Often the journey to buying a first car is a family affair. You might be a parent passing down your own vehicle to your son or daughter, secretly excited that it gives you the perfect opportunity to upgrade your family car, but equally more reassured that your child will be driving a car that’s served you well over the years. Or maybe, and a little more reluctantly, you’re having to dip in to your finances to help get them on the road.

Whether you’re financially invested or not, plenty can be gained on both sides from some carefully placed guidance and advice. First car purchase decisions may seem a world away from your own experience all those years ago but although some things have changed (i.e. safety), many fundamentals remain the same.


Do you go for the cheapest car that’s available? Price is always going to be a primary factor in any first car purchase, but buying cheap can lead to issues further down the line, especially if you don’t do the necessary inspections on the vehicle first.

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to buy a new or near-new car, so if you see a competitively priced used car, do some valuation checks by purchasing a valuation report and investigate the vehicle’s maintenance schedule or look at similar vehicles on online listings.

Needs and wants

Your idea of your child’s first car is likely to be quite different to their own and so compromises might have to be made. Talk to them about what they will mainly be using the car for. If they are going to be driving to and from school and town, something smaller will usually suffice. If you live rurally or need a car to lug hefty equipment around, maybe a larger vehicle will be more practical. Together you need to decide what type of car meets their requirements and use that as a starting point.

Give thought to ongoing costs like maintenance, fuel consumption and insurance premiums – the latter will likely be much higher for drivers under the age of 25, especially if they’re after a big engine or high performance car. For that reason, starting with a newer, smaller engine makes sense.


Once the budget is set and you know what type of car you need, our guidance is to always buy the safest car you can afford. Safety ratings exist for new and used cars but, in the instance of a first time buyer’s car, it’s more likely that you’ll be looking at a slightly older vehicle.

The annual Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR) are a good source for comparison purposes. These are broken down in to the different vehicle segment categories, and provide a 1 – 5 star rating for a wide range of cars, utes and SUVs of different sizes. Viewing the 2019-2020 ratings for example, you’ll see the 2013-17 Mazda 3/Axela for a small option, or for something a bit more substantial 2010-15 Hyundai ix35 both achieved 5-star ratings.

Visit rightcar.govt.nz to find the UCSR of a car you’re interested in.

Checks and tests

When you’ve found a vehicle that’s piqued their interest, offer to go with your child to see it. More often than not, they’ll appreciate having someone experienced with them for support – even if they don’t outwardly show it.

Look at the car’s oil and coolant to see if they’re clean. Check to see if it has been well maintained and get evidence of its maintenance history. Check the tyres are of a legal tread depth, and that the dials and knobs in the cabin operate correctly.

Vehicle History Checks and Pre-Purchase Inspections

After you’ve given it a good once-over, don’t forgo the opportunity to take it out for a good test drive so you can get a gauge for how it runs and feels. Be mindful though that the current owner may not have their car insured to be driven by under 25s so it pays to check on this beforehand.

A Vehicle History Check and Pre Purchase Inspection will provide a wealth of information about a car’s background and mechanical condition and give you some great information to base your decision on.

First time buyers need good guidance - all too often the thrill of a new licence and inexperience can lead to impulse purchases and wasted money, and while we can all look back in hindsight and appreciate that feeling of excitement when you’ve just passed your test, we can also provide some objectivity.

Careful thought and stretching your budget as far as it can go to get a reasonably safe vehicle can pay dividends in the future.

AA Insurance logo

AA Insurance offer three different levels of car insurance, so you can choose the best cover for your needs and budget - Comprehensive, Third Party, Fire & Theft, and Third Party.

If you’re a personal AA Member and you can receive a discount on selected policies based on how long you’ve been a Member.

AA Money Logo

If you would like a quote on a loan with a competitive interest rate and no ongoing account fees to purchase your vehicle, apply through AA Money here*.

AA Members receive a discounted establishment fee upon providing a valid AA Membership number at the time of application and accumulate 50 cents off per litre on a one-time fuel purchase up to 50L through AA Smartfuel.

*Normal lending criteria, terms, conditions and fees apply.

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