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Wilsons First Time Buyers' Guide

Buying your first car is an exciting experience that can also be overwhelming; after all, this is probably the most expensive purchase in your life so far. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing your first car including fuel efficiency, mileage and safety. However, you first need to determine your budget which should take the cost of the car, insurance and tax into consideration. You should also factor in how far you are likely to be driving on a daily or monthly basis to account for fuel consumption and general wear and tear.

Once you have decided on a budget, you can then start to think about how specific you want to be:

  • Can the car be any colour?
  • Does it need to have more than two doors?
  • Does it need to have five seats?
  • Are all makes acceptable or are there some you want to avoid?
  • Do you need an automatic car?
  • How new does the car have to be?
Fiat 500 colour choices

What Car Should You Buy?

These are very personal specifications that only you can decide when you start to look for your first car. You also need to consider the size of the car that you want to drive as well as how much it is going to cost to tax and insure. As a first time driver, it is likely that you will want to start with something small with an engine size of less than 1.4 litres. These cars are typically in lower insurance groups because they don’t have the power of cars with larger engines.

It is vitally important to look at insurance quotes before committing to buying a car, especially as a first time buyer. Some insurance premiums can cost as much as the car itself as a result of inexperience and risk. Insurers have a difficult task assessing your safety as a new driver because they don't have any driving history to base their assessment on. Unfortunately, first time drivers are also more likely to be involved in accidents. Figures from the Department for Transport show that around one in five drivers are involved in a crash during their first year on the road. As a result, cars with excellent safety features are often less to insure. You can check the safety rating of a prospective car by visiting the Euro NCAP website here.

The cars below are among the best for new drivers to buy and run. They are some of the cheapest cars to insure and tax and have good fuel consumption figures. Some manufacturers such as Peugeot and Citroën also have dedicated offers and schemes for new drivers to help them finance their first car such as 'Just Add Fuel' and 'Simply Drive'.

When deciding which car to buy and how much you can afford, you should also factor in servicing costs. While it isn't a legal requirement to have your car serviced, it helps to ensure that the resale value of your car is as high as possible. A basic service will include an oil change with some additional checks for worn tyres, faulty lights and leaking hoses. During a service the garage will also top up your car's coolant, as well as brake and power steering fluid if required.

Although servicing can be expensive, you can break servicing payments down with a service plan which means that you can spread the cost of servicing your car across several months rather than having to pay the cost upfront and outright. If you decide to sell your car, you will receive higher offers if you have you car regularly serviced compared to if you don't because buyers will be able to see that the car has been looked after and regularly checked for faults.

After deciding what type of car you want to buy that is within your budget and meets your specifications, the next decision to make is whether you want to buy a new or used car.

Buying a Used Car

Car Number Plate for used car

This is probably the path most travelled for first time car buyers. A car is a big investment regardless of how much you pay for it. One of the main things you need to check is the car’s mileage. A high mileage isn’t necessarily bad, but you need to consider how many miles you’re likely to add every year. There’s no point buying a car with 180,000 miles on the clock because there won’t be much life left in it, but if you only have to travel a few miles every day, then a well-maintained high mileage car will be fine.​

As long as the used car you are buying is older than three years old, it will need to have a valid MOT. Since 1st October 2014, Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), or as it is more commonly known, car road tax is not transferable between owners. This means that a used car will no longer come with tax on it and you will have to tax it yourself. Up until April 1st 2017, tax prices will be based on CO2 emissions before the new rules come into place. Therefore, it is likely that the older and larger the car you’re buying, the higher on road tax it will cost you.

Buying a used car can be a daunting experience, especially if you are buying from a private seller because they don't have any customer ratings and you are unable to check their legitimacy. In contrast, buying a used car from a dealer gives you the security that the sale will be above board and legal. Dealers may be able to offer you a better deal and will definitely have more choice than a private seller. Also, if something is wrong with the car there is a greater level of accountability from a dealership compared to individual private sellers.

When buying a used car, it is important to inspect it for general wear and tear. It would be naïve to expect a used car to be sold without any damage to the body, interior or mechanics; however, that by no means suggests that you should settle for a rust bucket car. It is important to check the bodywork for rust, checking the wheel arches and as much of the underbelly as you can. While looking at the wheel arches you should also check the tyres, including the spare, to see that they are road legal and won’t need replacing too soon after you make a purchase. Don’t forget to look at the inside of the car for any upholstery issues or features that aren’t working. Most importantly, open up the bonnet and inspect the engine to see whether it has been well maintained or if it is dirty or neglected in any way.

rusty old car
You won't need to settle for a car like this

Used Car Checklist

DocumentsMileageAccident Damage?SafetyTest DriveEngineLocks, Windows and General Controls
Can the seller show you the V5C registration document? (You won't be able to tax the car without it) Check recorded mileage on service records and MOT certificates Is the paint finish even across the car? Are the tyres in good condition with more than 3mm of tread depth Do all warning lights operate normally? Any abnormal noises when the engine is started from cold? Do all the locks, including central locking and remote control, work properly?
Does the number plate match the V5C? Does the mileage, age and appearance of the car look consistent Any unusual looking welding under the bonnet or in the boot? Is the spare wheel or tyre inflator/sealant kit in servicable condition? Are the brakes effective? Any signs of excessive visible exhaust emissions? Do all windows, including any sunroof, open/close normally?
Is the seller the registered keeper shown on the V5C? Check MOT status and history online with vehicle registration and make Do all the seatbelts operate correctly? Any unusual noises when driving or when braking? Does the clutch operate normally? Have you got all the right keys and number of keys?
Does the car have a current MOT (if it is more than three years old)? Do all lights and windscreen wiper/washers work correctly? Any steering vibration or pull to one side? Is the oil level correct? Do all the minor controls operate correctly - heating, air-con, radio/CD, navigation etc?
Are the jack and other tools present? Is the handbrake effective?

Buying a New Car

number plate for new car

Why buy new? For starters this sounds like a far more exciting option and has great appeal whether you’re a new driver or someone that has been driving for more than twenty years. New cars have all of the latest technology and gadgets and often come with touchscreen infotainment systems on certain trim levels. They also have the newest driver assistance features such as blind spot monitoring, parking sensors and cameras and eco modes that will help you when you're out and about on the roads, parking in tight spaces or trying to spend less time at the petrol station.

Buying a new car means that you will be able to decide what specifications your car will have including body colour, interior upholstery style, engine type and size, driver assistance features, audio features and a host more options. New cars are a cheaper option in some regards because they don't need an MOT for the first three years. In addition, a number of manufacturers offer free servicing when you buy new and competitive warranty packages to help you reduce the cost of everyday motoring.

Another advantage that you receive when buying a new car is the number of options at your disposal to finance it. First and foremost, if your budget allows it, you can buy the car outright. The least expensive new car available at Wilsons is the Dacia Sandero which will cost you £5,995 for the Access trim in Glacier White without any additional options. Despite the exceptional price, it is still an awful lot of money to be able to pay upfront and other new cars will be more expensive.

Brand new Vauxhall Adam Energised
New Vauxhall Adam

Your other options are all variations of financing the car through monthly payments:

Personal Car Loan

A personal car loan can be obtained from a bank or building society. You can borrow the total amount of the new car and pay it off in full. By doing this you will own the car outright while paying off the personal car loan in monthly instalments. You would be able to make any changes or modifications to the car that you want throughout the payback period. The major disadvantage of this finance option is that the monthly repayments are often quite expensive in comparison to other options.


Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) is a vehicle finance agreement supplied by the car dealership where you will usually pay an initial deposit followed by monthly instalments. Unlike a personal car loan, you will not own the car, but you do have an option to buy the car after your fixed period of monthly instalments has finished. This payment is often called a balloon payment and is usually quite large. As a result, people with PCP agreements often decide to hand the car back after their monthly instalments finish and take out a new PCP agreement.


​A Hire Purchase (HP) agreement is also supplied by the car dealership where you pay a relatively low deposit and hire the car with the option to buy it at the end of the contract. Hire Purchase is different to PCP because monthly payments are often more expensive so that at the end of the monthly instalments you will own the car. HP is a cheaper option than a personal car loan or PCP if you think that you will want to own the car at the end of the agreement.


Personal Contract Hire (PCH) is essentially a long-term car rental agreement where you pay a fixed monthly fee to use the car for an agreed period of time. You will not own the car at any point and you will not have the option to buy the car at the end of the monthly instalments. This finance option is suitable for individuals that want to change their car every two to three years and are happy not to ever own the car.

For more information on car finance options, visit our dedicated car finance pages here.

You have chosen your first car

You have now finally identified the perfect car that has the right specifications and is within your budget. You know whether you are going to buy new or used and you know how you are going to finance your purchase. The last thing to do before any money is exchanged is to take the car for a test drive.

The car may look good on paper, but the car isn’t driven on paper, you need to actually feel what it is like to drive. The test drive should last at least ten minutes and you should drive on a variety of roads, ideally with speed limits that will allow you to get the car up to 70mph to see how it performs at speed. During the test drive you should test electrical features such as the windows and wing mirrors as well as the windscreen wipers and lights.

Assuming that the test drive goes smoothly you should be convinced that this is the right car for you and proceed with the actual purchase so that you can take to the road and enjoy your new found freedom.