Learning to drive is one of those periods of your life when you experience a lot of change. Getting your driver’s licence and buying your first car is a ticket to independence and increased freedom.
For many younger people this is also the period of life where you’ll begin making large financial and life choices to gain or experience independence in many areas of your life, making your way into the world as a worker, traveler, or even homeowner. Whatever you end up buying first - car, holiday, or home - you’ll want to spend a lot of time thinking about your decisions because the choices you make now are likely going to stay with you for a while.
We probably aren’t your best choice for help with making decisions on your future home or holiday, but we can help you with a few pointers on what to consider when looking for “the best first car to buy” (for teenagers or established adults).
In this article we’re going to talk about some of the things you should consider when buying your first car, as well as pointing out some things to look for in a good first car to buy.
1. Is one particular brand or model the best?
The typical passenger car is designed to simply get you from point A to point B, but there are a wide range of differences between cars on the market. The differences between the layout of one model and another can be seen in significantly different dashboard layouts, placement of controls, or even engine design and component availability.
Some experienced drivers may recommend one particular brand and/or model as their recommended “best car to buy as a first car” based on their own experience or personal preference. With so many good options available now though, a lot of new drivers don’t really care about the badge, shape, or technical details and just want to get something affordable and reliable.
If you’re reading this blog then you’re probably one of those new drivers that is not too worried about buying a particular brand, which means we have good news - there are a LOT of cars that can do the job just fine without costing you a fortune.
So here are a few of the things you should think about when looking at buying your first car.
Despite what some people will say, there isn’t an objective “best first car” to buy for teenagers.
2. Manual or automatic?
By the time you are considering purchasing your own car you will likely have at least a fair idea of whether you want to drive an automatic or a manual car, and you may have experienced driving both. If you haven’t really made up your mind yet or if you are buying one before you begin learning to drive however, that’s fine too.
A car with manual transmission is often cheaper to buy outright and service, and - depending on how old the car is - it may provide better fuel economy than an automatic version of that same car. If you’re buying the car new from a dealer, a manual model of your new car may save you a couple of thousand dollars.
Automatic on the other hand is considerably easier to learn and drive for many people, and if you take good care of it you won’t need to have it serviced any more frequently than a manual. Modern automatic cars are also fantastic with fuel economy, often competitively matching (and sometimes beating) manual transmission for range on a single tank of petrol in recent years.
Manual is cheaper but more difficult to learn and drive, while automatic is a higher price for convenience.
3. How long does the car need to last?
Are you going to be looking to upgrade your car in the next few years? Or is this car going to be your pride and joy for the next ten years or more?
The longer you need your car to last, the more money you’re going to need to spend on buying a quality car. You may get lucky and find a bargain car that is in great condition and cheap, but you’re usually going to find that cheaper cars will be quite a bit older, have much more “mileage” on them, and require a lot more regular servicing and maintenance.
The average life expectancy of a new car these days is reported to be around 12 years before many of the internal components will need to be replaced, so keep that in mind if you’re looking for something long term.
If you’re able to borrow a family car for a while for small trips, then it’s worth saving up a bit more and getting the extra assurance of a more expensive car in better condition. If you’re in a situation where getting any sort of car is a necessity for right now however, then getting a cheaper car you can afford is obviously the way to go. Just be careful not to get trapped in a cycle of buying cheap cars with a short road life left in them or you may find your cheap option becomes a more expensive and ongoing investment.
A cheap car may be good for the short term but could cost you in servicing and maintenance. A good car in the long run will cost you more up front but require less ongoing work.
4. Vehicle condition
Second hand vehicles are obviously not going to be in the same condition as a new vehicle, but you can find plenty of used cars that have been taken care of and still have quite a bit of road life left in them.
An ideal good first car to buy is going to be in great condition and require minimal work at the mechanic’s in the near future. While you may be able to buy something cheap for under $1,000 that works great for a while, more often than not anything that’s cheap isn’t really going to be the best car to buy as a first car.
We won’t give you a specific price range to aim for because you can find good and bad exceptions at any price range, but as we’ve covered in the past: cheap doesn’t necessarily mean good value. If you don’t seriously research and inspect the car before making the purchase, a “budget bargain” car could end up costing you more in the long term when you find it begins breaking down regularly or giving you ongoing issues.
Relatively speaking a cheap car is likely to be poor quality, but car value can also be influenced by brand and model. Find out what the price is for a car when it’s new, and learn how the value depreciates over time for older models on the market so you know what to expect.
5. Safety rating
The best car to buy as a first car is one that offers good safety. Modern cars since 1993 have come with an Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) rating out of 5 stars, which indicates their observed safety performance for both vehicle occupants and pedestrians.
We recommend you aim to buy a car that has a 5 star ANCAP rating. The ANCAP rating has been around since 1993, and you will be able to find a wide range of second cars that meet this rating. To check the ANCAP rating for a car you’re interested in, follow this link and search for the model and year.
6. Vehicle ownership history
In most cases you should look at buying a car that has only had a couple of owners at most. It’s not just good peace of mind to know how the car was treated by its previous owner, but you want to know that the car has always been treated well and regularly serviced, and this isn’t as likely for a car with many owners.
You should also be able to see the service history of the car and see how frequently the car has been serviced or taken in for repairs, and get an idea of how long you’ll have until your car is due for its next routine service.
You should be able to see the history of the car’s ownership, and any repairs or servicing. An old car with long and varied ownership and service histories is probably not the best first car to buy for teenagers and would instead be better left for someone’s DIY repair project.
7. Is it currently registered?
Typically car registration is renewed every year, and it can cost quite a bit. For older “knockabout” quality cars you may find that the cost of registration is about half of the value of the car itself, however with some careful searching you can find good quality second hand cars for sale that even have current registration included that covers the next few months.
How will you know if the car has registration though?
You should always ask to be sure, but there are a few other things to look for.
If the car is in a car yard, it’s probably unlikely the car is going to be registered - especially if the car has been in the yard for a while.
If you’re buying directly from the owner then there’s a good chance the car could be registered. A good quality second hand car is usually going to be actively used right up until it’s sold, and the driver is required by law to have current registration for the car in order to use it.
Registration isn’t the only fee you’ll have to worry about however, there’s also insurance.
While not always possible, you may be able to find a car with a few months of current registration included and save money.
8. Where will you store it?
Do you have room to store your car inside a garage or under a carport, or will you have to park it on the road?
If you buy a more expensive car you will also want to take more care to ensure nothing happens to it, so make sure you have a safe place to park it where it won’t be exposed to weather or hazards. If you are forced to leave your car parked on the street for long periods of time then you will definitely want to have comprehensive insurance to cover it, which is another cost to consider.
You should try to organise a place to store your car safely before you commit to purchasing one, especially if you’re planning on buying a new car.
9. Can you take it for a test drive?
When deciding whether you want to make the commitment of buying a car, you’ll want to be sure that you’re comfortable driving it and by taking it for a test drive first - as long as you have your licence and can legally drive.
Any good car dealership, both for new and used cars, will normally allow you to get a feel for the car you’re interested in by letting you go for a test drive (accompanied by a staff member) around the block where the car dealership is located.
If you’re buying a second hand car directly from the current owner, you may not always be able to drive the car yourself - but you can request the owner drive the car so you can see how it responds.
A test drive can also give you at least a rough idea of how the vehicle has been treated and may help you uncover any quirks or irregularities with the car before you take it home.
Taking a car for a test drive is a great way of helping you to get a feel for how a it drives, and can also be a good way of testing what sort of condition a second hand car is really in. Some issues may not be immediately obvious and will only become apparent after a bit of driving.
10. How are you paying for the car?
Are you going to be financing the purchase yourself? Or are you borrowing money from a parent or bank?
Your budget is going to influence the type and quality of car you’re able to purchase, and it should be a priority to sort out your finances before you begin shopping around. Remember that you will need money after purchasing the car to cover the insurance, registration, and other ongoing fees, as well as petrol to keep the car going.
Don’t commit to a purchase unless you can do so safely.
11. New or used?
Last but not least, a new car is almost always going to be significantly better than a used car, however the cost is also going to be significantly higher. Very few learner drivers or newly independent drivers are able to buy a new car when they first start driving because the cost barrier of purchasing is so great, and it’s likely that the majority of learner drivers will begin their solo driver journey in a used car.
It is quite possible to buy great new cars for under $20,000 these days, but you can also find plenty of amazing second hand cars that will last you for many years. You may find that the best car to buy as a first car is actually a mid-priced second hand car that runs like new but doesn’t have the hefty price tag.
Buying a new car may be ideal and even a viable option for some people, but you can definitely find a great second hand option that will be perfectly fine as a good first car to buy.
Whether you’re a new learner driver keen on crossing the “buying first car” and “getting driver licence” goals off your list of goals at the same time, or an experienced driver looking to move from the family car to your own personal car, hopefully you found this article helpful.
We mentioned it earlier, but feel free to browse our range of driving instructors and view their profiles to see the types of vehicles EzLicence has approved for use in driving lessons. The driving instructors available through EzLicence use a wide range of vehicles.
To view our range of driving instructors, simply enter your postcode below and see who’s offering driving lessons in your area.