11 Insider Hacks You Need To Know When Buying Your First Car

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So you've torn up your L-plates, and now it's time to buy your first car. It can feel like a hugely daunting process, but don't worry, because we've got the insider info that'll have you choosing that first motor like a veteran Cockney wheeler-dealer in a massive sheepskin coat. 
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1. Do Pinpoint-Accurate Research

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer choice on offer when buying your first car. Unless you're already a bona fide car enthusiast, all those car models and manufacturers can blur into one amorphous mess. 

Here are three key sites for reviewing which current cars are suitable for new drivers, in terms of key buying choices: Affordability, ease-of-use, and tax and insurance costs. They are trusted reviews site Carbuyer, the new and used car specialists AutoTrader and car-rating site Auto Express. Each of them features regularly updated lists of recommendations. 
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2. Research How Crime-Proof, Safe And Good-Value Your Car Is

There's a wealth of info online that smart car-buyers can make use of. Thatcham Research has info on how crime-proof any potential first car might be and there are plenty of car alarms out there to help your secure your ride (this may affect your insurance costs). The European New Car Assessment Programme has info on how safe specific models are (again, this will affect your insurance costs); and car-expert site AutoTrader offers quick-and-easy free valuations, to ensure you're paying a fair price for your car.  
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3. Mull Over the Mileage

Obviously, the higher the mileage on a car, the cheaper it'll be – but that buzz of bagging a bargain may only be short-lived, as the more mileage a car has, the less life it has left in it. If you're planning to do a lot of miles in your car – driving it up and down the country to festivals, for example, or even overseas on holiday – then you could find a high-mileage car failing you within just a few months, leaving you with no recompense for a refund and having to fork out for another car. Plus, your kaput car will have no resale value

However, if you're only going to be using your car for short journeys – travelling to and from work, visiting friends locally – then on balance, a high-mileage car might be a good option, as it'll last you long enough to feel like it wasn't a waste of cash.

In addition, an older car with very low mileage may not actually be all that reliable. Cars 'like' to be driven, and without regular use, the vehicle's plastic and rubber parts can become brittle and damaged. 
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4. Check the Tax Band

When working out your budget for a car, it's important to consider the additional costs, because there are several things to fork out for beyond petrol. 

The two main extra costs are car tax and insurance. How much the tax costs depends on the engine size and how environmentally friendly (or otherwise) the vehicle is. The cheapest tax band is A, which will cost you – whoop! – absolutely nothing each year. The priciest is M, which will cost you – oof! – £515 a year, although you're unlikely to pay anywhere near that unless you're buying a full-on supercar

If you know the exact model and year of the car you're considering buying, you can check which tax band it falls into at motoring site Parkers and then see how much that'll cost each year with an official government table
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5. If Possible, Spend At Least £2,000

Yes, that £500 banger is tempting – sooo cheap! – but a car at the end of its life is likely to incur far greater maintenance costs than one that's newer and better looked-after. Plus, insurance companies will assume that you're unlikely to take great care of an on-its-last-wheels vehicle, and will charge you more accordingly.   
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6. Boring Is Better (Sorry!)

Younger first-time drivers often want to stand out on the roads with a niche, head-turning vehicle, but the sad fact is that popular models from mainstream manufacturers – a Ford, or a Vauxhall, for example – are usually cheaper to maintain and insure. Insurers also frown on any kind of modifications, so that neon-orange number with LED underglow lighting and a Formula One spoiler may be a no-no. 
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7. Give the Car a Suspicious Once-Over

It's not wise to buy a used car without giving it a thorough inspection. Don't worry about appearing suspicious of the seller, this is just what smart car-buyers do!

Check the bodywork for rust, feeling around with your hand on any car parts you can't see. Open the bonnet and see how the engine looks – does it appear dirty and badly maintained? Check the oil – if it's black (rather than fairly transparent), this may indicate that it hasn't been changed regularly, and the vehicle hasn't been serviced in a while. 

Is there a deep tread on the tyres (and the spare)? If not, they'll need replacing soon – an extra cost. Check underneath the car for oil or brake-fluid leaks. If it's been parked on the road, check the drive for any telltale stains. 
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8. Take a Look At the Engine

Before you actually sit in the vehicle and drive it around, turn the car's engine on and then observe it running. Is it rattling in any way? Now go around the back and look at the exhaust. Is there black or blue smoke coming out? That can indicate a badly worn engine. Grey smoke? Water may be leaking into the engine.   
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9. Test Drive Like a Boss

You'll want to take a used car out for a test drive to check it's in a decent state. Check that all the gadgets work – car radio, and GPS (Global Positioning System), for example. Perform an emergency stop to test the brakes, and listen out for any suspicious grinding noises. Ensure that changing gears is smooth and easy, otherwise the gearbox may soon need replacing – another extra cost. 
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10. Keep Your Insurance Down

If this is your first car and you're young, your insurance is going to be relatively pricey – there's no two ways about it. Insurance companies view driving newbies as a risky bet, and you'll be expected to pay for that. 

However, there are a few ways to keep your insurance costs down. Firstly, shop around for the best deal. Making your car as secure as possible with an alarm, immobiliser and/or car-tracking device will lower your insurance costs (make sure any devices you fit are approved by your particular insurance company). If you've got a garage or somewhere secure to regularly park the car, then that will also drop your costs, as the risk of theft is reduced.   

Taking an advanced driving test may also reduce your costs, as it shows insurance companies that you're a skilled and ultra-aware road user. And to reduce your costs down the line, sign up to a 'blackbox' policy, in which the safety of your driving is monitored by the insurance company, via a device fitted to your car. This won't reduce your costs immediately, but will once you've proved that you're not a speeding, risk-taking maniac.  
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11. Save Money On Your MOT (But Not Too Much Money...)

Any car that’s more than three years old must undergo an MOT test once a year to remain road-legal. Some second-hand cars have months to go until their next MOT; for others, it's a matter of urgency. 

The government has capped the costs of these at a maximum of £54.85, although you can find garages offering to perform them for far cheaper – as low as £20. The problem with ultra-cut-price MOTs, however, is that they can be somewhat rushed, and may miss a serious issue with your car. 

There are a few places online you can check out reviews of a garage you're thinking of putting your new car into for MOT – besides Google, there's Good Garage Scheme, the mechanic-booking site ClickMechanic and the trade-finding service CheckATrade. To reduce potential costs incurred by your MOT, give your car a basic inspection before sending it in to the test station, including checking the oil, lights and horn. 
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Looking for More Clever Car Tips?

Check out our ultimate guide to all the best tech hacks for your car
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