The first car buying guide/£400-1500 car

So you have got to the point of buying a car, congratulations; the open road freedom from public transport and having to ask for lifts. However, before you go and get a sporty little hatchback, here are a few pointers to help you along the way.


Chances are if you do not want to spend too much on a car, insurance is going to be the next area of expense. There are rumours that insuring a Ford Mondeo/ large saloon car can be a similar price to some hatchbacks. However I haven’t been able to get a quote to match this claim, and usually they are a few more hundred pounds a year than a smaller car. My general advice is to get a car with an engine that is between 1-1.4 litres in size, not only because it will save you petrol but also insurance companies will prefer it. Say goodbye to the sporty 2litre’s, it is not worth the cost.

How to get the cost down

Unfortunately if you are a first time driver/ have limited driving experience then insurance will be high. Probably 85 a month, but if you can put a parent on as an additional driver this will help to bring the cost down. A second technique is if you can pay a higher deposit at the beginning, and whilst you won’t see the money back it will reduce monthly costs. I did this with the Perodua and it bought the cost down to £65 a month rather than £80 which included getting breakdown cover, which on a first car is a good shout.

Raise the voluntary excess, I know it is your first car and you value it greatly but if you raise your excess higher it can reduce the overall price down. What this means is if you are in an accident and the cars damaged you will be looking at larger repair bills, but realistically if it is minor damage then you can repair it yourself/leave it (if body work and legal to do so). After all it is only a cheap car or your first one and a few dents and scrapes are to be expected. If it is more than economical repair then you will probably looking to scrap and start again. If this happens it is sad but once dealt with its gone and can be replaced when you have available funds.

Black boxes I would avoid. While insurance companies say they can save you money, my argument would be that you driving aren’t going to be perfect if a first time driver, you will miss gears and rev to high or take corners a bit too fast. This isn’t necessarily bad as it is part of learning to drive independently, without an instructor. Also they don’t like you driving late at night, and when I worked delivering pizza’s this would have been totally impractical and put the cost up. Whilst black boxes offer a potential saving you need to think carefully about how much you will be using the car and the times of day it will be used. To me they feel as if you are taking the point of freedom that a car offers you away. Furthermore if you have an underpowered car this isn’t taken into account by a black box, it assumes you’re over revving and pushing the car too much.

In short; raise the voluntary excess keep the engine size small and avoid black boxes.

Buying the car requirements

  1. What are you going to be using the car for?

Motorways and long journeys – in this case the engine is going to be working harder and you probably want to look at something with a slightly bigger engine rather than a 1litre engine. Whilst Ford’s Eco boost and similar options have been around a bit they are a long way from being within this price range and if they are something has usually gone wrong or they have very high mileage so leave them alone.

If you’re going to mostly be using your car for shopping runs and short journeys then a smaller engine is better and will save you on petrol.

  1. How much stuff or people do you want to put in it?

You would be surprised how much you can fit into a small car, I’ve managed to pile large amounts into many a hatchback. If you’re going to be doing this regularly; i.e. helping friends move house or moving yourself/ lots of things around then consider looking at cars that the seats fold down in and avoid the really small cars such as a Chevrolet Matiz or Ford KA. These cars may work out better for you if you want a car that will mainly be used by yourself, although I would side with the Matiz over the KA. If you want to take people places then a 5door option is going to be more suitable for you then a 3door, and whilst 3doors really aren’t that much different in size, passengers will complain because they can.


The older the car is usually the higher tax, and realistically you don’t want the tax any higher than £200 a year, it’s a lot. Previously tax used to be transferred when you sold a car and so you could pick up a used car with 6 months tax left at times. However, now when you buy a used car the tax doesn’t transfer anymore. DVLA have made it slightly easier in that there are three ways to pay tax; monthly, six monthly or annually. Depending on your budget and how you work out your finances these options work out similar in cost, with annual being slightly cheaper. If you decide to get rid of the car with 4 months left of tax then DVLA should send you a cheque for the remaining amount although this varies on if they remember to do so and your ability to chase them up. A general for tax is the smaller the engine the less the tax, although based on co2 regulations now this rule works fairly well, but check when you look.

Car history

Checking car history is a lot easier than it used to be, firstly DVLA provide a fantastic tool for this whereby you can pick up the car’s mot history and read it online for free: I have used this before and it is really good to see what mileage a cars done over the last few years, if it has done a similar amount that’s usually good because it has been through regular maintenance. Things to look out for on this are; how many fails has it had on the MOT and what for. If it’s for tyres/break wear or headlights it is forgivable and shouldn’t be a problem. If it’s had a long list within the last few MOT’s then probably best to walk away.  Another area to look at is the advisory’s – if it has had an oil leak or break wear warnings, have these been addressed in the last year? If not, why not? If its tyres that are near to replacement, has it been done? If not probably expect to pay about £45 a tyre for replacement (I would recommend tyres on the drive for this). However, if the Mot with the car is brand new you may not need to pay this straight away, look at when the Mot is due to expire as this will be a good indication.

Crashes and write offs are things to consider if ever in doubt walk away Auto-trader now list these as part of the adverts. Also DVLA list the different categories of write offs: If C and above I would advise leaving alone. If category D, ask for the proof of the repairs and certification of road worthy condition, this won’t always show up on a MOT. If in doubt walk away there are always more cars available.

Buying the car

Your about to go and get your own wheels; the open road and your own car! Slow down, take your time to look around and inspect the car, not just that it looks nice. Look underneath it, inside and under the bonnet, check for oil leaks and signs of repairs. If the engine is warm when you get there that’s not a good sign. If they say they have just been to petrol in it, they may be genuine but this can be to cover up problems with starting from cold. Take someone with you as two sets of eyes are better than none, and preferably someone with a good car history who knows what to look for.

Ask lots of questions, what’s the car’s history- what has it been used for and why are they selling it? Where has it been serviced? If you get an answer that sounds a bit funny probe them (but be polite).

Finally test-drive the car. Do this in all the gears, you want to drive around town and on A roads, so work out a route before you go that’s no longer than 20 mins, (probably shorter). In this time you want to test as much equipment as you can, so have a passenger play with the radio and air controls/air conditioning. Don’t be afraid to throw the car around and break sharply. If any noises sound funny then it may be a sign of problems. Also how is the clutch – if the bite is at the top it will probably need replacing soon. Also remember that you are about to buy a car you need to be comfortable driving as this is an expensive purchase that you’re going to live with.

Overall when buying a used car there are a lot of questions and problems you may face, but common sense gut instinct and careful choices should lead you to the right car, whilst I could make other points if you are careful; do your homework and talk to someone who has a good car history then you should be fine. The golden rules I would stick to are: check the cars history, check insurance and running costs, go with somebody who knows more than you and finally go with your gut feeling, if it doesn’t feel right then walk away.


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