When it comes to buying a car, you really want one you can rely on.
We recommend a sensible balance between style, comfort and reliability in your first car. It's easy to get sucked in by looks and gadgetry, but don't forget the basics.
Choose the car you need and can afford
Make a checklist of the things that are really important to you.
Don't underestimate the cost of car ownership. Besides buying the vehicle itself, make sure you're going to be able to afford the cost of:
- Car insurance.
- Car tax.
- Routine running and maintenance costs (fuel, servicing, MOT).
You can use hire purchase - a loan secured against the vehicle - meaning you don't own it until you've made the final payment. Some dealers may offer 0% interest on the installment payments for certain models. Do your homework and only borrow within your means.
We can help you drive away in the car you want:
- Get a personal car loan from us.
What are the safest cars for new drivers?
Generally, the newer the car the safer it is - both in terms of how well it protects you if you're involved in an accident, and the features it has to prevent you from getting into trouble in the first place.
Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Auto Emergency Braking (AEB) are all features to look out for if you're buying your first car.
Euro NCAP's crash tests and safety ratings are the best guide to finding a safe car. But they change their test regime and rating system every few years, so you can only really compare their star ratings between car models of a similar age. For example, a 4-sat vehicle from 2015 is likely to be considerably safer than a 4-star vehicle from 2000.
Should you buy a new or used car?
When it comes to getting your first set of wheels, the main question is whether you should buy new or used.
Benefits of buying a used car:
- Less expensive to buy – used cars are cheaper than new cars of the same model.
- Someone else has likely already taken the depreciation hit - cars start to lose value as soon as they’re driven out of the showroom. And after 3 years on the road, a used car is worth around 60% less than its original price.
- No waiting for the car to be built and delivered.
- You can find a used car to suit any budget.
Check out even more tips for buying a used car.
Benefits of buying a new car:
- Warranties - you’ll have the reassurance of the manufacturer's warranty, which will cover the cost of any faults that may crop up in the first few years.
- More finance options – you might be able to spread the cost over a period of time, making a new car more affordable.
- You'll get the latest technology.
- Peace of mind - you'll have no doubts about how the car's been driven or maintained by previous owners.
- Specification - you can choose what you want in terms of paint colour, trim, seat fabric and optional extras.
Find a trustworthy seller
The next thing you'll need to do (especially if buying a used car) is decide whether to go with a dealer or a private seller.
Buying from a private seller could be cheaper, but using a reputable car dealer is a safer way to buy a car. The key difference between dealer and private is the protection you get from the law when buying from a dealer. If anything goes wrong with your vehicle, you'll have fewer legal consumer rights with a private sale.
At AA Cars we make sure all our dealers are reputable.
- Browse and buy your first car with confidence.
- Have a look at our expert tips.
Other benefits of using AA Cars:
- We don't have any write offs on the site.
- We don't list any stolen cars.
- All cars come with free 12 months' basic breakdown cover.
- If anything goes wrong, we'll help resolve any issues you've got with the car or the dealer.
Do your due diligence before committing
Important facts to know about the car's history include:
- The car's age, service record, mileage and MOT history.
- The number of previous owners.
- Any modifications or repair work.
- Any functions or features that aren't in full working order.
If you're happy with the points above, you should take the car for a test drive.
- Make sure you can adjust the seat to give you a comfortable driving position, the controls are within reach, and you can see clearly in all directions.
- Check that the dashboard controls are all working - from warning lights to the sound system.
- Check that the steering, braking, acceleration, clutch operation and gear changing are all easy to do and nothing 'sticks'.
- Test drive the car on the sorts of roads you regularly use. There's little point in a test drive around a few city streets if you spend most of your driving time on motorways.
Finally, before going ahead with a purchase, you absolutely must:
- Check the vehicle's registration document (the V5C or log book).
- Check that details including VIN or engine number match those on the car. Dealer stamps might be in a separate booklet, stored digitally in the car or held online by the dealer.
- Check that the vehicle's handbook is present - it can be costly to buy if it's gone missing.
- Confirm any warranty from the dealer.
- Get the full terms of the deal in writing.
- Remember you'll need to tax the car before you can drive it away.
If you do decide to buy privately, we can help you with:
- Our useful car buyers guide.
- Advice for buying a used car.
- An independent vehicle inspection.
- A car history check.
Car insurance for new cars
Most new cars are assigned to an insurance group – a rating between 1 and 50 - that indicates the level of risk as seen by the insurers. Insurance group ratings are advisory – insurers don't have to follow them, though most do.
Insurers take many factors into account when setting premiums, but with all else being equal, the lower the group number the lower the insurance premium should be. This means that the insurance group can give you an idea of relative insurance costs when comparing different models.
Cars in group 1 and 2 are generally small city cars suitable for new drivers, such as Ford Ka+, Nissan Micra, Volkswagen Up, Smart Forfour, Toyota Yaris, SEAT Ibiza, and Vauxhall Corsa.
It's not all about the size of the car though. Engine size and trim level choice can also make a difference to how much your insurance costs.
You can't choose a car on its insurance group alone, but you should always check the insurance group for the car you want and get a quote before buying it.