How to pick the best car for your son or daughter

How to pick the best car for your son or daughter

A hasty scan through the car adverts in the local paper is usually all that's needed for a parent to decide that an 'old banger' is the best option for their child. There is a theory that inexperienced drivers are more likely to be in an accident, therefore they're better off driving a cheap little run around until they are confident enough to step up to a better vehicle.

However, buying cheaply isn't always the best bet when it comes to safety. Over half of young drivers under 21 spend less than £500 on their first set of wheels*, but these often won't include nifty modern safety features - and if you're an inexperienced driver, this is when you need them the most.

Once again, the statistics bear this out:

Young drivers account for more than two in five road deaths in the UK

It's also not true that more expensive cars are necessarily more expensive to insure. Insurance premiums are worked out on the risk of the damage or, more often, the human casualties. Personal injury accounts for the majority of motor claim pay-outs, rather than vehicle repairs. Why? Well, surgeons charge a lot more per hour than car mechanics - and replacement parts are a lot harder to come by. Parents should do everything they can to give their children the best chance of staying in one piece by buying a safe, road-worthy vehicle.

So, what sort of car should you buy? A newer model will do the job nicely if you've got the money, and Euro NCAP (euroncap.com) is an independent group that tests the safety performance of some of the most popular cars sold in Europe. But regardless of whether you opt for a new or used model, there are a number of increasingly available safety features that are worth looking out for:

  • Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) - prevents the wheels from locking while braking
  • Airbags - these inflate instantly in the event of a crash and help to prevent serious injuries. The more the car's got, the better
  • Headrests - these are a legal necessity, but you must ensure that they are positioned correctly (the top should be level with the top of your head) to be effective
  • Stability Control (ESC) - helps to control the vehicle when it starts to slide
  • Traction control - prevents the wheels from spinning on slippery ground

Buying a first car for your son or daughter

When it comes to buying a second-hand car, you need to get the best for your budget. Here are some tips on making the right choice:

  • Set your budget. Buy a used car price guide so you can check the market price.
  • Choose your seller. Buying from a dealer will be more expensive than a private sale but less risky. Most dealers provide a warranty and service the cars before you drive away.
  • Take a test drive and try to cover both town driving and faster open roads. Check the steering, brakes and gears, listening for any odd noises as you drive. If you're buying privately, get the owner to take you out.
  • Test the electrics. As a minimum, make sure the lights, electric windows, wipers and horn work properly, but try to test all dashboard and steering controls 5. Examine the bodywork and tyres for rust, dents and tyre tread. Beware of any discoloured panels, which may point to a previous repair.
  • Read the paperwork. Make sure the service history, MOT, chassis number and mileage match. Check the log book (or V5) is in the owner's name
  • Before you buy, get a car data check - RAC and HPI offer these - this will tell you if a used car has been stolen, written off or has outstanding finance
  • Don't buy a car from a private seller in a public place - view it at their home so you can see the address matches the V5 owner's document.
  • Finally, avoid being pressured into buying a used car. If you're not 100% sure, walk away - there will always be more to see

And while looks are important to many car buyers (a third of us choose a car on style), tactfully steer your young driver away from a cool looking 'modified' model. Yes, spoilers, blacked-out windows and hefty exhausts are unfathomably alluring to the average young person, but they indicate that the car's been driven hard by the previous owner, and begs the question of whether the car is actually road-worthy. As tempting as it can be, most insurers won't accept cars with modifications and if they do, the insurance premium could be higher.

It'll take a bit of breakfast-table negotiation to get there, but take the time to choose a suitable car with your son or daughter and bear in mind that safety should guide the decision-making process. If you can only afford an old banger, at the very least invest in new brakes and tyres. They might just save your child's life.

It's also very worthwhile getting a Vehicle Inspection done on any car that you are considering purchasing. It will give you peace of mind that your son or daughter is at least starting off driving a safe vehicle.

*Research commissioned by Aviva with 500 17 - 21 year old drivers, October 2009

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