A student’s guide to getting your first car

The student’s car. It’s usually small, cheap, probably has a top speed of 40mph and might just break down every now and then. Often loved beyond its worth, the student car is the great symbol of independence and the trusty cart horse that transports you, and all your worldly possessions, up and down the motorway each year.

But actually, a tight budget doesn’t have to mean an old banger. With some smart thinking, you could be making the same journeys and the same brilliant memories in a decent, reliable car. Perhaps even one that’s brand new. Certainly one that makes it all the way to university in one piece, and reaches motorway speed without feeling like you’re in a go-cart. Whatever your preference, there are a number of ways to get your first set of wheels.

One option is to buy second-hand via a listings website. Some cars go for just a few hundred pounds – though many of these will need a fair amount of money spent on initial repairs. Check the mileage, check the date of the next MOT, ask to see service records and make sure you look at the condition of the tyres. If the treads have worn down it can cost a few hundred pounds to replace them all; bald tyres are not road-worthy.

There is a lot to be wary about when buying a second-hand car – you might end up driving something like Simon’s yellow Cinquecento from The Inbetweeners – but equally there can be a lot to be gained. Do some research and go to look at the car before you hand over any money. Feel confident about asking questions and even negotiating if you feel it’s not worth the money being asked. There are some great advice guides available to help you through the process - we particularly like this one at MoneySavingExpert.com.

One way of getting your hands on a brand-new car is by leasing. For a flat monthly fee, you can lease, or basically rent, a car that has come straight from the manufacturers. The car should come with a full warranty and many contracts will include breakdown cover, road tax, maintenance costs and MOTs. Because they are new, the cars are also up to current safety standards.

The cost needn’t be high; you’ll find small cars available for just over £100 a month which are perfect for students. What about a Fiat 500 for £115.42 a month? Or a Dacia Sandero for £106.36? If you want something particularly fancy you could spend a bit more and get an Alfa Romeo Mito for £199.19 a month. All of those cars feature within the range offered by Nationwide Vehicle Contracts. What’s more, the entire ordering process – from choosing your car, finalising the spec and filling in the finance application – is done online and the car will be delivered to your door.

Though leasing is often a cheaper funding solution to buying a new car with a bank loan or on dealer finance, the difference is that you never get to actually own it. “It’s a bit like a mobile phone contract in that you have the car for a couple of years, then give it back and get an upgraded model,” says Donna Kelly from Nationwide Vehicle Contracts. “It allows you to change.”

Most leasing companies will ask for an initial rental fee, which can be three, six, nine or twelve months’ worth of the contract amount. This means that while an initial cash outlay is needed, you don’t have to have quite as much money in the bank as you would if you were actually buying.

If neither of those options appeal and you are in the happy situation of having some cash in the bank, then you could go to a dealership and buy a car in the traditional way. Talk to a sales person, go for a test drive and choose your specifications. You’ll have a wide choice of vehicles to choose from, with full service histories and warranties.

Unless you have a lot of money in the bank it’s probably best not to buy brand new. New cars depreciate the moment they are driven off the forecourt. Instead, look for something one or two years old. A Fiat 500 that is a couple of years old with low mileage will cost around £9,000. Brand new it can cost about £11,600. Unless you have the money to buy it outright then one of the perks with buying from a dealership is the various financing options available. This isn’t necessarily the cheapest way of buying a car, but it means you can avoid paying out a huge lump sum, and you get to own the car at the end of it.

Find out more about Nationwide Vehicle Contracts here.