Running a car comes with plenty of attractions. No more depending on your mates, no more standing in the rain at bus stops and no more waiting for trains that might never arrive. Think how much time and effort you could save.
But there’s a catch. Cars are notoriously expensive. Big bills are only ever an engine warning light away and insurance looks like a one-way ticket to bankruptcy. But it doesn’t always have to be that way.
So if you’re looking to take the plunge, here’s a few pointers that should go some way to securing your freedom without emptying your current account.
Work out what you can afford
Your first job is to work out how much you can afford to spend. All sorts of costs need to be taken into account, including fuel and tax, as well as insurance and maintenance.
We’d recommend being a bit pessimistic at this stage. It sounds awful, but it means you’ll probably have more money than expected at the end of every month. And if you don’t have a surprise surplus, at least you won’t be completely broke.
Choose the right car
The best way of keeping your costs down is to choose the right car. A flamboyant Italian convertible will ooze appeal, but they’re notorious for breaking down, guzzling fuel and inflating insurance premiums.
Before buying a car, do some research on fuel consumption, insurance prices and common faults, and try to get a feel for the car’s running costs. Price comparison sites, government data and owners’ forums are great places to start. You won’t come out with an exact figure - partly because cars have a habit of throwing curveballs - but a few hours of research could save you thousands of pounds.
Insurance is one of the biggest costs facing young drivers. A recent study found that the average first-year insurance premium for a new driver stands at £1,324, and whichever way you cut it, that’s a lot of money.
Opt for a high-tech ‘telematic’ policy, though, and you might save yourself a fortune. By using a sensor in the car, the insurer can see how safely you drive, then adjust your premium accordingly. As with pretty much everything, remember to shop around and do your research to find the best telematics system for you.
Experiment with your job title, too. If you have a part-time job, you might find that your premium changes depending on whether you describe yourself as a student or use your job title. Equally, if you don’t have a job, listing your occupation as ‘student’, rather than ‘unemployed’, might save you money. Just remember that downright lies will void your insurance.
Learn some basic maintenance skills
You won’t be able to do everything - modern cars often need specialist equipment to fix faults - but a few basic skills might help to save a few quid here and there. Learning simple tasks, such as how to check tyre pressures or top up oil and washer fluid will help your car run more efficiently and prevent unnecessary trips to the garage and. Plenty of ‘how-to’ articles and videos are available online if you need a step-by-step guide.
Find a garage you trust
Even if you swot up on car maintenance, you’ll probably need to visit a garage at some point - if only for the annual service and MOT. A good mechanic can save you a fortune and a garage you trust is worth its weight in gold, so look around a few to find one you feel comfortable with. For added peace of mind, you can find out whether it’s accredited by the Motor Ombudsman, which works as a kind of regulator for garages. And if you’re unsure about anything, don’t be afraid to ask questions. A garage with nothing to hide should be happy to answer them for you.
Don’t break the law
We might be stating the obvious here, but this is well worth remembering when you’re trying to run a car on a budget. A bus lane or parking fine will cost you the equivalent of a few of rounds at your favourite pub, which is annoying enough, but more serious offences will carry far greater penalties.
Drink-driving, speeding and using a phone will land you with an even bigger fine and penalty points on your licence. As a result, your car insurance will become more expensive and you could even lose your licence altogether.
Spend money to save money
Running a car will cost money, but don’t be tempted to cut too many corners. After all, false economies could endanger lives as well as your overdraft. Seemingly small imperfections can turn into big issues if left to their own devices, so snags with critical components such as the engine, tyres and brakes should all be fixed as quickly as possible. rather than holding off until they cause a much bigger and more expensive problem.