Car Choice: The price of youth

Finding a safe, reliable car for a teenager to learn on that doesn't incur a sky-high insurance bill is no easy matter, says James Ruppert
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Tatiana Christides's 17-year-old son is learning to drive and she is looking for a second family car that he can drive. Her primary concerns are safety and reliability. Both Tatiana and her husband agree that a two- to three-year-old car would be ideal, but there is disagreement over the actual vehicle. Neither wants any model that is too small as they have two other children and it would be nice if the whole family could fit inside. Their budget is £4,000-£6,000.

The problem here is that Tatiana's son is a teenager. Insurance companies hate them and with some good reason, because statistically they are more likely to have an accident. Long gone are the days when your mum or dad could simply add your name to their policy. These days the insurance premium is based on the highest risk, although there are things that can be done.

The Pass Plus advanced driving course is recognised by several insurers as a qualification for premium calculation; Norwich Union is reported to offer a 50 per cent discount to those with Pass Plus rating. Bear in mind that young drivers may also have to pay a higher excess - say £1,000.

There are specialist brokers, although they aren't always the cheapest so it pays to shop around. The bigger companies should not be overlooked, especially as they look at the same risk profiles. Smaller companies, though, may not be underwritten by a well-known insurance company, and a saving of £20-£30 could be wiped out by the hassle of making a claim.

Ultimately what Tatiana needs to realise is that smaller, low-insurance group models are going to be the only ones they can realistically afford to run as a second car.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

Last year we mentioned the Marmalade Car Club. This is an innovative scheme, which managed to slash the annual premium for a 17-year-old provisional driver from £6,800 a year down to £700 for a nine-month policy. It achieves this by offering a range of new and one-year-old small cars in insurance groups 1 or 2. They get a bonus from the manufacturer for selling the car, which helps to subsidise the scheme. At the end of the nine-month period the young driver starts to build up a no-claims bonus of up to 30 per cent, although for 10 per cent more they will have to take part in the Pass Plus scheme.

This government-backedadvanced driving course costs about £150 for six lessons, taken after the young driver has passed the standard test. So Tatiana needs to surf along to www.marmalade.co.uk and start looking at what cars would suit the family.

Although the cost is likely to be higher than their budget - it is £8,845 for a super reliable Toyota Yaris, for example - there are Personal Contract Plans that spread the cost over three years. The majority of the cars, which include Ford Fiestas and Fiat Puntos, have four- or five-star Euro NCAP safety ratings.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

I am inclined to point Tatiana in the direction of the Kia Rio. Here is a car that is cheap to buy, and it will have a lot more room then the supermini-sized vehicles that have the low insurance groupings.

The thing is, the Rio is group 4 at the lowest and for a teen it needs to be group 1 or 2 at the very least. That means dropping down a class of car, but there is another Kia that might fit the bill: the Kia Picanto. This is an excellent car and as with any Kia at the moment it is still possible to buy one for a £1 deposit and then finance the rest.

Conveniently, the Picanto falls into group 2 insurance, but it is a proper four-door small car. The Picanto may be economical but it has only a three-star crash rating, whereas the Rio has four. The reality is that a young person driving a car is an expensive business.

CAR CHOICE

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

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