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Evolution of the first car - 49% of Brits buy a brand new or ‘nearly new’ motor

Sports cars, 4x4s and even convertibles are popular first car choices for many nowadays

First cars

The ‘first car’ that motorists are driving today is very different to previous generations - with the humble runaround a thing of the past for most, according to new research. 

Our research - based on responses from over 2,000 drivers - shows how the ‘first car' has changed rapidly in recent years.

Today, the average first car (bought in the past 12 months) costs a significant £6,600 and is just four years old. In fact, 27% of new drivers now step into a brand new motor as their very first car, while a further 22% get a ‘nearly new’ vehicle less than a year old.  

In the 2000s, just 12% got a brand new vehicle as their first car and in the ‘80s the figure was just 5%.  

The average age of a first car has changed from 7.2 years in the ‘90s and 6.7 years in the 2000s to just 4.3 years today. This is reflected in changes to the average spend for a first car buyer - which was £1,980 in the ‘90s and £1,266 in the ‘80s. 

End of the runaround? 

In the 1990s, 59% of drivers described their first car as an ‘inexpensive runaround’, but today just a quarter (26%) do. Instead, 37% of today’s first-car buyers get a ‘nice, newer hatchback’, while 11% go for a sports car or coupé. Five per cent even opt for a 4x4 or convertible as their very first car. 

Buyers today also expect the latest tech in their very first motor - 22% want a flashy touchscreen display, while heated seats (18%) and a car that can park itself (9%) are also popular. This wishlist is very different from previous generations. In the ‘90s, a tape deck (30%) was a must-have, alongside an ashtray (17%). In the ‘80s, only 10% even cared about whether there were seat belts in the back! 

Perhaps the biggest generational change is the rise of electric cars and automatic gearboxes. Less than half of first-time car buyers (46%) now opt for a manual, petrol-powered vehicle. 

Automatics (either petrol or diesel) are chosen by 30% of buyers and one in 20 (5%) go for an EV or hybrid. This is a huge departure from previous generations - in the 2000s, 86% of people had a petrol manual as their first car, in the ‘90s it was 94%, and in the ‘80s it was 96%. 

Why are Brits spending so much - and how are they affording it? 

More than half of people are 20 or younger when they get their first car - and many of these younger buyers are spending big. A quarter (25%) of those under the age of 25 got a brand new car for their first vehicle - raising the question of how many are paying for it.  

Many are getting help from their parents. Half of those aged 25 or under who got their first car in the past year (48%) had a financial contribution from their parents to buy it, while 16% say their parents paid for it entirely. 

Many also had indirect parental help - 67% of those aged under 30 years old who spent £10k or more on their first car say they still lived at home with their parents at the time. In fact, over a third of drivers in this under-30 age group (36%) say they’d ‘rather have a nice car and live with their parents than have a cheap runaround and live by themselves’.

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