First cars for teenagers
Everyone remembers their first car. Follow our guide and pick from the best starter-wheels for young drivers
Nothing beats the thrill of driving your own car, alone, and for the first time. And when you’ve just turned 17, passing your test means the world.
When that’s done it’s, often as not, down to parents to choose and buy a first car. For them, it must be cheap, cost pennies to run, be tough, safe and in one of the lowest insurance groups. And, most of all, it has be ‘cool’ in its driver’s eyes.
A six- or seven-year-old Renault Megane ticks the right boxes for a parent. It’s inexpensive to buy - £2000 gets a good 2001 car from a dealer. It’s safe – a four-star Euro NCAP occupant safety rating sees to that. Get one with a 1.4 engine and it’s economical and sits within insurance group 4 – a low rating. But for most teenagers, it just won’t do. It’s the car your gran drives and, for that reason, way uncool.
So let’s move quickly to the cars that have teen wow-factor. First, there’s the Ford Fiesta. There are thousands for sale at any time and prices run from £1000 for a sound S- or T-plate car to £7000 for a barely-used one. An all-new Fiesta is weeks away from beginning sale. That makes the existing one cheaper – they’re fantastic value now.
What makes them such a hit with kids? They’re easy to drive, spacious enough to cram four mates in, and have an OK image, particularly if you go for a Zetec, the one that packs sporty trim and alloy wheels as standard. Luckily for you, this was the top-selling Fiesta, so used ones are on sale everywhere. Find one with a 1.25 engine and you’ve a cracking little car that’s as cheap as it gets. A four-star crash safety rating allays parents’ fears, while group 3 insurance is keen.
If that dsn’t suit, look across to Ford’s biggest rival, Vauxhall, and there’s a car we will make your teen smile – we promise.
It’s the Corsa. Not just any Corsa, mind. It has to be the one made 2000-2007 and it must be an SXi. This car has an insurance-friendly 1.2-litre engine that’ll return an easy 40mpg and looks sporty inside and out. Alloy wheels, a silver-finish dash and a CD player are all standard. Again, it scores four crash protection stars from Euro NCAP and it also has three three-point seat belts in the back, a safety feature not all rivals offer.
About £2500 buys an X-reg SXi, while £5000 buys a pristine 15,000-miler on 55-reg, making it two years old. Get one in black and they’ll be grateful forever. Don’t get any old Corsa, though, because other 1.2s look boring, while the 1.0 is painfully slow.
If neither of these hit the spot, how about a Clio? The 2001-2006 version of this Renault is a peppy, likeable car, produced in a spread of teen-friendly special models, like the Billabong and the Extreme. These add jazzy interiors and alloy wheels to the regular models but the engines are standard so the insurance stays affordable. In keeping with Renault’s strong safety reputation, the Clio scores four stars from Euro NCAP. Go for one with the zippy 1.2 16v engine, or else choose a 1.5 diesel. A Y-reg Extreme can cost as little as £2k, while a two-year old 1.2 Billabong will run to £5k.
Then there’s the 206, Peugeot’s answer to the Clio. This is a sweet-riding, in demand supermini. Watch, though, if your son or daughter is tall, because the 206’s off-centre pedals and steering mayn’t be for them. That aside, the 206 is another Euro NCAP four-starrer, so it’s safe enough, it’s also inexpensive to run, and 1.1 or 1.4-engined models aren’t too painful to insure. Go for a special edition, like the Look, or else an LX model, which’ll have electric windows and central locking.
Now that we’ve suggested which models to check, let’s talk insurance. The blunt facts are that new drivers crash and the younger they are, the more likely that that’ll happen. No wonder that the first year’s premium for your just-driving teen could easily cost as much as the car itself. And don’t think you can dodge this by insuring the car yourself and putting your child as a named driver. Insurers got wise to this years back and your premium will shoot up.
Besides, your son or daughter needs to try for their own no-claims discount. One way to ease the price pain is for your kid to take Pass Plus. This is a course of extra lessons for new drivers. It’s offered by many driving instructors, who also issue a ‘pass’ certificate when the pupil’s ready. Most insurers will grant the equivalent of two years’ no-claims to any driver who has this.
Another tip is to use a company that awards no-claims bonuses after six months, instead of a year. And, whatever you do, ring every insurer and go online, too. Prices vary hugely, so the more quotes you see, the better.
If you’ve the budget to buy new, go for a model that’s offering a year’s insurance for free. Watch the small print, though, because the offer may be restricted to over-21s.
Last and most important, is mechanical safety. To ensure this, buy from a local dealer that’s been trading for years and is well liked. Then get the car checked before you buy, either using the inspection services that the AA and RAC provide, or by paying a local mechanic to look it over and give an opinion.