Car Choice: As Rod Stewart almost put it, the first car is the cheapest

That's a short and to the point question from someone in need of both style and substance.

Avinder is aware that first-time insurance premiums are not usually cheap. It will help, though, that he is no longer a teenager and has a respectable profession. Also, he wants a small, cheap and economical car, and these are usually more wallet-friendly in the insurance department. But Avinder is in competition with thousands of others starting on their motoring journey, so I am pleased that his budget is at least £4,000 which will help him to get a clean, safe and reliable car.

Yet, because so many people want these types of vehicles at the moment, prices have risen steadily for the most popular ones. Avinder mentioned a hatchback to me, and that is undoubtedly the only option. The car will be small, classed as a supermini, with a small and economical petrol engine that will return more than 40mpg. When it comes to style, that really is personal preference, but most small cars are a lot less boring than they used to be. The important thing is to find the car that fits Avinder's budget and needs.

Avinder Gobindpuri is a final-year medical student who wants to buy his first car. His budget is £4,000 (which could possibly stretch to £4,500) for a car which must be relatively cheap to insure and run. As well as good fuel consumption, Avinder wants the car to look good.

A car for the head

I would be inclined to keep this very simple, and look at it from the point of view of low running and insurance costs. At the risk of sounding boring, a Ford Fiesta or Vauxhall Corsa would be the best options as they have very low insurance groupings and they are easily and cheaply fixed. The brands that give the least bother, though, are Japanese, and it may hinge on whether Avinder thinks a Nissan Micra looks odd, or a Toyota Yaris boring. Personally, I think that the Toyota Yaris is a great first car, with the smallest three door 1.0 model falling into the lowest group-one insurance category while the overall fuel consumption is a very reasonable 50mpg. Plus, being a Toyota it really won't break down, provided that the service intervals are not ignored. With £4,000, Avinder will be able to buy a 2003 example from a dealer, in very tidy condition and with 40,000 to 50,000 miles on the clock. So, it will have a warranty and be serviced and MOT'd before sale. I found quite a number in this bracket and most were finished in metallic silver. I hope Avinder likes that colour as I think the styling is fresh and the car itself incredibly practical.

A car for the heart

A Smart car is certainly stylish, but is a two-seater and may be of limited use if Avinder ever needs to shift a lot of stuff or give a few mates a lift. I think the Fiat Panda is good, but several readers have had patchy reliability records with this model. However, talking to a garage owner recently he pointed out what great value a Citroen C2 (below) is, as it has fallen uncomfortably between the C1 and C3 and consequently values have been quite soft. Here is a very modern-looking car with character that is fun to own and drive. The rear seats are tight but on certain models they can be slid backwards and forwards and also tilted forward so there are lots of loading options. Indeed the tailgate is split so that you can just open the top section or drop the lower one for heavier or more awkward loads. The basic specification has central locking and a variable rate power steering which makes driving in town very easy. The 1.1 petrol engine will return around 48mpg overall. £4,000 buys a 2004 C2 1.1 SX from a private seller which will have big car comforts such as air conditioning and CD player and around 45,000 miles travelled.

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are

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