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A guide for first-time car buyers

Everything you need to look for when purchasing your vehicle.

Buying your first car doesn't have to be difficult. Just follow these handy tips to make sure you're prepared.

Buying your first car doesn't have to be difficult. Just follow these handy tips to make sure you're prepared.

A car will be one of the most expensive things that you ever buy so it’s important to know that you’re getting exactly what you want. Buying a car can be a daunting experience, especially if you’re doing it for the first time, but if you follow these steps, you should get all the facts you need to make an informed choice.

Make a budget

The cost of a car is more than just the list price. Cars must be taxed every year. You should also find out your chosen car’s fuel consumption and work out how much it will cost you to run.

Every car will require an annual service, and if it’s three years old or more, it will also need an MOT. Be sure to find out when these are due when you buy and keep in mind that there may be added costs if maintenance is required.

Make sure that you talk to your insurance company to find out the price of a comprehensive premium for everyone who will be driving. The price of your insurance will be based on a number of factors including your age, the area you live, the features of the car and the size of the engine. Work out what kind of car you need

Everyone has a dream car, but you also have to be practical. Take into account how much you’re going to be driving, the terrain you’ll cover, if you’re regularly going to be carrying passengers or if you’ll need lots of storage space. Most importantly, you have to consider your budget. This will help you work out what size of car you’ll need, whether you want a petrol, diesel or electric engine and whether you are able to buy a new or used car.

Decide where to buy your car

There’s no shortage of options when buying a car. There are franchise car dealerships, car auctions or private sellers. Private sellers are potentially cheaper than dealerships but the vehicle is unlikely to have been professionally inspected before sale and your buyer’s rights are also reduced buying this way. While you can grab a bargain at auction, there’s not the time to test-drive a vehicle and you’ll have to do your research quickly to find out the retail price. It can be easy to get carried away when bidding so set a strict budget.

If you’re a first-time buyer, it makes sense to go to a mainstream dealer who will do a lot of the hard work for you. Not only can they show you a range of cars in your budget but the vehicle will also have undergone inspections before sale and they’ll have all the appropriate paperwork in place.

You should always be comfortable with your choice, so even if you think that you’ve found a car you want, don’t make an impulse buy. Give yourself some time to think and discuss the decision with someone you trust.

Find out about finance

Although it is possible to pay for a car upfront, the vast majority of purchases are made using a finance package. As well as a traditional loan, there are a number of other popular options including personal contract purchase, personal contract hire and hire purchase. It pays to be informed about the various finance options available to ensure you can make the right choice.

Do a basic inspection

Even if you don’t have any mechanical knowledge, a visual check of the vehicle can be revealing. Check around the bodywork for any bumps or scratches or irregularities in the paintwork. Look for rust around the bumpers or below the sills, which will provide a good indication of further corrosion. Make sure that all of the doors, windows, bonnet and boot open properly. Ensure the tyres have enough tread. If they have less than 1.6 millimetres of depth remaining, this is unsafe and illegal.

Take a look under the bonnet and check for any obvious signs of leaks, rust or damage and check the oil to ensure all is as it should be. If you have the knowledge, make sure the coolant, brake and power-steering fluid levels are up to standard too.

It’s also worth investigating all of the electrics and workings, including the windscreen wipers, washers, radio, windows and power mirrors.

Take a test drive

When buying a new or used car, it’s worthwhile taking a test drive to get a feel for the vehicle. This will let you know how the car handles, if it’s comfortable, and most importantly, could flag up any obvious mechanical fault. Pay plenty of attention to the steering, making sure that the car doesn’t pull to one side and doesn’t vibrate. Make sure that the brakes work effectively when you use them, and listen out for unusual rattles or sounds. Check that the gear changes are smooth. If not, there could be a problem with the gearbox or the clutch.

Get all the right documentation

The V5C, sometimes known as the vehicle logbook, is the most important document when buying a car. You should make sure that all the details on this form match those of the car, including the registration, Vehicle Identification Number (found where the dashboard meets the windscreen), and that the name of the registered keeper is the same as that of the person you are buying from.

You should also ask for a full service history. If this is not available, you can use online tools like the RAC’s car passport to find out details about the vehicle’s past.

It is also important to get a receipt as proof of purchase, as even the V5C only states the registered keeper and is not proof of ownership.

About the Author

Andrew Moir

Staff writer at Arnold Clark.