Lifecycle reflects the car you have (or is it ‘need’?)

David Williams, national motor journalist and road safety award-winner

There are two questions I dread at gatherings. The first – when people hear that my job involves road-testing cars – is ‘so what’s your favourite’? The second – more challenging – is ‘so what car should I buy?’.

The first’s a challenge because – for many years – I drove a different car each week of the year, sometimes several a week, to meet demand for car reviews from newspapers and magazines.

With so many to pick from I enter a state of mental paralysis. How to choose between – say – that fantastic little new Ford Fiesta that made nipping around town so easy and the fantastic Range Rover that felt a little too big in town, but was stunning on the open road?

And what about that time I fitted all of my daughter’s friends into the capacious Hyundai i800 minibus for her birthday party? That went down a treat, just as the fantastic Lotus Esprit did, years ago, when I drove with my girlfriend (now wife) over Salisbury Plain on a sunny day. How do you compare? So I duck the question and say I’d prefer a motorcycle, at which point questioners often lose interest. If they don’t I’m in heaven; I’ll happily talk bikes all day.

The other question? What my interrogators really want is confirmation of their own choice. So if they say they’ve decided that the Skoda Yeti, for instance, is the perfect answer to their family’s transport problems, I’ll be quick to agree. Job done. Until next time I’m asked.

Because there will be a next time. Did you know that Brits own around 11 different cars during their lifetime – with a Ford Fiesta an almost constant feature? I found that out this week when car finance experts Zuto polled 2,000 drivers, revealing the timeline of our car purchases from the moment we pass our test to hitting retirement.

And while what motorists need most from a car – and the cost of each motor – changes over time, the Ford Fiesta seems to remain the most popular choice at all stages of our life. It also emerged that we buy our first car at the age of 23 – usually a Ford Fiesta, KA or Vauxhall Corsa worth around £1,574.

“For most of us buying a car isn’t about making an extravagant purchase, it’s a necessity to get through day-to-day life,” says James Wilkinson, Zuto CEO. “But we are buying cars based on economic decisions at nearly all stages of our lives.”

The pattern is, to some extent, obvious. Researchers found after spending the first few years borrowing mum and dad’s car, we finally buy our own motor at the age of 23. Then we need a cheap and cheerful run-around for the first couple of years, graduating to a larger family car when we settle down to family life. In later years we continue by looking for something cost-effective to get from A to B.

Almost one in five chose a Ford Fiesta as their first purchase, with the Vauxhall Corsa, Ford KA, Nissan Micra and Renault Clio among other popular choices.

Five years later, aged around 28, Brits buy their second car, most likely another Ford Fiesta or Ford Focus worth around £2,107. But at the age of 32, after settling down, the average Brit purchases their first family car – a Ford Focus or Fiesta worth £7,997. Vauxhalls are also a popular choice when looking for a family car with the Astra, Zafira and Corsa in the top five.

After making do with an average of three second hand cars, the average Brit is in a position to buy their first new car at the age of 34. The Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and Focus are still the most popular choice, along with the Vauxhall Astra and Ford KA, with an average value of £11,548.

After raising their family, Brits ditch the child-friendly car to finally buy their dream car at the age of 42 – most likely a Mercedes Benz, BMW 3 series or a Mini worth £14,627.

Finally, at the age of 54, we start looking forward to our retirement, buying a car such as Ford Fiesta or Toyota Yaris, claims Zuto, although I’m not convinced. That sounds way too soon to be ‘settling down’…

Good news for the car industry is that the average Brit buys a new car every five-and-half years. Bad news for me is that it spells a long, long line of ‘what should I buy’ questions for years to come…

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