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What to Look For When Buying Your First Car?


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The 1st article in our First Car Guide series revolves around a phrase a lot of people ask when they are looking for their first vehicle:

What do you actually look for when buying your first car?

You will get wildly different answers depending on who you ask that question! Parents would say something very safe, compact and cheap to run and insure. A younger first time driver is more likely to say they want something that looks good, has a few gadgets and all the mod-cons. This however isn’t always practical or affordable for new drivers, so there needs to be a compromise.

The prospect of buying your first car is a hugely exciting one but it’s best not to get too carried away and make sure you consider more than just how good it looks and if it has a good stereo. Accidents do happen, no matter how safe a driver you might be, so make sure you feel safe and comfortable in your car before you start to consider the rest of the trimmings.

So here we go, Click On Tyres guide to what to consider when buying your first car:


This really is the main thing to consider, you can have a list of ideal cars or ideal extras you might want but if you don’t have the money to pay for it then it’s a non-starter! Sit down and figure out what you can afford as far as buying the actual car as this will be your biggest outlay. You can get a great first car for under £2000 if you shop about so you don’t need to break the bank for it (even if £2000 seems a lot, it really isn’t in car terms, cars can cost more than the deposit for a house at times!)

It’s also key to consider exactly how much you can afford for insurance, tax, fuel, servicing etc. Look at your monthly income and consider your current outgoings and then plan what you can afford after that. Whatever your budget, make sure you can afford to stick to it, if you can’t then you could miss payments and that’s never good!

Here’s a great guide to car finance to help you make sure you go down the best route for your needs and budget. And don’t forget to take a look at our own in depth guide to budgeting for your 1st car.


For 1st time drivers we would recommend going for a small car, typically a 3 door or 5 door hatchback. Smaller cars are mostly cheaper to buy, run and insure compared to larger saloon cars. You will also feel more comfortable and safer in the smaller cabins. Larger cars are harder to handle and more awkward for parking. The chances are you have learnt to drive in a small car so you will feel a lot more at home driving one once you have passed your test.

Where Are You Buying Your Car?

There are lots of different options for where to buy your car, here are the main ones explained:

  • Franchised Dealer – You are most likely to find good quality second hand cars at a franchised dealership, but at a higher cost. You will receive good sales assistance and maximum legal protection. There are however some dodgy franchised dealers, so ask friends, family and your parents for advice and recommendations on known dealerships to visit. Be wary of all the add-ons that you may be offered, as good as some of them sound the costs can soon rack up, unless it’s a really good deal or it’s essential for you then avoid these as a first time buyer.
  • Independent Dealer – Independent dealerships will offer a much wider variety of used cars at lower prices. However, this means that the quality of the cars is likely to vary too and you can never be sure on the after sales service that you will receive. Again, it’s always good to find out about known or recommended dealerships to visit to make sure you’re buying from someone reputable.

There’s a great article comparing buying from a franchised or independent dealership on The Car Expert website.

  • Auction – Auctions can provide a fantastic way to get a high quality car at a low price. Make sure you take someone who knows a lot about cars along to the auction with you and make sure you check out your legal rights before bidding on a car. There’s some good info about this on the Citizens Advice website.
  • Private – Many cars are sold privately when owners decide they want something newer, bigger or simply want a change. A website like Auto Trader is a great place to start if you want to go down this route, they even have advice for buying cars safely. You will also find ads in local papers and might even spot an ad in the window of a car you see on the road. Be cautious with private buying, you won’t get any of the sales assistance or after care that you would get from buying through a dealership. Always seek advice from someone who knows about cars and can advise you on whether a deal looks too good to be true or if anything looks a bit dodgy, if it does then walk away and save your money!

Check the Service History

If you are buying a new car then this bit doesn’t really apply. But, if you are buying 2nd hand then this is crucial!

When you are considering buying a car, make sure to ask the seller for a copy of the full service history manual alongside the user manual. This contains details of all services the car has had and will give you a good idea of what sort of state the car will be in when you buy it. Check how often the car has been serviced and when it is next due to be serviced, as well as making sure there are no gaps or glaring omissions from the history. If there are any gaps then you should be very, very wary of buying.

Have a look at how much work has previously been carried out on the car, if it’s had a lot of work done then there could be reliability issues or underlying problems which you would have to foot the bill for once you make the purchase. You don’t want to be forking out £100’s a couple of months after you buy your car because it’s in need of new parts or just generally falling apart!

For more car checks have a look at our Used Car Check List and our blog post on Used Car Checks.

Test Drive

Whatever car you buy you need to be comfortable and happy driving it, otherwise you won’t find your first car much fun. No matter how amazing it might like if it doesn’t drive well then it’s going to become a chore!

Before you test drive any car, from a dealership or a private purchase, make sure you are insured to drive it, otherwise any accidents, scratches or bumps would have to be paid for and you could end up with a hefty bill or having to buy a car you don’t really want.

Make sure you start the engine from cold so you know if there are any cold-start problems the owner might not want you to notice. Try and test the car on different roads, you won’t always be driving in the city, so you need to know how it deals with different surfaces and different speeds. Take it out for half an hour to get a proper feel for it and make sure you are comfortable in it. Make sure you keep your eyes and ears open to listen out for any unusual noises or things like excessive smoke when you start the car. We’ve complied a checklist you can download and take with you to make sure you are looking out for the right things on your test drive.


So you’ve taken the plunge and bought your first car, all you want to do is get out there and drive! But, unfortunately, before you can do that there is the small matter of getting insured to drive it. We say small, it’s pretty major and, especially for 1st time drivers, can be pretty expensive. It’s definitely worth investing some time in hunting down the best deal for you and your budget. There are so many different options out there that the whole process deserves its own blog post, so why don’t you go check out our Guide to Buying Insurance for 1st Time Drivers.

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