Feature article

The best options for a first car in NZ

Choosing the most suitable first car, for yourself or a loved one, is a big decision. We’ll help you get it right.

Some things in life we never forget: our first kiss, where we were when the All Blacks won the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and our first car. These are pivotal, unforgettable moments, and while that first kiss might have been rather naive and sloppy, it’s vital we choose our first car with a little more expertise.

Whether you’re buying the car for yourself, or equipping one of your offspring with their first vehicle, we’ll help you understand the best options available in NZ. From safety to model types, and cars within a sensible first time buyer budget, we’ve got your back.

What do you really need?

While we’d all love our first car to be sleek, stylish and dazzling enough to impress our mates, in reality we need something super practical, super safe and super fuel efficient. You’ve got to learn to walk before you can run, so choosing anything too speedy, sporty or powerful for an inexperienced driver is dicing with danger.

Play it safe

Use the Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR) and Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) to ensure you know as much as possible about the potential first car. Thankfully all Trade Me car listings show the vehicle safety rating.

Unless you’re in a position to splash the cash, the reality is that you’re most likely to be browsing the used car market for a first car – making the UCSR a particularly important point of consideration when lining up your options.

Budget friendly

You’ll be delighted to learn that an affordable car can still be a safe car. The UCSR ratings confirm this. Here are some examples of budget friendly, but highly safety rated, used cars available in NZ:

This is a five star safety rated car and can be bought for less than $10,000 – so, while it’s reasonably affordable, it’s likely at the top end of a first car buying budget. If your finances can stretch a little further, it’s well worth considering.

With its five star safety rating, combined with wide availability for less than $5,000, this car offers a good combination of safety and affordability. What the Barina lacks in sleek looks or cool factor, it makes up for in safety credentials and budget friendliness.

Three star safety rated, widely available in NZ and for $5,000 or less, the Honda Jazz is likely to feature highly in any consideration of sensible first car options. Noteworthy for having a very decent cargo volume capacity, the Jazz is a great choice if you’re likely to need good storage space, in a small car.

You can get a Yaris for around $5,000 and it’s got a good safety rating of three stars. A tidy little hatchback, the Yaris offers the first time driver security and reasonable comfort in an affordable package.

This generation of the hugely popular Demio car series, also known as the Mazda2, gets a safety friendly three star rating, and is available for around $5,000. Compact and, if this sort of thing matters to you, a little more cool looking than some of the other options listed here, the Demio is likely to appeal to a lot of first time car owners.

What else do you need to consider?

These are five excellent safe and affordable first car options, but there are heaps more worthy of your consideration – whether a Volkswagen Golf or an Audi A4, you’ve got choices. You just need to do your research, and get busy searching!

Once you’ve zoned in on your preferred choice of first car, make sure to perform the following checks on the vehicle:

Background Check

  • Comes as standard on a Trade Me car listing and gives you enhanced buyer confidence by empowering you with knowledge on the vehicle history: stolen vehicle status, if it’s a damaged import, or has been re-registered.

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Money Owing Check

  • Ensure you’re not inheriting, or passing on to a loved one, a car with a security interest and money owing hanging over it. That would be an awful start for a first time car owner!

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Pre-purchase Car Inspection

  • We strongly advise getting a pre-purchase car inspection of any used car you’re considering buying, regardless of whether it’s your first or fifteenth. The inspection will flag-up any potential causes for concern in the condition of the vehicle, and help ensure you don’t buy a lemon.

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Look at the WoF

  • It’s also important to check that the WoF has plenty of time left on it, or you could immediately be facing expensive repair bills to make sure the car can pass its next test.

More info

Enjoy the journey

If you use this advice wisely, you should soon be snapping up the perfect first car for yourself or loved one. There’s one last thing for us to say...enjoy it! There are few things in life more memorable than the first car you own, so selecting the right one should be a magical experience. Use our buying advice to help on every step of the journey.