After months or years of driving lessons, you have finally passed your test and the next step is to purchase your first car. For many, this is an exciting time, but according to research by Chill Insurance, it seems many first time drivers have unrealistic views on what their first car should look like and the accessories it should have.

According to the research, 56% of first-time drivers who took the survey would opt for a vehicle that is between 1 and 5 years old, with keyless features and blind-spot monitoring. Interestingly, 44% would choose a petrol engine, whilst 32% said that environmental considerations were important (Chill Insurance, Oct 2020).

With the latest government guidelines that look to ban fossil fuel vehicles by 2030, (The Guardian, Sep 2020) our first tip is to consider the vehicle’s engine. Look for hybrid’s or electric if you can afford it!

With so many factors to consider, desirable features and elements that first-time drivers strive for, here is our short guide to purchasing your first vehicle. From price to drivability, these are the main factors you should be considering to ensure value for money.


Setting a Budget

Let’s start at the beginning with the budget. It is important to set yourself a limit and not be tempted to purchase a new vehicle that will lose 40% of its value as soon as it leaves the dealership. 

You must also remember that as a first time driver you may scratch or damage your vehicle slightly within the first year or two, so perhaps start by looking at second-hand vehicles.

As many first-time drivers are looking for a car that is 1 to 5 years old, a large budget will still be required and if you plan to pay via finance, then a hefty deposit may also be required. There are plenty of budgeting tools out there to help you make a decision based on your actual finances and not a dream. There’s also nothing wrong with negotiating a little sometimes as this will help to ensure you get value for money.

As well as purchasing the vehicle itself you must also consider aftercare and warranties. Be sure to ask questions about this and include in your negotiations. For example, perhaps a free MOT could be undertaken by the garage for the first 3 years after purchase.

Once a budget is set it is time to start looking, but you mustn’t be tempted by price only and drawn in by cheap deals. It is important to recognise reputable dealers, and here are a few ways you can identify them.


Identifying a Reputable Dealer

Once you have identified a car you like, start by ensuring that the offer price for the vehicle is realistic by using sites such as Money Advice Service, although this tool only works on vehicles below 5 years old.

The next step is to take a look at the car dealership in greater detail. It is important you are aware that there are many types of car retailers in the UK and if you have little knowledge of vehicles it’s probably best to purchase from a large dealer or trader. This is because purchasing privately or through an independent garage may leave you with little to no warranty or a vehicle that has not undergone a proper inspection before and after-sale. (RAC, 2020)

If you are happy with the retailer information then it’s time for a test drive before you hand over any money.


Test Driving

This can be a nerve-racking process if you have never done it before and as you don’t own the vehicle yet, you may feel inclined to rush and have a member of the team in the car with you. If you are able to test drive alone then do so. It’s important you feel free to do all the checks necessary without being detracted.

If the only car you have ever driven is that of your driving instructor, then you probably have only experienced a smooth drive in a newish vehicle, therefore the quirks of older vehicles may be new to you. It may be best to test drive a few vehicles and not jump into purchasing the first one you trial.

When driving the vehicle try to test it on different roads including towns, dual carriageways and lanes – obviously, if you frequently use other types of roads then take it for a test drive there too.

Below is a list of features you should test before purchasing:

  • The seat and steering wheel lever should allow you to adjust the seat to fit your requirements.
  • Ensure the mirrors all work correctly so you can alter their position if needed.
  • Park up in a safe place and check all front and back windows are in full working order.
  • Open all doors to ensure they are working correctly and don’t have any squeaks or rust.
  • Check out the child lock feature to ensure it works and is easy to turn on/off.
  • Check all seatbelts, including those in the back seats to ensure a safe journey for any potential passengers.
  • Think about the items you will be carrying in the boot – is it large enough for a bike? Can the boot be adjusted to fit larger items?
  • Test how easy the car is to manoeuvre when parking or reversing.

Although this is your first vehicle and you may be excited, it is vital that you think about your decision to purchase and not just rush in. In summary, do your research, speak to several dealers, test drive a few different vehicles and do your checks. 

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