Choosing your first car

Choosing your first car



Buying a car is a big decision, especially if you’ve never done it before. This guide will talk you through the buying process, give you advice on testing out your car and help you stay protected.

What can you afford?

There are so many costs to take into account when buying a car. There is the up-front cost but then you also need car insurance, road tax, maintenance, repairs and, of course, fuel. Work out how much you can afford but then work out a weekly/monthly budget for the running costs.


Who to buy from?

You have four main options when choosing where to buy your first car- a Franchised Dealership such as Ford, an Independent Dealership such as ‘Mike’s Autos’, auctions or a private purchase.

  • Dealerships

Franchised dealers have contracts with car manufacturers to sell new and used cars. Prices are generally more expensive at these dealerships. They are often owned by big companies and trade hard on their reputation so you often can get better after sales care. An independent dealer is normally cheaper and, as they aren’t aligned to a particular brand, there’s usually a wider choice of cars

  • Auction

Auctions can be a great place to pick up a bargain. However, quality can be inconsistent and there’s very little legal protection if your car develops serious problems. Watch out for cars displaying ‘sold as seen’. This works as a disclaimer that excludes almost all of your rights after purchase. If you’re going to an auction, we recommend taking someone who knows about cars and make sure you carefully inspect any car you’re interested in. The documents, including service history should be displayed clearly on the windscreen so make sure you go through them thoroughly before bidding.

  • Private Sale

Buying from a private seller means you will have thousands of cars to choose from and this route offers some of the biggest bargains. However, there is very little protection for you, the only requirement is that the car must be ‘as described’ and if it is being sold to be driven on the road, and it needs to be roadworthy and safe to drive.


Where you buy can have a huge impact on the price you pay, service you receive and the level of legal protection you will have. Make sure you know who you’re dealing with as well as your rights as a buyer. Ask friends and family for recommendations, look online for reviews and seller ratings.


Inspecting the car

Carry out a full inspection of the car before you buy. Again, if you’re not mechanically minded you might want to bring someone along to help you look under the bonnet. You need to make sure there are no obvious faults in the car, check safety features and electrics and certainly take the car for a test drive. This is also an opportunity to check the documentation and service history.


If you’re buying privately or at auction, you need to be extra careful. Ask the seller for the registration number, make and model and MOT test number. You can put this information into the DVLA’s vehicle enquiry service to check the details you’ve been given match the records. This should give you:

  • Colour
  • Engine size
  • Year of manufacture

You will also be able to see other legal information such as:

  • When the current vehicle tax expires
  • When the MOT expires
  • Registration date
  • SORN status

When you go to see the car, ask to see the V5C vehicle registration certificate (“log book”). Make sure it has the DVL watermark and that it matches the details you have been given about the car. You should also check the serial number. This is found in the green portion of the book and repeated at the bottom of page 1 and the top of page 2. Make sure these numbers are consistent and haven’t been changed. If the serial number is between:

  • BG8229501 - BG9999030
  • BI2305501 - BI2800000

Then the V5C and car might be stolen (the DVLA has identified these as a batch of stolen serial numbers). Stolen V5C documents are used to change the identity of stolen cars to match legitimate vehicles. Just check the number with the DVLA before you purchase the car.


You should also check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This is a unique number is a legal requirement. You should find it stamped to the chassis of the car, at the base of the windscreen, under the bonnet or under the carpet. Make sure these numbers match the description of the car.

Download and print our car inspection checklist which provides a handy list of what to look out for. If you find you’re answering “Yes” to a lot of those questions, then think very hard before buying the car.

Hopefully you now feel confident you’ll make the right decisions about your first car. For information about your payment options, go to our article on financing your first car .




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