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Top tips on buying a car for your children

Last updated: 22/04/2022 | Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Your child has just passed their driving test, and you’ve decided to help them buy a set of wheels. You’re not alone: one in six UK parents help their child purchase their first car, contributing an average of 45% of the total cost, according to a survey from Parkers.

If you contribute financially, you can influence the vehicle your child gets and ensure they won’t pester you to borrow your car every weekend.

But what should you look for in your child’s first car? The best vehicles for young drivers are affordable to buy, cheap to run and insure, and fitted out with the latest safety features.

In This Guide:

Set a budget

Your first task when purchasing a new car is to set a budget: not just for the purchase of the vehicle but also for its running costs. While you might be covering the upfront costs, your child will likely be responsible for the daily costs.

How much does each of you want to spend? You don’t want to splash out tens of thousands of pounds on a car for a teenager, and that teenager doesn’t want to be pouring all their money into the petrol tank or becoming a regular at the local repair shop.

Often, you’ll need to strike a balance between the purchase price and ongoing costs. The cheapest cars to buy are older used models but their poor mileage, high road tax, and potentially costly faults mean they can be costly to run.

Conversely, electric vehicles have the cheapest running costs, but you’ll have to spend at least £20,000 to buy one and the used market for these zero-carbon options is still minuscule.

Here are the costs to consider when setting your budgets:

  • Purchase price: New cars are the most expensive. But as a buyer looking for a bargain you can take advantage of the rapid depreciation of the value of cars. You may be able to find a three-year-old model for just 60% of the retail price. Used cars usually aren’t eligible for car finance, but teenagers typically can’t qualify for these payment plans anyway.
  • Fuel costs: Cars with good fuel economy can run further on a single tank of gas or petrol. Consider how much your child will be driving each month and how often they’ll have to hit the petrol station. 
  • Road tax: also called Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), an annual tax paid based on the carbon emissions of the vehicle. Older used vehicles can be heavily polluting and cost you hundreds annually in road tax.
  • Insurance costs: Affordable, smaller vehicles are cheaper to insure than the high-powered, attention-grabbing sports cars and SUVs that probably appeal to your teen. With insurance premiums for young drivers so high, choosing a car in a low insurance group is crucial and can save you hundreds each year.
  • MOT: Cars over three years old face an annual MOT, a test of roadworthiness. While the test itself is price-capped at £54.85, it may expose faults with the vehicle you’re required to address, sometimes at great expense.

Read up on car safety ratings and tech

20% of new drivers will be involved in an accident in their first year of driving, road safety charity Brake notes. To ensure your child isn’t among them, and to protect them and their passengers if they do have an accident, you want a vehicle with superb safety credentials and state of the art collision avoidance technology.

Most vehicles sold in the UK will have ratings from Euro NCAP, the European New Car Assessment Programme. The programme subjects cars to a battery of tests, many replicating real-life accident scenarios. 

Cars receive a percentage score for their performance in four assessment categories: the protection of adult occupants of the vehicle (both the driver and passenger), the protection of child occupants, the protection of vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists), and the presence of driver-assist technologies, from seatbelt reminders to autonomous emergency braking systems. Those scores contribute to a star rating of one (least safe) to five (most safe).

Cars with five-star Euro NCAP ratings that are popular for young drivers include:

  • Skoda Fabia
  • Ford Fiesta
  • Renault Clio
  • Volkswagen Polo 

Safety features will contribute to a car’s overall Euro NCAP rating, but you might want to put the following technologies on your wish list:

  • Automatic emergency braking (AEB): Senses potential collisions and if the driver doesn’t react quickly enough, automatically starts braking.
  • Adaptive cruise control: A feature on most new cars; uses sensors and radars to detect the distance of the car ahead and maintains that distance by automatically accelerating or braking.
  • Lane departure warning: Sounds a warning when the vehicle strays out of its lane.
  • Lane-keeping assist system: A step beyond lane departure warnings, these systems can steer the vehicle back into the centre of the lane.

Safety concerns may encourage you to buy a vehicle fresh from the assembly line rather than a used model, despite the extra cost. New cars employ the latest security features and haven’t experienced the wear and tear and uncertain histories of used models.

Consider the vehicle’s environmental impact

Many young people are concerned about global heating and their carbon footprint and might prefer a low-emissions vehicle. Cleaner vehicles are also cheaper to run, using less fuel to travel further, and don’t incur the penalties (high road tax, penalties in low emissions zones in city centres) that more polluting models do.

For more insight into which specific car models are the best options for young drivers, check out our guide on the best cars for new drivers.

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