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First car buyer tips

School's out for summer. School's out for ever!

And now it's time to get a job, go to university and, most importantly, get your first car.

High school leavers are now facing one of the most important, daunting, yet exciting decisions of their life in buying their first car.

There are so many factors to think about: price, safety, economy, running costs, vehicle age, insurance; all on limited funds and with limited knowledge about cars, and finance.

To most young people, the most important thing is probably looks.

After all, you don't want to be spotted by all your mates in a white Camry in the drive-through at Maccas.

And who can blame you?

That's why so many young people buy old grey-import Silvias instead of Camrys. It's because they are red, they look fast and they were featured in one of the Fast and Furious movies.

However, often the car ends up spending most of its time being repaired, waiting on a part to come from Japan or simply getting it to start, steer and stop.

But is used the way to go?

There are many small new cars on the market from as low as $13,990 which have the latest modern safety features, plus advantages of new car warranties.

My first car in 1975 was a 1957 Morris Major Elite in army green with occasional windscreen wipers, stockings instead of a fan belt, a hole in the passenger seat, dubious mechanicals and copious amounts of rust.

But it cost only $400 and didn't need insuring.

You probably also have your stories of first-car lemons.

We asked around the industry for advice about buying a first car, new and used.

The best three tips were research, research and more research.

AAMI state corporate affairs manager Mike Sopinski said the first port of call should be the Office of Fair Trading website.

"Before you hit the street to look for a new or used car I'd recommend you take the time to check out the Office of Fair Trading website," he said.

"In fact, I'd say it should be compulsory for all first-time buyers as this government site provides a host of useful and easy to read information about buying a car."

Other research young buyers can use is classified ads in newspapers and on the internet.

Comparisons will give the buyer a good feel for the true price of a car.

The RACQ advises young buyers to work out what they need in a car even before they start looking for one.

Whether they ask for it or not, young buyers will certainly get a lot of advice; from friends, relatives and car salespeople.

Two Brisbane school leavers on the hunt for their first car both claim a big influence from their family, particularly their fathers.

Justine Townsend, 16, of Forest Lake, is looking at a 2000 or 2001 Honda Civic "because they are supposed to be the safest car on the road so my dad tells me".

Her father, Peter, drives a Honda Euro, which has "always been reliable".

Michael Freeleagus, 17, also of Forest Lake, goes car-shopping with his father, Leon, "because he knows a bit about cars".

"He will support my decision on a car so long as it doesn't have a big motor like a V8 or a turbo," he said.

"He also cares about the looks of the car so it doesn't attract the cops."

NRMA Insurance Queensland state manager Brett Robinson said young drivers should think about more than just look and feel.

"While many factors need to be considered when shopping around for a new car, safety and security should be the number one priority for all drivers," he said.

Townsend agrees.

There are choices people can make when buying a new vehicle that may significantly reduce their risk of injury and theft and can even result in savings when it comes to car insurance, he said.

"The most important thing is safety and that it won't break down on me because I am a girl," she said.

It seems she is not alone. A Just Car Insurance survey has found 93 per cent of young people rated value for money as an important factor when buying a car, followed by safety and security on 85 per cent.

Case study No 1, Justine Townsend

Age: 16

Shopping list: considering a late-model Honda Civic or Mitsubishi Mirage

Budget: $5000-$6000

Dream car: BMW 5 Series or Nissan Skyline

"THE most important thing for me is safety and that it won't break down on me because I am a girl.

"Safety is imoprtant because the thought of being in an accident is pretty scary. Fuel economy is also important."

Justine has narrowed down her car choices to the two Japanese models and will buy through a broker "who is a friend of my dad".

She has had her learner's licence for six months and has been working at a Coffee Club outlet for 2 1/2 years to save up for a car.

"I've nearly got all the money, but the formal put a few dents in the savings account.

"I need a lot more work to pay for the car. I'll probably start full time work when I finish school."

Her budget is between $5000 and $6000 and she is aware that insurance will put a big hole in her running costs.

"I got a quote for comprehensive insurance and it is nearly $2300 a year from RACQ.

"I rang them about deals where I get on my parents' policy but because I am the main driver I have to start my own policy.

"I'll probably just get third-party property and theft."

Justine needs a car for work and uni. She is hoping to go to The University of Queensland to study international hotel and toursim management.

And when she gets her car, she will keep it fairly standard.

"I wouldn't get it done up, I'd keep it clean and perhaps put a sound system in it."

Case study No. 2, Michael Freeleagus

Age: 17

Shopping list: Mitsubishi Lancer

Budget: about $7500

Dream car: HQ Monaro

"I love Holdens. I like the HQ because it's old school. Anyway, it's a Monaro which speaks for itself."

Back to reality and he is in the market for Mitsubishi Lancers.

"I have had my eye on a 1994 Lancer but it didn't pass the RACQ check. lt was fully done up.

"I'm now looking at a 2001 model that is standard for $7500.”

He chose the Lancer "because I always liked Mitsubishi" and because his father, Leon, has a Triton which has never given any trouble.

"The two door gives it a sporty appearance and the 1.5litre motor makes it cheap to run.

"I just want something that is reliable and cheap to run.

"When you are going to uni and have a part-time job you need to keep costs down."

Michael, who wants to be a PE teacher, said he got a $1400 quote from Just Car Insurance for comprehensive cover.

"They look after young people and it is insured in my parents' names, nominating me as one of the drivers."

After buying and insuring the car, Michael wants to do some modifications.

"I'd probably change the exhaust. I'd like to make it sound more like a four-stroke motorbike.

"I'd probably do the rims, a sound system, custom pedals, steering wheel and gear knob.

Michael has been researching used cars on the internet and in the paper.

Michael has had a learner's licence since January and has been practising in his mum's automatic car.

"I want to get a manual and practise in that before I go for my test."

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