Used Cars Buyers Guide: Your First Car

Used Cars Buyers Guide: Your First Car

When the time comes to purchase your first car it can seem like there's an overwhelming amount of things to think about. We've been the place to go for used cars for sale in Southampton for over 50 years and have picked up a few things along the way. Keep reading this short buyers guide for all the information you need to know before buying your first car.


Most first time buyers are young people. The insurance companies love young people, specifically they love taking their money. Cars that will cost experienced drivers a few hundred pounds a year to insure can end up costing thousands for first time drivers.

For this reason you need to pay attention to the insurance group of the vehicle you're looking to purchase. There are 50 insurance groups in the UK with group 1 offering the lowest prices and group 50 being reserved for the most powerful of cars. Most entry level cars can be found in the lower end of the scale. If you're after a good example here is a useful website:

 Table listing all car insurance groups 1-50 - Click through to see individual car models

There are always ways to reduce your insurance premium for your first car however and you should shop around using sites like compare the market for the very best deal. Insurance companies count on you being lazy come renewal time so make sure not to automatically accept your renewal price which will likely be higher than prices found on comparison websites (your no claims carries over between insurers so don't worry).

Increasingly insurance companies are looking to offer telematics technology to drivers. The telematics policy uses a small black box to track and rate your driving including everything from acceleration and brake use to what time of day you're behind the wheel. These deals can be cheaper than traditional insurance however some companies will ask that you don't drive between certain hours and you will be being tracked at all times. 

You should decide if having this tracking technology on your vehicle is worth the difference in price for yourself.

2 classice Mini cars for sale Southampton

Petrol vs Diesel

If you plan on making regular short trips where you're likely to stop often, like driving around town or to work and college, we suggest sticking with a small naturally aspirated petrol engine.

We suggest going with a 1.4 litre engine or smaller. The smaller the engine, the less of a burden your first car will be on your wallet. This includes things like fuel, tax, insurance and servicing costs. 

While diesel cars can be better on fuel economy there is a catch that many first time buyers are unaware of.  These fuel economy gains can only really be seen over long distance drives and using a diesel engine exclusively for short trips will lead to DPF problems (this isn't a problem for long distance journeys as the DPF is able to get hot enough to burn off excess carbon). Older diesels are also subject to heavy restrictions in certain parts of the country. 

The question you need to ask yourself  when buying your first car is will you be doing regular long distance travel whereby the engine can run for at least 20 minutes without stopping or will you be a city driver primarily? 

Used cars Southampton - Fiat

Finance vs PCP vs Outright purchase

Finance and PCP deals are a great way to get a car that you otherwise wouldn't be able to afford outright but before you jump on into a lengthy deal consider getting some experience behind the wheel first. 

With a financed car, you will have to pay monthly fees for a set number of years but you will own the car at the end of it. A PCP deal differs in that you will not own the car and will have a balloon payment at the end of the deal OR  have to hand the car back.

If you plan on handing your vehicle back at the end of your PCP deal, you will be expected to maintain a strong (usually dealership) service history and pay for any damage you incur. A small carpark ding that wouldn't be a problem on an older car could end up costing you a lot of money to put right.

As an inexperienced driver you are much more likely to crash your first car (yes, even if you passed with no advisories). For this reason we recommend building your confidence with a cheap used car that you own outright. This will allow you to make a few more mistakes without having to worry about costly bodywork fees.

first car buyers maintenance


Maintenance costs of your first car are another thing you should take into consideration. As we touched on earlier, smaller cars generally cost less to service and repair thanks to lower oil capacity and cheaper parts. Bigger premium cars will naturally consume more oil, use more spark plugs and require more expensive tyres. 

When it comes to car care we are big advocates of basic home maintenance. While we can service and repair your vehicle, it is important that you look after your car in between services yourself. Knowing how to keep your cars oil topped up can save you from nasty problems and changing a wheel is a vital skill for any driver. 

We have a great article on the basics here:  Lockdown lookover| home car maintenance guide| EJ Jarvis

If you're unsure on how easy it is to change a wheel, check out our instructional video: How To: Change a Car Wheel. - YouTube


So with all that information, we have a few examples for your first car. 

Ford Fiesta or Ford KA - 1.25 Zetec

The Ford Fiesta is the best selling car in the UK for a reason. It's well built, its dependable and its ever so cheap to run. The 1.25 Zetec engine is best pick for new drivers on a budget. There's a 3 door and 5 door model to choose from with the 5 door being slightly better priced for insurance.

VW Polo - 1.2 

The 1.2 litre polo produced between 2000 and 2009 in the UK is a very popular choice for first time drivers. The baby Golf is a simple yet fun little car and can be picked up for a good price - look for a well looked after example and if possible that hasn't been messed with.

Vauxhall Corsa 1.2

The Vauxhall Corsa has a bit of a reputation as a young persons car. It's one of the most popular in the UK as starter car and comes with a  variety of engines. We would suggest the 1.2 engine is the one to go for again, offering a bit more power than the small and gutless 1.0 model. Make sure the timing chain isn't ticking and look for a model with a good service history for the best results.

There are smaller cars available such as the Ford KA, VW Lupo and Fiat 500 which can be very good alternatives if you don't need much space.

Remember - your insurance, tax and MOT is due yearly. If you're forgetful we offer an MOT & service reminder and can text you when your car is due its MOT. If this sounds useful give us a call today and we can set you up!

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