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How to Choose the Right First Car For a New Driver

Posted by Rebecca Parsley on

It’s one of those rites of passage. Once our children are old enough, they take driving lessons. All being well, after a while they pass their test. Then they want a car of their own, plus yours is too big/fast/precious to let them take out alone.

Once you agree, there’ll be some discussion around what car is best for a new driver. Their ideas are unlikely to match yours, and there’ll be some debate before a compromise is reached.

Once the dust settles, it’s time to start looking seriously. Here are a few tips you might want to bear in mind when looking for your child’s first car.

Safety first

Your top priority when choosing a car for your young driver is likely to be safety. The newer the car, the more features and better crash protection it’s likely to have. Although budget will also be a key consideration, it’s worth bearing that in mind. You may decide that paying extra for a car with forward-collision warning or automatic emergency braking is worth the additional protection it gives your child – and peace of mind for you.

Check the vehicle’s safety ratings, not just those issued by the manufacturer, but also any independent reviews that might be available. It’s a good idea to talk to friends who have bought cars for their teenagers, as a first-hand perspective is always valuable.

Who’s paying?

The price of the car is one factor to consider, but the other major cost is the insurance. Young, new drivers are considered a big risk, and premiums are expensive for the first few years. Some companies won’t insure certain types of car for drivers below a stated age, or limit engine size.

You need to decide whether you will cover all the initial costs, including purchase and insurance, if you’re able to do so. Alternatively, if your new driver has been saving for their first set of wheels, you’ll need to discuss how much you’re prepared to contribute to help get them on the road.

Some finance deals include free insurance, even for younger drivers. However, it generally means the monthly payments are far higher. Be cautious, read the small print and compare all your options before signing up.

Keeping it on the road

As most of us well know, purchasing the car is just the first expense. Annual inspections, servicing and repairs mean the bills can soon stack up.

When choosing a car, consider how easy it will be to maintain. Does that marque have a good reliability record? Is it economical to run or does it drink fuel? If your teen commits to routine maintenance and is willing to learn basic tasks, that will help keep the costs down. There are also some inexpensive options for remedying scratches and scuffs to wheels and bodywork.

Does size matter?

It’s a difficult decision to make. You might feel your child is safer in a smaller car – less likely to race, easier to handle around town. However, statistics show that mid-sized to larger cars fare better – and result in fewer fatalities – in accidents than compact models.

Obviously, buying a new driver an SUV or large truck isn’t a good idea; apart from anything else, if they do hit anything, it’s more likely to roll over. But you might decide that dinky Smart car isn’t the right option either – perhaps a saloon would be better. And, it should go without saying – sports cars are for those with the experience to know how to handle them, not for new drivers who just want to look cool (even if you can find a company that will insure your eager 18-year-old to drive one).

New versus old

Traditionally, a first car is second-hand. In recent times, though, more parents are choosing to buy new. This is generally because newer cars have higher safety ratings, better fuel consumption, are more reliable, and include more features such as traction control, air bags and anti-lock brakes. They also come with a full warranty if anything goes wrong.

It’s worth weighing up the cost of new against old before you make a final decision, taking into account running costs and who’s paying for what on an ongoing basis. You might find it’s more affordable than you thought.