy and low CO2 emissions. It also offers reasonably low insurance premiums. A reputation for reliability and precision, they have a price tag to match when bought new but you can easily find a second hand Audi A3 for under £5,000 if you’re willing to go for one with 2010 registration plates or earlier.
Since it relaunched in 2007 the Fiat 500 has experienced a resurgence in popularity. Iconic with its retro style, it’s ideal for city driving and parking thanks to its small size. There’s even the 500L version for those who want five doors and extra space. It offers an incredible fuel economy rating and one of the lowest running costs. It can cost around £10,000 new but there are plenty of used Fiat 500 cars for sale below £4,000, with some only five or six-years-old.
By far one of the best small cars for value, the Toyota Yaris is easy to maintain and is guaranteed to stand the test of time. It offers easy maneuverability, a good ride quality and an outstanding predicted reliability rating. It boasts top-class safety and has managed to achieve a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating since 2005. It’s relatively inexpensive to run as it’s incredibly fuel-efficient and offers low insurance premiums. From a compact 1.0-litre three-door model for nipping round the city, to 1.5-litre five-door hybrids, there’s plenty of choice. Brand new they have a starting price of around £10,000 but you can get a used Toyota Yaris for under £4,000.
The VW Golf is a brilliant car for newly qualified drivers. It’s one step up from the VW Polo, so offers a little more leg room. It champions outstanding quality, impressive refinement and reliability. For a slightly heavier first car, it is reasonably frugal on fuel. The only downside for newly qualified drivers is that insurance premiums are high compared to other cars in this price bracket. However, if you want a car that is guaranteed to stand the test of time, the VW Golf will give you a good run for your money. 1.0 and 1.4-litre engines are best for new drivers, offering plenty of power and a comfortable drive. Three and five door options provide practicality, while the newest ones include the latest technology. For under £4,000 there’s lots of choice for a used Volkswagen Golf, with a few bargains to be found on old models for less than £1,000.
Safe and sensible, there’s a reason you see so many Ford Focus cars on the roads. The Focus is arguably one of the best compact cars on the market. It boasts more space than a little Fiesta yet offers nearly the same fuel economy. It is fun to drive, provides for a smooth ride and has dynamic handling. It appeals to the style conscious buyer and comes with the enviable suite of high tech features that the Fiesta has, including MyKey, which was introduced to the Focus in 2010. The newer models also come with the MyFord Touch infotainment system, which definitely appeals to a younger buyer. It is also one of the safest cars for a first-time driver to drive, and like the Ford Fiesta, the newer models score highly on Euro NCAP safety tests after achieving a maximum 5-star safety rating. With so many in production, you can easily find second hand models for sale below £3,000, but if you splash out a bit more you can expect a more stylish version with added tech.
Make sure you check out our wide selection of used cars to find your first vehicle. All our cars are sold through our reliable and trusted car dealers and come with 12 month breakdown cover for extra peace of mind.
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