Many new cars may be available with affordable finance options nowadays but they can still be pretty expensive to buy for young new drivers – especially if they aren’t able to get financial help from parents. This is even before you start factoring in additional costs such as insurance, which tends to be very high for motorists who have recently passed their driving tests.
Your car-owning dreams needn’t be dashed if you can’t afford something new, as there are many great options to choose from if you go down the used car route. Granted, they won’t feel factory fresh inside, but a used car should be more affordable to buy than a brand-new car, which is especially handy if you’re on a tight budget. Depending on the age and spec of car you’re looking at, it may also be fitted with a decent amount of tech and safety assistance.
Best first cars
Below are 10 examples of second-hand alternatives that will be ideal first cars for new drivers. While our picks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, they’re all small cars with light controls, so they’re easy to drive and won’t be intimidating for motorists who haven’t had a full driving licence for very long. Our picks are also of used cars that are either still on sale brand new or have only recently gone out of production, so you won’t be sacrificing too much in the way of tech and safety equipment.
Running costs will be kept low too, as all of our choices are available with small and economical engines. Perhaps most importantly, all 10 of our top used cars for new drivers sit in very low insurance groups, which will help make your first-year insurance premiums much easier to afford.
The Volkswagen up! is already a great new car for drivers who’ve just passed their test, so it’s no surprise to see it’s also a top choice as a used buy. While the little 1.0-litre engine needs to be worked hard to get up to speed on dual carriageways, it’s got more than enough power for fresh-faced drivers (especially if they’ll spend a lot of time driving around town).
Running costs should be pretty affordable, thanks to the car’s low annual tax rates and good fuel economy. Insurance premiums won’t cost too much either, as all versions of the VW up! sit in very low insurance groups.
If you need a bit more space from your first car, then the Ford Fiesta is definitely one to have on your radar. Even if you don’t need the extra room, it’s still a great car to consider. While bigger than city cars like the VW up!, the Ford is still very manoeuvrable and easy to drive, and the low insurance groups mean you won’t be stung by massive insurance bills.
Also, because the Ford Fiesta has long been one of the UK’s most popular new cars, it means plenty have also filtered down to the used market – finding a second-hand Fiesta in your preferred colour and spec shouldn’t be tricky.
The previous generation Dacia Sandero once held the distinction of being the most affordable new car you can buy in the UK, and it’s even more affordable as a used buy. Because it’s a no-frills budget car, the Sandero is pretty sparse in comparison with other superminis (entry-level Access cars go without air-conditioning and a radio, for instance), though the sparse kit list does at least help keep the insurance premiums down.
Go for versions with the 0.9-litre turbo-petrol engine and it also blends decent performance with good fuel economy. The Sandero should be a pretty robust little runabout, as many of the parts are tried-and-tested in older Renault models.
Like its predecessors, the latest Skoda Fabia is a very well-rounded supermini that makes an excellent choice as a first car. The light controls and good visibility make it very easy to drive and, while the softer suspension means it isn’t quite as fun down a twisty road as a Ford Fiesta, the trade-off is a nice and comfy ride.
Running costs are reassuringly low, thanks to the good fuel economy. If you’re not planning on buying a used Skoda Fabia right away, there’ll potentially be a few more examples to choose from when you start shopping around – with the next-gen Skoda Fabia looming on the horizon, some owners will likely soon start trading in their current cars for the new version.
See the latest prices for used Skoda Fabia models on our sister site Buyacar.
City cars are great choices for drivers who’ve just passed their driving test, and one of the best you can consider is the Hyundai i10. The compact dimensions and light controls make it very easy to drive, and the economical petrol engines mean your i10 will be cheap to run, regardless of whether it has the 1.0-litre or 1.2-litre option under the bonnet.
As the Hyundai sits in low insurance groups, you shouldn’t face steep insurance costs, either. Depending on the age of the car you’re looking at, it may still have some of its warranty left, as the i10 was sold new with a five-year/unlimited-mileage warranty.
See the latest prices for used Hyundai i10 models on our sister site Buyacar.
The Volkswagen Polo is very closely related to the Skoda Fabia we featured earlier in this list, so it’s no surprise that the Polo is just as good a choice as a used first car. Like the Skoda, the VW is comfy and easy to drive, and equipment levels are pretty good regardless of the version you go for.
All of the Polo’s engine options have more than enough punch for new drivers, with the 1.0-litre turbo-petrol offering the best blend of performance and fuel economy. Stronger residual values mean a used VW Polo will tend to be more expensive to buy than an equivalent-spec Skoda Fabia, though that does mean you should get a bit more of your money back when you decide to sell the car on.
Like its Ford Fiesta rival, the previous generation Vauxhall Corsa was a very popular car when new, so you’ll have plenty of choice if you’re leaning towards a used Corsa as your first car. Even if you haven’t got your heart set on the Vauxhall, it’s still worth considering.
The low insurance group ratings will help take the sting out of the inevitably high first year insurance premiums and, while some of the Vauxhall’s rivals have more efficient engines, the Corsa is still a pretty affordable car to run. The Vauxhall won’t be an intimidating car for new drivers to get to grips with either, as the Corsa’s small size and light controls make it very easy to place on the road.
If the VW Polo and Skoda Fabia caught your eye but you’d prefer something that looks a bit sportier, then the SEAT Ibiza may be the ideal used first car for you. Like its sister cars, the Ibiza is comfy and easy to drive in town and, while it isn’t quite as dynamic to drive as those sharp looks suggest, the SEAT is still decent fun down a twisty road.
Good fuel economy means running costs are low and, if you’re willing to trade a bit of performance for lower insurance premiums, versions of the Ibiza with the entry-level 79bhp petrol engine under the bonnet sit in very low insurance groups.
See the latest prices for used SEAT Ibiza models on our sister site Buyacar.
With its distinctive face and contrasting trim accessories, the Toyota Aygo shows you don’t have to sacrifice funky looks when you’re shopping around for a used first car. The Aygo brings more to the table than just its eye-catching design too; as a small car, the Toyota is really easy to drive and park, and its peppy little 1.0-litre petrol engine means you won’t be paying a fortune in running costs either.
Like many cars of this size, the Toyota Aygo shouldn’t be too expensive to insure, as the tiny hatchback sits in equally small insurance groups.
See the latest prices for used Toyota Aygo models on our sister site Buyacar.
Like the Hyundai i10 on which it’s based, the Kia Picanto is a great choice for new drivers who are after a second-hand city car. Being so compact means the Kia is a doddle to drive, yet it’s also surprisingly spacious for a car of this size. Models with the 66hp 1.0-litre petrol engine are a particularly good pick for new drivers, as they’re very cheap to run and sit in very low insurance groups.
Perhaps the Picanto’s biggest selling point is the seven-year/100,000-mile warranty it came with from new, which means there’s the extra peace of mind of knowing you still have some manufacturer cover to fall back on if you go for a slightly older or higher mileage example.
See the latest prices for used Kia Picanto models on our sister site Buyacar.