Lifestyles

Choosing the right car for your needs

A change of job, a new baby or a learner driver in the family, all these can put new demands on your car. So how do you find one that can measure up?

Just Passed Your Test

Car Insurance If you're a new driver and you're under 20, you may find the insurance costs more than the car. Choosing a small car can help keep costs down.

You could start with a short list of cars that are cheap to insure. Our Car Buyer's Guide will help you find the car models with the lowest insurance groups. You can read more about insurance groups here.

Small cars Besides being cheaper to insure, their lighter controls, good vision and smaller dimensions make small cars ideal for learners and newly qualified drivers.

After passing your test, if you take an advanced course, such as Pass Plus, you could save money on your insurance costs.

Safety For many parents who are buying a car that their children can learn in, safety is key. In general, the newer the car, the safer it will be. Newer cars will generally be equipped with anti-lock brakes to help keep them out of trouble together with airbags and energy absorbing structures to help protect them in an accident. You can check and compare the latest safety ratings here.

Baby on the Way

When you're planning for your new arrival you've got to get practical – banish all thoughts of sports cars. For starters, a good family car needs at least four seats and a huge boot for the buggy and other baby gear.

Comfort and practicality A comfortable, occupied child is a happy child, which means you'll need to carry a lot of toys and games. A generous supply of storage bins and cubby-holes can help you keep the car tidy.

Similarly, air-conditioning can be a real boon if you want to keep kids (and you) cool on long, hot journeys.

Safety As with new drivers or learners, safety is an important issue if you have a family.

Back seat safety If your family keeps growing you may need to use the middle seat in the back. It's best to choose a car that has a full lap and diagonal belt in that seat, as it protects better than a simple lap belt. This is especially important for young children.

Euro NCAP's crash safety ratings give a good indication of how well different models will protect you and your family in an accident.

Baby seats It is now illegal to use a rear facing infant carrier in a passenger seat equipped with an active airbag. If you want to use a rear-facing baby seat in the front, make sure you get a car without a passenger airbag or one where you can switch off the airbag.

More about the law and child restraints.

Three doors or five? Choose five doors over three – it's much easier to fit child seats when you've got five doors. Plus, the easier the access, the better it will be for your back as your children grow.

People carrier or estate? People carriers are spacious. With up to seven seats, they're good for ferrying your kids and their friends around.

But with a full load of passengers, you'll need to keep luggage to a minimum – there's not much space in the back for bags.

You can take out some of the seats to give you more room. But if you only need five seats an estate car may be more practical.

On the Move

While moving house is not a reason to change your car, one thing to watch is the size of your new garage. It's best to try your car in the garage before you sign the contract.

Try to find out about car crime in the area, particularly if you have to park on the street. You may want to consider improving your car's security.

New job

Company cars If this is your first company car, then choose carefully to avoid paying over the odds in tax. Use our company car tax calculators. to get an estimate of the costs for any car on your shortlist.

If you want to retain the 'company car experience' and like to get a new car regularly, then think about a personal lease plan. You'll get the convenience of an all-in monthly payment with no extras except for fuel and insurance.

Bigger commute If you're moving further from work, you may be thinking: bigger journey, bigger car. But don't rule out modern superminis and hatchbacks.

They can now deal comfortably with motorway miles, they can carry more and they're better equipped than ever – without sacrificing economy or value for money.

When I'm 65

When you retire, you may have a lump sum to buy that sports car you've always wanted. Choose a model that doesn't lose value rapidly, it'll be worth more if you want to sell it in a few years' time. Our Car Buyer's Guide includes forecast future value (depreciation) data for many new car models.

You may not need it now, but as the years roll on, you may be thankful for clear instruments, wide–opening doors and easy–to–use, light controls. You may find tall cars, such as people carriers, easier to get in and out of. We consider accessibility and controls in all of our car reviews.

Your old company car If you're leaving a job with a company car then it could make sense to buy the car. At least you know its history and it won't lose value as quickly as a new car.

New car With reduced income, low running costs may well be high on your agenda. Low insurance, low road tax and good fuel economy all help to reduce the cost of motoring. If a car keeps its value, it helps bring down the cost of motoring.

Nearly new This gives you the advantages of a new car without the disadvantage of steep depreciation early on.

Leasing If you're on a budget, you may want to spread the cost of your motoring across the year, avoiding the peaks and troughs of sudden high repair bills. You could look at leasing instead.

Warranty Choosing a reliable car manufacturer should help, and you could also consider a mechanical warranty for peace of mind. Make sure you read the small print carefully.