Everything you need to know when buying a car: A checklist
This guide will help you make the right decision and avoid any disappointment,
Last updated: 18/03/2022 | Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes
Buying a car can be an exciting but also stressful time, as you navigate a world of models and trims, safety ratings and fuel economy, on-board computers and heated seats, MOT and road tax. Buying a car is probably one of the biggest purchase you’ll make and you want to get it right.
So before you rush off to the dealership, used car lot, or the pages of Auto Trader, make sure you’re prepared. Our checklist can guide you through the process of purchasing a new vehicle, whether you’re looking for a reliable second-hand car or a model fresh off the assembly line.
Your first step toward your ideal car is determining your budget. This will guide you to the correct sector of the market, whether it’s used city cars or luxury executive cars with that new car smell.
Remember that the price painted on the windscreen or quoted in the adverts isn’t the only cost you’ll face. You also need the consider the everyday running costs of the car and more occasional costs like insurance, road tax, MOT, and maintenance and repairs.
Within your price range, you’ll find hundreds of makes and models. To further narrow down your search, make a list of the features you prioritise in a car, from a spacious boot or four-wheel drive, to a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating or a slim profile perfect for urban parking.
Have a dream car? Don’t spend more than you can comfortably afford, but also don’t rule out must-have models. You can reduce the price of a vehicle by opting for a cheaper trim, for example by ditching bells and whistles like power seats and push-button ignition, or opting for a smaller engine or fewer doors.
Used vehicles are another great way to save money. Cars depreciate in value so quickly that you can snag a three-year-old car for 60% less than its original price. But be aware of pitfalls like higher road tax, lower fuel efficiency, and the potential for costly repairs. New cars also come with manufacturer’s warranties and are easier to finance, allowing you to spread out the cost into manageable amounts.
The following models are reliable favourites for new drivers. They’re all affordable, easy to drive, and have stellar safety ratings:
When buying a car, there are a few things you should double-check before you grab the keys and drive off. This is particularly true if you’re buying a used vehicle from a private seller. You don’t have much recourse if you complete the purchase and the car isn’t as described:
It’s a legal requirement to have insurance for any vehicle, even if you’ve just bought it and are driving it home.
If you want more time to find an annual policy, you can get short-term drive away insurance that covers you for the first hours or days you own the vehicle. Some dealers will try to upsell you drive away insurance, but you’re not obligated to purchase it and cover from elsewhere may be cheaper.
As a young driver, you’ll likely pay more for insurance. This is especially true if you’re under 25 and didn’t have much driving experience before purchasing your first vehicle. Young drivers can limit costs by opting for a telematics policy. These policies install a black box in your vehicle that monitors your driving and rewards good behaviour with insurance discounts.
You should also consider GAP insurance. It is common knowledge that new cars depreciate in value as soon as they are taken off the lot, and if you’re involved in an accident, your insurer will only cover the current value of your vehicle. GAP insurance is designed to cover the depreciation cost so you won’t have to pay out of your own money should something happen.
Another step you must take immediately is to pay road tax. Even if the vehicle is zero-emission and exempt, you must still register it for tax. If you’re buying the vehicle from a dealership, the car will be taxed at the point of sale. If you purchase it from a private owner, you can tax the car online with information from the logbook and should ideally do so before driving away. You can also pay road tax at Post Office locations.
When selling your old car, or part-exchanging it for a new model, you will need to inform your insurer. You can then either renew your current policy onto the new car or cancel your policy all together and get a new one.
Carrying your existing policy over will incur an admin fee of around £25 (depending on your insurer) and may end up with higher premiums depending on your insurers assessment of your new car.
Cancelling your policy can end up being cheaper, if you time it right. If you cancel during the term of your contract, you will likely have to pay a cancelation fee which will be offset by a refund for the total amount remaining on your policy (if paid annually). You will also lose your no claims bonus for that year, so it may be worth waiting until your policy is at its end before buying a new car.