Table of contents

  • Budget
  • Used or new?
  • Petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric?
  • Car types
  • Safest cars for new drivers
  • Running costs
  • Where to buy
  • Due diligence
  • First-time car insurance
  • Car warranty
  • Best cars for first-time drivers

Buying your first car is an exciting rite of passage. Nothing beats the feeling of freedom and independence that it brings. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting a trusty family hand-me-down, buying a used car or committing to your first brand new vehicle. It’s always an unforgettable experience.

There are likely many questions that spring to mind when thinking about buying your first car. Should you get a new car or a used one? Is petrol better than diesel or should you go electric? How much will it cost to run? Can you afford it? We know there is a lot to think about and that the choice can feel overwhelming. Read on and we’ll make it simple. Here are our best tips for buying your first car.

And once you’ve made up your mind and are ready to buy, check out our expert guide to car buying. It’s packed with useful information and checklists so you don’t miss a thing.

What’s your budget?

How much money can you spend on your first car? Knowing your budget and sticking to it will help you narrow down your options. Whether you’re buying a new car or a used one, make sure the car you pick ticks all your boxes and won’t leave a huge hole in your wallet. Factor in insurance and running costs in your budget. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

There’s a car for every first-time driver and budget. From older used models for a few hundred quid to excellent almost-new cars for a few thousand pounds. And remember that most dealerships will let you finance your car, breaking down the total cost over a few years in affordable monthly payments of around £100-£200. Make sure it’s a trusty, safe and comfortable ride and prepare to drive it on countless adventures.

Used or New car?

Used cars tend to be cheaper than new ones, mostly because they’ve already taken the depreciation hit, and there are great ones out there in excellent condition. If you’re starting your motoring journey, why not buy the right car for a fraction of the price you’d pay for a brand new one?

Needless to say that at we love used cars and we may have a few you’d want to take home.

In case you opt for a new car then it will likely come with a manufacturer’s warranty, more finance options, the latest technology and you’ll be able to choose what you want in terms of colour, trim, seat fabric and any other extras. You may have to wait to get it delivered, but that’s alright if you don’t mind it.

Petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric?

Petrol is the most common type of fuel and cars that run on it are lighter, slightly more reliable and normally cheaper than their diesel counterparts. Plus, refuelling should also be better for your pocket. If you’re going to use your car mostly for urban driving – short trips to the shops or work – then a petrol car may be a perfect choice.

However, if you need to take long journeys on the motorway regularly, then a diesel car is ideal. On average, diesels are more fuel-efficient on the motorway, making up for the higher cost of the car and fuel.

If you’re conscious about the environment you may want to buy a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric car. Although these are a lot more expensive than diesel and petrol cars they make up for it in eco-friendliness. Go for electric or hybrid if you have somewhere to charge the car – it can take a few hours – and generally drive less than 100 miles a day.

For more information on this topic, check out our fuel type guide where we cover this topic extensively.

What type of car should you get?

This is totally up to you. The most common cars on British roads are hatchbacks, saloons, estates or SUVs – but if you can afford it and fancy a convertible or a 4X4 as your first car, why not?

In brief, lots of people choose hatchbacks as their first car. They are smaller, more efficient and also more pocket-friendly than other types of car. Plus, they have five seats and a boot big enough for your weekly shopping and weekend breaks. Most city cars and superminis are hatchbacks, perfect for nipping to the shops but also road tripping with your friends or small family.

Bigger families tend to prefer SUVs and estates because they are bigger and more spacious. The majority of first-time drivers don’t need that much space, but if that is the car you want, go for it! Remember though that if you’re new to driving and parking, the bigger the car, the trickier it is to park it.

If you are still undecided, go check out our expert guide to all car body styles. Everything you need to know is there.

What are the safest cars for new drivers?

You already know what type of car you want, your budget and the type of fuel. Safety may not be top of your mind but it should be. Everybody should drive a safe car and first-time drivers are no exception.

Thankfully it’s very easy to check how safe a car is. These days most modern cars are being rated by Euro NCAP. It’s an independent organisation that gives new cars are star rating out of five that reflects how well it protects passengers and driver from any harm in case of a collision.

Remember that Euro NCAP changes their test regime and ratings every few years. As a rule, the newer the car, the safer it is. For example, a five-star car from 2021 will likely be safer than a five-star vehicle from 2011.

Find out how much it will cost to run

Running costs of your first car are something you should budget for. These include insurance – more information below – but also tax, servicing and fuel. These will depend on the car but also on the way you use it.

You’ll pay more or less tax on your car depending on how much it pollutes. Electric cars like the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf are zero-emission vehicles and free to tax. Average hatchbacks with a normal engine will cost you around £150 a year in car tax. Also, remember that luxury cars – those that cost more than £40,000 when they were new – have to pay extra annual tax.

You should service your car after every 12,000 miles or within the timeframe that your carmaker specifies. Servicing can cost from around £150 for a small car to over £250 for larger vehicles. Make sure you do your research and find how much it costs to service your potential first car.

Decide where to buy

Finding a trustworthy seller is also very important when you’re a first-time car buyer. Whether you’re buying from a dealer or a private seller, online or in person, make sure you can trust them.

While buying from a private seller can sometimes be cheaper, car dealerships offer more protection from the law. You’ve got a full breakdown of your legal rights as a car buyer on this guide. You’re still protected in some way when you buy a car privately, but you’ll have less protection.

Do your due diligence before committing

First-time and experienced car buyers alike need to check several important facts about the car’s history before committing to buy:

  • Age, service record, mileage and MOT history
  • How many owners it’s had
  • Any modifications or repairs
  • Anything not in full working order.

Then, take the car for a test drive to ensure it feels right. We’ve put together a very comprehensive guide on how to test drive a car but make sure you check everything and drive it on different conditions if possible.

When you’re ready to say yes to the car remember to:

  • Check the V5C or logbook
  • Check that the VIN number matches the one in the car
  • Check that the car’s handbook is there.
  • Check if the car has any warranty from the dealer.
  • Make sure everything is in writing.
  • Insure and tax the car before driving it home.

Research car insurance for first-time car owners

Car insurance may not be the most exciting aspect of car buying but as a first-time car buyer, you need to think about it. All cars are assigned to an insurance group. That is a rating between 1 and 50 that signals the level of risk the insurers think they are. The lower the number, the cheaper your insurance will be.

Generally, cars in group 1 and 2 tend to be small city cars perfect for new drivers like the Volkswagen UP, Ford Fiesta or Vauxhall Corsa. Pay attention to the engine size and trim level choice as they also influence the cost of your insurance. And so do the area you live in and the job that you do.

If you want to keep insurance costs low, try to pick an inexpensive car with an engine that’s less than 1.6 litres. Remember to ask insurance companies for a ‘quote’ before you buy the car to get an idea of how much you’ll end up paying every year.

Do you need car warranty?

A car warranty is a manufacturer’s guarantee that they will fix certain parts of the car if they develop a fault in the first few years. They usually cover things like the engine, the transmission, fuel systems, gearboxes, electrics or brake parts, among others.

Most carmakers offer a standard 3-year warranty on new cars, although Hyundai gives you 5 and Kia 7. If you’re buying a new car as your first car, you’ll have it. But if your first vehicle is a used car you may also be able to benefit from a car warranty. This means that if you buy a four-year-old Kia you’ll still have three years of warranty cover left.

Best first cars for first-time drivers

The best car for a first-time buyer is the one that fits your bill and your budget. But if you still don’t know where to start, here are a few of the most popular first cars in the British market:

  1. Volkswagen Up
  2. Ford Fiesta
  3. Peugeot 208
  4. Kia Picanto
  5. Volkswagen Polo
  6. Hyundai i10
  7. Renault Clio
  8. Peugeot 108
  9. Citroen C1
  10. Skoda Fabia
  11. Suzuki Swift
  12. Vauxhall Corsa
  13. Hyundai i20
  14. Fiat Punto
  15. SEAT Ibiza

Are you ready to buy your first car? We hope all goes smoothly and you’ll enjoy the freedom and extra adventures it will take you on.