Buying a first car, and what you need to look for and think about, has changed massively since I bought my first car in 1987. Yes, I am that old. When buying a car now though should you get something nice and cheerful or should you think about car servicing and other costs going forward?
My first car was a Vauxhall Cavalier, it was bright red, and cost £6 a year to add me to my parent’s insurance policy.
Six quid. Can you imagine?! And being a Vauxhall it was relatively cheap to service and replace parts. It was a great first car, and did me proud until I left home to be a live-in nanny with a car provided. So that bright red Cavalier was sold… and promptly written off by its new owner.
Since then we have been involved in buying a first car for the kids so I like to consider myself a bit of an expert. Though I will admit that when I bought a car a few years ago I knew what I wanted. I blew any chance of negotiating a good deal when I walked into the showroom and basically just asked which colour they had available for immediate delivery. Not my finest hour and I wouldnt recommend that approach!
Here, then ARE my top five tips for buying that first car.
Set a budget
Set a realistic budget and do consider whether you can spend a little more to get a better car. Whilst the £500 car might look like a steal, it could well be a cash pit that ends up costing you more in the long run. If there is a comparable car that is a few hundred more, maybe newer but with more miles on the clock that might be a better buy. Luckily now with so many online car dealers it is easier to shop around without having to leave the sofa. Heck you could even get your chosen first car delivered!
Think about insurance costs
When we first bought C’s car we were advised that some cars cost more to insure than others, simply because they are stolen more often that others. So whilst there are some factors you can’t control such as the age of the driver, driving experience and postcode, there are some things you can do to lower the premium. Did you know that if the car has features such as front collision assist it could reduce premiums as it actively stops those low speed bumps in traffic. And five door cars are often cheaper to insure than three doors though I have no idea why.
Consider the service history
For me, this is crucial. I wish I had thought more about this in the past rather than focussing on the mileage. It used to be that a car with high mileage should be avoided, but now if a car has higher mileage, it might be that it has done more motorway miles than short journeys, so now it doesn’t matter quite so much. It is also likely that a car with higher mileage has been serviced regularly which is the important bit. Always check a car’s service history, and find out how much it will cost to service in the future. You don’t need to tell me you how important it is to get a car serviced at regular intervals and how regularly replacing things such as oil and air filters, topping up power steering fluid and thoroughly inspecting the engine and all its components can help ensure there are no unexpected issues. Servicing is front and centre of ATS Euromaster’s I Wish I Knew campaign and for good reason!
After all the last thing you need to be worrying about is breaking down when you are mid journey. Plus when my three were all venturing out on their own in the early days my anxiety needed to know their cars were regularly serviced and looked after.
Regular servicing and keeping the service schedule up to date will also mean that when you come to sell the car you have all the right information to pass on. And let’s face it, with some miles under their belts and in growing confidence when driving, first cars are often sold on after a year or two, so it’s a good idea to keep on top of the servicing.
Don’t worry too much about the cosmetics
Obviously nobody wants to buy a car that has been abused but if there is the odd mark or scratch on a bumper it really shouldn’t matter too much. After all, how can I put this politely, it is likely they will be added to. I wish I had thought about this a bit more over the years and not discounted that one car I really wanted just because there was a small dent in the door. The car I went on to buy instead was a nightmare (hello clutch failing when I was on the A12 at 1am aged 19) but looked in better condition. In the words of Vivian in Pretty Woman: “Big mistake. Big. Huge”
Look at the cost of ownership
How much are spare parts for instance, and can you do any of the more simple things yourself to save money? Obviously not the mechanical stuff but I once owned a Volkswagen that needed the entire front bumper to be removed in order to change a headlamp bulb. The bulb was about £1.50 but the cost of the labour to do it because I couldn’t was over £70. How much will a new set of tyres be?
After all buying the car is one thing, but actually running it is another thing entirely!
This post is a collaboration with ATS Euromaster, but all thoughts and experiences are my own