You've just passed your driving test - go you! - and your first car is one of life's milestones. Whether you're buying new or used, choosing your first car doesn't need to be tricky, but an affordable car that's reliable and easy to drive - not to mention economical too.
Finding your first car doesn't need to be hard
But before you put down a deposit or spend a chunk of money, we've put together some tips on choosing your first car:
- Set a hard budget and keep to it. Leave a little wriggle room so that you can cope with the unexpected.
- Don't just budget for the initial purchase cost, or monthly repayments if you're using a finance deal such as a loan or PCP (Personal Contract Purchase), consider all the running costs too (ie car insurance, road tax, fuel, servicing and maintenance).
- Try not to let your heart rule your head. Think hard about whether the car you have in your sights is right for you.
- Don't just buy a car just because you like the look of it, or the first one you see. Ask family and friends for recommendations and research models online. Looks at other important factors such as reliability, fuel economy and safety features.
- If you're buying used, find a car with the lowest mileage possible, a full service history and a modest number of owners. Invest in an HPI Check (it will reveal whether the car has been a write-off or subject to an active finance agreement, for instance) and check its MOT history for free.
- If you have a new car in your sights, check on the length of the warranty. They can vary from 3-7 years, while batteries in electric and plug-in hybrid cars are typically covered for around eight years.
10 best cars for new drivers 2021
Ford Fiesta - favourite first car
The Fiesta has been the UK's most popular new and used car for more than a decade - it's also more than likely you learned to drive in one. Fiestas old and new make a solid first car choice, combining economy and low running costs, with fun driving characteristics and practicality.
Toyota Yaris - the hot hybrid
The all-new fourth generation model combines cool looks, top tech, clever packaging and an efficient hybrid system to create a modern, economical supermini that's safe, fun to drive and blessed with Toyota's generous five-year new car warranty. It's a self-charging hybrid (so no need to plug it in) and its punchy little engine is capable of up to 68.8mpg and CO2 emissions are a low 92g/km.
Skoda Citigo - the fun and dependable car
Skoda's version of the Volkswagen up! is another great used option for a first car. Cheap to insure, surprisingly spacious, reliable and more dynamic to drive than you might think, the Citigo (2012-19) is available second-hand for less than £2,000. However, we'd recommend spending closer to £3,500-£4,000 on a low mileage example with a full service history.
Ford Ka - the shoestring option
If money is really tight, you might only be able to scrape together as little as £1,000. There are plenty of options available even at that price and the Mk1 Ford Ka should be high up your shortlist. Built between 1996-2008, it was a first car favourite of its day and still looks good now. Cheap to run and maintain, nimble around town and fun to drive, there are still some cherished low mileage bargains out there.
Kia Picanto - peace of mind car
Low insurance costs are a must when you've only just passed your driving test, so city cars with small engines such as the cute Picanto are ideal. The bonus when buying a Kia is they come with an excellent seven-year new car warranty, so even if you buy second-hand, you're likely to have some extra peace of mind because the remaining warranty is transferred.
Vauxhall Corsa - three-in-one newcomer
Many new drivers will have had their lessons in a Vauxhall Corsa. After all, it's been one of the UK's most popular cars since its launch in 1993. The all-new fifth generation model is the best yet and it's available with a choice of petrol and diesel engines, plus a 100% electric version. The EV has a 209-mile range and is smooth, swift, well equipped and great value.
Fiat 500 - the retro car
On sale since 2008, the funky Fiat 500 has now been replaced by a pure electric version, but older petrol-powered examples are definitely worth considering as second-hand buys.
Oozing retro chic, it's aged really well. In fact, some early examples on the road look almost as good as new. It's a squeeze in the back, but still fun and cheap to run. There are plenty about, so choose one with with low miles and a solid service history and expect to pay at least £2,500.
Hyundai i10 - second-hand star
Hyundai's little gem has been a top city car choice ever since the first-generation went on sale in 2007. The latest model has just been launched and is better than ever, but the Mk2 (pictured) made between 2014-2020 is a great used buy. Stylish, surprisingly spacious, refined and economical. it's an ideal first car. Get searching online because around £4,000 will buy you a very decent low mileage i10.
Volkswagen e-Up! - electric choice
The up! started off life as a frugal petrol-powered city car back in 2013, offering an entertaining, economical drive and more space than you might think. Fast forward to 2021 and the pure electric version (the e-up!) has an increased range of 159 miles, plus the latest tech and driver assistance goodies.
Now offering even more whisper-quiet fun, it's agile and easy to drive because like all EVs, there are no manual gears - just slip it into Drive and go!
Suzuki Ignis - the leftfield selection
Let's finish with Suzuki’s quirky and very capable mini urban crossover. Great value, nippy and with more space inside than you might think, you can even choose a four-wheel drive version for extra peace of mind when the going gets tough.
Its efficient 1.2-litre mild hybrid petrol engine can return up to 55.7mpg, while CO2 emissions are a low 114g/km.
Like this story? Sign up to our newsletter to get other stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.