First-time Car Drivers

This article is for you if you are thinking about getting your first car or you are a parent /grandparent wanting to help your son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter step into the sometimes complex and expensive world of car ownership…

young driver holding keysFor experienced drivers, cars can be expensive but for first time drivers, the cost of insurance alone, can be down-right startling. So, let’s begin by understanding the basics of car insurance. There seems to be some confusion about whether you, as a new driver can piggy back on your parent’s insurance.

The law is as follows:

  1. If you are the ‘main’ user of the vehicle, whether it is registered in your name or not, you must have your own car insurance to drive on public roads in the UK. To pretend that you are just an occasional driver when you are in fact the main driver is a serious offence which could invalidate your insurance and potentially lead to a criminal prosecution. So, let’s knock that one on the head straight away.
  2. If you drive a car, whether it is owned by your parents, grandparents or a friend, on an occasional basis (i.e. it is used on a regular basis by someone else and you borrow it from time to time) then the main user of the car can approach their insurance company and ask for you to be added to the insurance. This most commonly applies where a young driver is learning to drive in a parent’s car.

Remember, you will only build up your no claims discount if you have your own insurance so although in the first year it may seem very expensive, premiums will drop quickly (assuming you do not have an accident or pick up any penalty points).

Learning to Drive

If you learn to drive using a regulated driving school you will be covered under their insurance. If you then practice in another car, owned by a parent or friend you must have your name added to their insurance for which there will usually be a charge. Of course, it’s important to realise that using a parent’s car to learn to drive, is only practical if the car is suitable. Learning to drive in a Porsche 911, for example, may not work out well!

The advantage of getting your own insurance is that it enables you to build a no claims bonus which makes such a big difference to your premiums. Typically, for a seventeen-year old who has just passed his or her driving test and who hasn’t built any no claims bonus, an annual car insurance premium starts at around £1,200. This would normally reduce by about a third to £800 the following year, with one year’s no claims. Click here for an insurance quote.

When searching out the best insurance rates you will no doubt come across something called telematics or ‘black box’ insurance. This is an electronic devise which is attached to your car (or can be an app on your smart phone) which records when and where you drive as well as your driving style. It is a means of rewarding careful and low risk drivers and potentially penalising drivers who are less careful or who drive routinely in higher risk situations (such as rush hour traffic in City centres).

If you click on the banner below and search for insurance quotes you will be given the option of black cox insurance.

Owning your first car

How you acquire your first car depends very much on your personal circumstances. The cheapest way, is to buy a second-hand car. If you are looking for something new (or newer) you may need finance through the ‘bank of mum and dad’ or a finance company.

These options are explored below.

Second hand cars

So, you have a limited budget and are looking at the least expensive way to get yourself a car. The second-hand car market is vast; there are thousands upon thousands of old cars for sale, many of which cost just a few hundred pounds. But buying a cheap car is risky and requires good judgement and possibly a slice of luck. Although cars are more reliable than they once were, faults are still common in old vehicles so don’t underestimate the potential cost of running an older car, particularly if you are not mechanically minded.

If you are searching in the bargain basement for a car, we recommend you stick to recognised brands as these will usually be cheaper to run, as spares are more readily available. Ideally, you should be looking for a car with an engine of no more than 1.4 litres if you want to keep insurance costs down and the following list is a good starting point. The Skoda Fabia is perhaps the best of the bunch in terms of reliability and cost.

Buying a second-hand car

If you buy your car from a private individual it’s a case of ‘buyer beware’ and you have virtually no consumer ‘rights’. So, if you were to buy a car privately and the engine blew up on the way home, you are pretty much ‘on your own’. However, if you buy from a motor trader you are protected by the law. A car bought from a motor trader must be:

So, in the above example the trader/dealer would be obliged to repair or replace the engine or refund your money. Our advice is to be very careful about buying a car privately unless you know the vehicle’s history.

If you want to know more about your consumer rights in relation to buying cars click here.

Where to find your first car

There are plenty of resources which offer second hand cars for sale on the internet. Some of the largest sites are listed here. We recommend you use Auto Trader as this site has more cars on it than any other. Pop in your postcode and the distance you are prepared to travel to look at a car. If you are in a large city, a 10-mile radius may be sufficient but if you are in a more rural setting you may wish to set this at 50 miles.

The next task is to start searching for a car. Click on ‘more options’ under the red search box and then click on the max engine size which is the top right of the option boxes and on the drop-down menu, click 1.2L. This will restrict your search to cars with an engine size of 1.2 litres or less which is ideal for a new driver.

For more detailed advice about the process of car buying click here.

Ten tips on buying a second-hand car

Buying a second-hand car is by no means straight forward. There are so many things to consider and in the heat of the moment it is incredibly easy to miss something vitally important. Take your time and make your final buying decision away from the seller, in an environment where you can think clearly.

The following list is a useful starting point:

  1. Take a mechanic or at least someone experienced in buying cars with you when viewing and test driving cars
  2. Only look at cars with a good service history
  3. Insist on a long MOT (preferable 12 months)
  4. Always assess any advisories on the latest MOT
  5. Check the number of previous owners and steer clear of cars with too many
  6. Rev the engine and check smoke colour from the exhaust (blue could indicate a warn engine and black, possible fuel injections problems)
  7. Check Parker’s guide to confirm the value of the car
  8. Ask the seller to complete this vehicle enquiry form and vehicle damage report
  9. Check that the car has a locking wheel nut and a spare key
  10. Check the car’s history with an HPI check

New cars

Small, new cars are generally sold with a minimum of three years’ warranty, are fuel efficient and are subject to low or zero car tax, so the cost of running a new car can be surprising low. There are various means to finance a car but we will restrict this article to leasing (contract hire) as it generally offers the least expensive route into ‘new’ car ownership. A lease is effectively a long-term hire (generally over 24, 36 or 48 months) and there are some fantastic deals to be had.

When you lease a new vehicle, we recommend you stick to 36 months which means the car will be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty for the whole contract. Car tax is usually included in the terms of the lease and you can expect tyres and other consumables to last for three years under normal conditions. Therefore, beyond the monthly lease charges your costs should be restricted to only fuel and an annual service.

The following table compares two scenarios; one spending £1,000 on a second-hand vehicle and the other leasing a new vehicle and putting down a £1,000 deposit. We are comparing a three-year lease of a Suzuki Swift 1.2 Dualjet SZ3 with a second hand 2006 Ford Fiesta 1.4 Zetec costing £1,000, based on 10,000 miles a year.

Lease / second hand purchase comparison

Monthly Cost £ Fiesta Zetec 2006 £ Suzuki Dualjet 2017
Lease payments £0 £144
Fuel * £99 £73
Service £12 £12
MOT £3 £0
Car tax £16 Included
Warranty ** £25 Included
Maintenance £25 £0
Insurance **** £110 £100
Breakdown cover £10 Included
Total £300 / month £329 / month
* 10,000 miles 44mpg Fiesta /60mpg Suzuki
** Warranty approx. £25 per month after sales warranty
*** Maintenance replacement tyres, batteries, brakes etc
**** Insurance based on 17-year-old with a full licence

It’s not obligatory to take out a warranty on a second-hand car but a vehicle of this vintage is likely to fail at some point so whether you invest in a warranty or not, you should put aside something for repairs. With garages charging upwards of £75 per hour it doesn’t take much to rack up a significant bill. Of course, a second-hand car is unlikely to come with a set of brand new tyres either, so you should also put aside something for maintenance if you choose the second-hand route.

With a three-year lease covering 30,000 miles you should not need to concern yourself with repair or maintenance issues beyond perhaps a set of new wiper blades. Certainly, if you drive sensibly, the original tyres should last you the duration and remember, a manufacturer’s warranty is almost always better than an aftersales warranty.

Where a second-hand car may come into its own, is if you have the expertise to maintain the vehicle yourself, particularly if you are happy to buy spare parts from online car parts discounters or breakers yards. There are huge numbers of cars driving around the roads of Britain with more than a quarter of a million miles on the clock which is testament to the durability of the modern motor car. So, if you choose carefully and manage your expectations there is no reason that you should not have a good experience with an old car.

More useful links here for new and second hand cars, car finance, car insurance, car parts, tyres and more.