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The Essential Guide to Buying Your Teens First Car

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Your teen’s first car is something that they will always remember. If left up to them, they would end up in a 20 year old car bought off eBay for £200 just because it looks cool and they like the colour. For this reason you, as a parent, need to take some responsibility in helping them choose the perfect first car.

Picking a car can be difficult as young drivers will want something different to what you may be looking for. To understand exactly what you need to be looking for, Nathaniel Cars has created this essential guide to buying your teen’s first car.

#1 Budget

First things first, who is paying for the car? We recommend your teen put some money towards the vehicle, even if it’s a 90/10 split having them put their own hard-earned cash towards the car will make them value it more. This will mean that they are more likely to take much better care of it and drive more carefully than if it was just given to them.

You don’t want to spend too much on the first car, but similarly you need to ensure that it isn’t going to be a money pit. Before you commit to anything, work out the cost of insurance, petrol, road tax and maintenance with your teenage to figure out whether they can afford to run the car.

#2 Compromise

Buying your teen’s first car will be a compromise between finding something cool and something safe and practical. Depending on your teen’s mind-set this can be a big obstacle, but safety needs to be a priority. One in four young drivers (between 18-24) crash their car within 2 years of passing their test, in this situation it is much better to be safe than sorry.

Similarly, you don’t want your kid to be the laughing stock of the neighbourhood driving a minivan just because of safety. Try and find a car that looks cool, drives well and has plenty of safety features.

#3 Buy Used

There are a lot of reasons why a used car is better than a new car for the first car, namely you can get a decent car for a much lower price. You can buy a car that’s two or three years old for up to 50% less than it would cost new – this means that you can afford the essential safety and styling features you’re looking for.

It may be a bit of a generalisation, but old cars are usually slightly cheaper to find replacement parts for than new ones. This is because there are more of this type of car on the road and more spare parts have been made and are available. While this may not be particularly important to people who have been driving for a few years, new drivers are quite likely to knock off their wing mirrors or damage bumpers and doors etc.

#4 Thoroughly Check the Car

Unfortunately there are lots of cowboys out there who are looking to make a quick buck by selling dodgy second hand cars. Before you commit to buying the vehicle make sure you thoroughly check it out. There are several important checks you should do before buying a used car, including:

  • Find the V5C – without this you can’t tax the car. See if the seller is the registered keeper? If not why not?
  • Does the VIN, engine number and colour all match the V5C
  • Does the seller have the current MOT certificate
  • Do the mileage, age and appearance look consistent?
  • Is recorded mileage on service records, MOTs and other documents consistent?
  • Is there any damage to the vehicle or signs of extensive repairs?
  • Is the paint finish even across the car?
  • Are the tyres in good condition?
  • Are the jack and wheel nuts present?
  • Does the vehicle drive normally?
  • Are there any unusual sounds or vibration?

If there are any warning signs then walk away from the deal. The last thing you want to do is buy a car for your teen that will turn into a money pit as things keep going wrong. If the price looks too good to be true then it probably is!

#5 Engine Size

Sure your teen is probably going to want a 6 litre V8 engine, but there is no way that’s going to happen. For starters that’s far too much power for a novice behind the wheel to handle, they may have experience with them on their video games but real life is a very different situation. Secondly, insurance for young drivers is expensive enough and anything over 1.2 is going to cost an arm and a leg.

For most small hatchbacks 1–1.2 litre engines are more than enough for city driving and even motorway journeys. Larger cars may struggle with small engines like this and you should be looking at 1.4-1.6 in order for efficient, responsive driving. Always consider what your teen needs the car for, if it is just getting from A to B then a small hatchback should be more than enough. If they have a hobby that requires driving places with large or bulky items i.e. surfing or in a band, then it may be worth getting an estate vehicle.

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#6 Petrol or Diesel

While diesel does cost more at the pump than a petrol it can provide you with much lower running costs. When considering fuel type for a first car there are several things that you should consider, namely:

  • Diesel engines typically have a longer engine life, meaning that purchasing cars well into 100k isn’t as risky as with petrol.
  • You receive much better fuel economy, allowing for much lower running costs thanks to not having to refuel so regularly.
  • Diesel cars maintain their value much better than their petrol counterparts, meaning that when it comes time for their second car there will be some value left in their first motor.
  • Petrol offers better engine refinement and a smoother overall ride.
  • As a diesel engine is generally more efficient than petrol it tends to have lower CO2 emissions which typically provides you with lower car tax.
  • Differences in price for insurance and servicing tends to be negligible.

Mainly this comes down to personal preference and what is available within your budget. However, as a first car if you have the choice between two used cars with similar spec but one is diesel then we recommend going for that one.

#7 Do Your Research

The internet makes it easier than ever before to find out absolutely everything you need to know about the car you’re looking to buy. Before you even visit a showroom it can be a good idea to research online and get an idea of what cars you’re looking for. There are plenty of online forums, review sites and even official manufacturers websites that will provide you with everything from spec and price to honest, long term reviews of the vehicle you’re looking at.

Once you’ve done this you’ll want to check out these cars in person. You can never get a true feel for a vehicle over the internet, so make sure that you go and feel it, sit in it and most importantly – drive it! Just by seeing the vehicles in person your decision could be drastically changed – you may not like the driving position or your child may decide the colour isn’t what they want (it happens more than you’d think). 

#8 Take it for a Test Drive

You should be very wary of anyone who is hesitant about you taking a car for a test drive. If your child has already passed their driving test then ideally they should be driving, however you may come across issues if they still have their provisional driving licence. In this situation they may not be covered by the insurance and you’ll have to test drive it.

A test drive will give you the confirmation you need that the engine, clutch, gears and brakes all work as they should. If your child is allowed to test drive the vehicle then make sure they know that it is going to be different to cars they’ve previously driven and that this difference is not necessarily bad. When test driving, try to:

  • Drive on a variety of roads at different speeds
  • Use all the gears
  • Check there are no lights on dashboard and instruments work as they should
  • See if there is plenty of space in the rear
  • Reverse into a parking space to check visibility and reverse gear
  • Ensure there is no play in steering
  • Carry out an emergency stop

Read More: How to Properly Test Drive a Car

#9 Make the Purchase

If you and your teen are happy with the vehicles, you’ve whittled the list down to and test drove, then it is time to make the purchase. Because you set out your budget early on and agreed to how much both parties would pay there should be no hidden surprises here. You'll have a vehicle that suits both the driver and the parent.

There you have it, the process of buying your child’s first car is complete. Now the vehicle just needs to be insured (again work out who’s paying) and everything is good to go! You’ve just bought your very own taxi - if you’re lucky.

If you are interested in a used vehicle feel free to check out our used car section of the site. You might find your first car.

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