Buying your first car is daunting but there are ways to avoid the potholes en route, writes Daniel McConnell
THERE is one equation that every teenager knows, even if they bombed their Leaving Cert maths exam, and that is: car = freedom. Whether it is granny's old Ford Fiesta or a little sporty number which takes off like a rocket bought for your 18th birthday, the feeling is still the same.
Getting your first car is a monumentally big deal in any young person's life: the roar of the engine, the independence to do your own thing, having wheels to impress that girl.
But that dream of the open road does not come cheap, nor is it quickly achieved.
Some are lucky enough to get granny's old car – one careful owner and still in mint condition – but the majority of first-time drivers are relegated to driving cars whose best days are behind them.
The last thing you want to do is to buy a car that used to be two cars and is now held together by sticky tape. But first-time buyers are the most exposed to such treachery as they tend to be buying the oldest, cheapest cars and often from sources that are difficult to track down later. Here are some tips to help you get on the road.
Decide on how much you can spend and do your research: First of all, you will have to decide how much you will have to spend. If style or street credibility are not your priorities, then you can be on the road for a few hundred euro.
Spend time on carzone.ie and other car dealer websites to get an idea of what you are comfortable with. Opel Corsas, Ford Fiestas, Nissan Micras, Peugeot 206s and VW Polos are the standard bearers for beginners, but there is nothing to say you cannot be more adventurous.
Go for lower engine sizes: The bigger the engine, the more your insurance and tax will be. Look for cars with engine sizes lower than 1.2 litres.
Check out who you're buying from: A good bet is to buy from recognised SIMI (Society of the Irish Motor Industry) dealers, as your options post-sale are generally better in terms of warranties and servicing. Private sales may allow more room to haggle over price, and many go well, but some can be fraught with difficulty.
Get a mechanic to help you out: If you opt for a private sale, take the precaution of having a mechanic check out the car before you hand over any cash. Most mechanics are happy enough to help out for a small fee, and the peace of mind is invaluable. Having personally learned the hard way from not doing this, any short-term inconvenience is worth it in the long run.
Also, demand a full service history from the seller. If they can't provide one, then the car may well be dodgy. Also any absence of NCT documentation is another tell-tale sign of a bogey.
Be realistic in your expectations: A car with 100,000 miles on it is going to have some wear and tear; just ensure the thing is roadworthy.
Lower your insurance and tax: Since 2008, a new motor tax regime exists for new cars, based on CO2 emissions. Under the current road tax regime, a pre-2008 one litre car, for example, will cost you €278 a year in road tax while a post-2008 car is €160. But most first-timers will be driving older cars so you are more likely to be hit for the higher tariff.
When it comes to your insurance, the best thing to do is shop around. As a first-time driver, you are high risk and will be charged more for your insurance. But there are a number of tips to help reduce your costs.
Jo Fernandez of Chill.ie said: "If you have an existing motor or home policy, we will happily give you generous discounts on a second policy if you are eligible. Also, if you have a second car in your house (such as a partner's car), or an experienced driver like a parent, let us know as their experience can help save you money."
Get your licence: Before you become the highway's latest broken hero on a last-chance power drive, you must get authority by way of licence to operate your vehicle of choice.
The first thing to do is to apply for what is a Driving Theory Test. This is a computer-based test in which you are asked the rules of the road, good behaviour habits and things to watch out for when you are driving. You are asked 40 questions in 45 minutes and you have to get at least 35 correct to pass. While it is €45 to take the test, to obtain the manuals and guides as to how to take the test you have to part with between €18 and €36. On passing your theory test, you must head down to the local motor tax office and apply for your Learner's Permit, which costs €15.
But that is not your last tango with bureaucracy. To get your permit, you need to have a current passport or birth certificate as well as medical clearance form from your GP (€55) plus an eyesight clearance form from the optician (€15/€20).
Once received, you must hold your permit for at least six months before you can do your full test. Following a rule change in 2011, to qualify for your test you must now have had at least 12 one-hour lessons known as Essential Driving Training (EDT). You must also name an experienced driver as your sponsor.
Your progress is logged by your recognised instructor who sends on your information to the Road Safety Authority. To complete the EDT, you could fork out anywhere between €300 and €375.
Once the EDT is completed, you can then apply for your full test. Waiting times have been reduced, with the average now between one and two months, depending on where you live. The cost of the full test is €85.
Congratulations, you have passed your driving test, but you are still not there yet. Back you go to the motor tax office to process your full licence document. A one-year driving licence costs €5; a three-year driving licence costs €15 and a 10-year driving licence costs €25. Now, at long last, the open road is all yours. You've paid enough for the privilege, so enjoy yourself!