Learning to drive can be an expensive affair and after the cost of driving lessons and tests there’s often not much money left, that’s why finding a good, cheap first car is very important to most new drivers.
When picking cheap first cars there are two main points to consider. Firstly and most importantly, there’s insurance costs. Insuring a first car, even a cheap one, can be painfully expensive if you pick the wrong vehicle. Read up on car insurance groups and pick a car with as low a grouping as possible. The cars in low groups may not be the fastest, newest or most fashionable, but they’ll save you money.
Secondly, consider the reliability of the car. Older vehicles aren’t going to be as reliable as brand new ones, so pick carefully. You probably won’t be able to get full service history and super-low mileage when shopping for cheap first cars. However, you should be able to shop around for the lower mileage models and find well-loved vehicles with part service history. The more you know about the background of the car, the better.
PassSmart’s top ten first cars for under £1000.
On Autotrader: 2002 1.3i Collection model in silver with 12 months tax and MOT and only 43,000 miles. £999. Insurance group: 10/50
The cheap and cheerful Ford Ka is one of Ford’s more characterful offerings, with unusual styling and fun, nimble handling. The basic models are cheap to insure but lack the bells and whistles that you might find on brand-new vehicles. However, the Ka’s 1.3 engine gives you a little bit more oomph than you’d get from smaller-engined alternatives.
On Autotrader: 2001 1.1 Independence model in blue with 5 months tax, 11 months MOT, upgraded stereo and 67,000 miles on the clock. £999. Insurance group: 7/50
When writing a list of cheap first cars, you simply have to include the plucky little 106. Given the basic model’s title of ‘Independence’, it’s clear that Peugeot had the young driver market in mind when designing this little supermini. Aspiring boy racers in-particular will enjoy the similarities between the 106 and the far trendier Citroen Saxo. The only difference? The 106 is often cheaper to insure.
On Autotrader: 2000 1.25 LX model in silver with full MOT, 6 months tax, part service history and 86,000 miles on the clock. £999. Insurance group: 11/50
The Ford Fiesta has been a popular first car pretty much since it first rolled off the production line in the 1970s. There are dozens of versions of the Fiesta available, from little-engined runarounds to sporty XR2is. When shopping for cheap first cars, remember the rule about insurance groups and keep the engine as small as possible, don’t be tempted by the sporty or luxury models.
On Autotrader: 1999 1.1 L model in silver with 11 months MOT, six months tax, part service history and 68,000 miles. £999. Insurance group: 7/50
Designed to compete with the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, the 206 is apparently Peugeot’s best-selling car of all time. This means that there are plenty of examples out there at good prices. Shop around for the lowest mileage example you can find.
On Autotrader: 2002 1.0 Tempest model in blue with six months tax and MOT and 46,000 miles. £1,000. Insurance group: 7/50
It may not be particularly stylish, but the Nissan Micra is a common choice when shopping for cheap first cars. There are plenty of models out there, but be sure that the one you choose has power steering: it was an option extra up until 1998.
On Autotrader: 1998 1.2 16v Breeze model in silver with six months tax and MOT, sunroof, recent service, part service history and 51,500 miles. £999. Insurance group: 7/50
In 1993, the iconic Vauxhall Nova evolved into the Vauxhall Corsa, a phenomenally popular supermini which, if you stick to the smaller-engined models, makes an excellent cheap first car. Corsas make such popular first cars that you have to be careful when buying a used one. Make sure that you don’t buy an example which has been abused by over enthusiastic boy racers.
On Autotrader: 2001 1.2 Authentique model in green with 12 months MOT, 3 months tax and 79,000 miles. £999. Insurance group: 5/50
The Renault Clio has been one of the best-selling cars in Europe since it launched in 1990. Stick to the small-engined models and avoid any of the many sporty special editions (especially the gaudy Clio Williams) and the Clio will reward you with cheap insurance and a comfy, if a little cheap-looking, cabin.
On Autotrader: 1991 1.0 Mayfair model in red with 3 months tax and MOT, folder of recent maintenance receipts and 62,000 miles on the clock, £1,195. Insurance group: 2/50
The BMW-made new Minis haven’t quite made it down to the cheap first car end of the used car market yet, but the classic Rover Minis make a brilliant alternative. Small (easy to park), amazingly good fun to drive,and cheap to run and insure, the Rover Mini is a great cheap first car if you’re willing to put in the extra maintenance time that all older cars require.
On Autotrader: 1998 1.0 L model in green with 7 months MOT, 1 month tax and 72,000 miles on the clock. £895. Insurance group: 7/50
The Volkswagen Polo’s posh-feeling cabin, high build quality and simple, inoffensive styling make it popular with everyone from young drivers to young drivers’ grandparents. You may have to settle for an older model with more miles on the clock than you’d have to with other vehicles on this list, but the Polo’s a well-made little car and a few extra miles shouldn’t cause you much bother if you buy a well looked-after example.
On Autotrader: 2001 1.0 12v model in red with six months tax and MOT and 69,000 miles on the clock. £990. Insurance group: 5/50
If you’re looking for a cheap first car with serious road trip potential, consider the Vauxhall Agila. With loads of space, decent fuel economy and a certain boxy charm which grows on you over time, the Agila is perfect for any young driver who needs the extra space. Ignore what Clarkson has to say about it, it’s not as if he spends much time shopping for first cars on a tight budget.
Special mention: Volkswagen Beetle
On Autotrader: 1975 1303 model in red and silver with 9 months tax and MOT, 67,000 miles. £1100. Insurance group: 4/50
The classic VW Beetle is an instantly recognisable design classic that is one of the cheapest cars for young drivers to insure. Sadly, it’s getting harder and harder to find decent quality examples at sensible prices. However, it’s not impossible to find a bargain if you’re willing to put in the hours on Autotrader, eBay and specialist forums like Volkszone. Just be sure to remember that cars as old as the classic Beetle require a lot more regular maintenance than modern vehicles.