A woman driving her new car

8 tips for buying your first car

Thinking about buying a car, but don’t know where to start? We’re here to help get you on your way.

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By Cazoo editorial team

You never forget your first car. Whether you get the keys to a family hand-me-down on your 17th birthday or treat yourself much later in life, the freedom it brings is an exciting rite of passage.

But choosing and buying a car for the first time can be confusing. Should you get a petrol or a diesel? A manual or an automatic? The choice can be overwhelming, so here are our tips to get you started on your motoring journey, whether you’re ready to set off now or just mulling it all over.

1. Should I buy new or used?

Call us biased, but we think everybody should buy a used car. Used cars are cheaper than new cars, which makes them much easier to recommend for people just starting out on their motoring journey and there are a lot more of them around. This gives you a wider selection to choose from, meaning you have a better chance of finding the right car for the right price. If you're in the market for a cheap used car, read our guide to the best used cars of 2024.

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2. How expensive should my first car be?

Conventional wisdom suggests that your first car should be a bit of a banger — something you pick up for a few hundred quid, complete with dented bodywork and a peculiar smell. But we don’t agree. Buying and running a car is expensive, especially for young people, so it’s worth going for one that reflects your needs and preferences.

If you regularly drive on the motorway or cover long distances, for example, an efficient, comfortable car with a large petrol or diesel engine is what you should buy. You’ll find a suitable first car for under £10,000 in cash or under £200 per month on finance. If you only pop to the shops once a week, a smaller petrol hatchback will probably do. You can buy an excellent used car for £6,000 or around £100 per month on finance.

Insurance for new drivers can be expensive and the cost of your policy has a lot to do with the value of the car. But we’ll get onto that in a moment.

3. What kind of car should I get - hatchback, saloon, or SUV?

Most cars fall into one of four main categories — hatchback, saloon, estate or SUV. There are other shapes, like sports cars and people carriers, but most are somewhere in between. Lots of families choose SUVs and estates for their size, but new drivers don’t always need so much space.

Lots of people buy a hatchback as their first car. Hatchbacks tend to be smaller, more efficient and less expensive to purchase and run than other types of car, while still having five seats and a big enough boot for your shopping. But there’s nothing stopping you from buying a Jeep or Jaguar as your first car - provided you can afford to insure it.

4. What cars cost less to insure?

Put yourself in the insurance company’s shoes. Would you rather insure a new driver for a £6,000 hatchback with a small engine and a built-in alarm, or an expensive supercar with a 200mph top speed? Generally speaking, the cheapest cars to insure are modest, sensible models with less powerful engines and low repair costs in case you have a crash.

All cars are given an insurance group number from 1 to 50, with 1 being cheaper to insure than the higher numbers. There are other factors that insurance providers use to calculate the cost of your policy, like the area you live in and the job that you do. But generally, an inexpensive car with a small engine (less than 1.6 litres) will help keep insurance costs low.

Remember that you can ask insurance companies for a ‘quote’ on a car before you buy it. Every Cazoo car has its insurance group included in its details on the website.

5. How do I know how much a car will cost to run?

In addition to insurance, you’ll have to tax, service and fuel your car. How much these cost will depend primarily on the car itself, but also the way you use it.

Car tax is based on how much pollution your type of car releases. Zero-emission cars, including electric models like the Nissan Leaf, are free to tax, while cars with a normal engine will cost around £150 a year. If your car cost more than £40,000 when it was new, you may have to pay additional annual tax — though that’s unlikely to apply to most first-time buyers.

Expect to spend about another £150 on a full service for a small car and around £250 for a larger model. Some manufacturers offer pre-paid servicing packages that make this cheaper. You should have your car serviced after every 12,000 miles of driving, though this can vary — check with the car manufacturer how often it should be.

The amount of fuel you use will depend a lot on how much you drive and the way you drive. The further you travel, the more petrol or diesel your car will consume. How much fuel a car uses is described as ‘fuel economy’ and is measured in miles per gallon, or mpg - which can be confusing, as most liquid fuel in the UK is sold in litres. A gallon of petrol or diesel costs around £6.70 at the moment, so you can calculate the costs based on that.

6. Should I get a petrol, diesel or electric car?

Petrol is the preferred fuel for most people. Cars that run on petrol are lighter, less prone to go wrong and generally quieter than diesel cars. They’re also normally cheaper, like-for-like, than diesel cars of the same age and type.

But if you regularly make long journeys at high speeds, then a diesel engine might be more efficient. Diesel cars tend to use a little less fuel than petrol cars and on the motorway are much more efficient. They aren’t suitable for making lots of short trips though — diesel cars can wear out quickly unless they’re used for what they’re designed to do.

Electric cars are usually a lot more expensive to buy than either petrol or diesel cars and take a lot longer to ‘refuel’ with electricity. But if you have a driveway where you can charge up and generally drive less than 100 miles per day, an electric car could be the perfect choice.

7. How do I know if a car is safe?

Most new cars have an official safety rating from an independent organisation called Euro NCAP. Each car gets a star rating out of five, which reflects how well it protects passengers from harm, as well as a more detailed report that you can find on Euro NCAP’s website. The rating is based partly on a crash test, but also on the car’s ability to prevent accidents from happening in the first place. Newer cars come with technology that can detect danger and take action faster than you might react.

The Euro NCAP star ratings give you a reasonable indication of how safe a car is, but there can be more to it than that. A five-star car from 2020 will probably be safer than a five-star car from 2015. And a five-star luxury 4x4 will probably be safer than a five-star supermini. But above all, the safest car is one with a safe driver — no amount of airbags will change that.

An easier way to find or sell a car

You’ll find lots of used cars for sale at Cazoo, all available to buy through our trusted dealers.

Cazoo makes selling a car just as easy – just enter a few details for an instant online valuation. If you accept the offer our partners will get in touch to arrange payment and collection of your car at a time that suits you.

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