Becoming a car owner

A little milestone was passed this week when I bought my first car. I learnt to drive five years ago. I wasn’t the sort of person that started lessons as soon as I turned 17. I saw no need, and waited until I was 20. After passing my test, I don’t think I drove for about another two years.

Driving has never particularly appealed to me. A lot of people find it strange that I am so fanatical about motorsport, but have little interest in driving on the road. But for me the pursuits are unrelated. I don’t see the fun in driving on public roads. I find it more stressful and frightening than anything else.

I was lucky because my home town of Kirkcaldy has pretty good public transport connections, so it was easy to see the car as a non-essential luxury. Almost anywhere I needed to go was an easy train or bus journey away.

The current commute

But the past year or so has stretched that idea to breaking point. I now work in St Andrews. Many assume I get there by taking the train to Leuchars then a bus from Leuchars to St Andrews. But I can’t be bothered with the fuss — plus it would be pretty expensive.

Instead, I have generally gone by bus. The plus side is that it is very cheap. You can get a ticket that can be used multiple times across seven days on any journey within Fife. This costs £23 a week. That’s what I used to pay to go to Dunfermline, but the journey to St Andrews is much longer, so is better value for money.

That brings us to the very problem with the journey — its length. The bus journey itself takes 65 minutes. The walk from my house to Kirkcaldy bus station is roughly ten minutes. The walk from St Andrews bus station to my work is roughly ten minutes.

So basically I spend around three hours every day travelling to and from work. That is 15 hours a week. As far as I’m concerned, those 15 hours constitute a full day minus sleep.

I don’t mind the journey so much in the mornings. Even though I am not a morning person, getting up at 6.45am has not been as bad as I had feared. To my amazement, I have never once missed the bus — even if it has involved some Olympic walking in order to catch it. The journey itself is quite a relaxing way to start the day. I could have a wee snooze, listen to podcasts, and generally ease myself into the day.

But the journey on the way home was never so good. At that time of day, you just want to get home as soon as possible. But all of the biggest bus problems have happened on the way home.

There is a bus that leaves St Andrews at 17.10, which is normally fine. But what if that bus doesn’t turn up, or I have to stay behind a bit at work, or someone wants a stop-and-chat? I basically won’t be getting home for at least two hours. For some reason, the bus that leaves at 17.40 only goes as far as Leven, and I have to wait 10 or 15 minutes at Leven to hop on a bus that will get to Kirkcaldy.

The bus is seldom comfortable either, and it can be incredibly stuffy, even in winter. Less fuss by bus? Really?

The decision to buy a car

I became used to the lengthy bus journeys after a while. But it was a real drain on my spare time. The plan has always been to try and move closer to St Andrews, and somewhere that had a good bus connection. But that has taken far longer than I had anticipated.

The final straw came this week when I was trying to work out how I can get to Alloa to visit my brother. When the least fuss-free option was a bus journey that lasts well over an hour and involves changing at Kincardine, that was when I decided: it’s probably time to bite the bullet and buy a car.

It all happened quite quickly. It was not in my mind on Thursday. But I had more or less made the decision to buy a car on Friday. On Sunday, I bought one.

Choosing a Fiat

Fiat Panda 1.1 Active Eco

I opted to buy a Fiat Panda 1.1 Active Eco. I had experienced it as a passenger as my dad has recently bought one too. So I kind of knew what I was getting.

I find it quite an impressive car in terms of bang for your buck. I couldn’t find many cars cheaper that weren’t six-year-old French cars with a million miles on the clock. It’s nice to know also that the Panda’s fuel consumption is pretty good, and its low emissions mean that vehicle tax is £30.

The big thing I felt was the pride in owning a car. I hadn’t expected to feel anything particularly. But I realised that I have placed a lot of responsibility on myself. It is a vote of confidence in myself. The car is easily the largest purchase I have ever made. I think car insurance is almost the second largest!

It feels right to go for a Fiat. There was a big niggle in the back of my brain that somehow buying a Fiat would lead to me indirectly funding Scuderia Ferrari! But beyond that, I quite like Fiats and always have done. The first two cars I remember my dad driving were both Fiat Unos.

After that he bought a Daewoo Matiz, which is the car I drove whenever I ventured out before. But it did not seem like a robust car. Its screeching fan belt was notorious among my friends (it continued to screech even after it was ‘fixed’ two or three times), and it did not feel particularly confident going round corners.

That is not at all ideal if you are trying to drive on one of the windy, hilly roads on the journey towards St Andrews. I have a feeling that the Panda will be better to commute with.

The inevitable downsides

All except for one thing. I will not be able to listen to podcasts while driving. The car comes with an FM / MW radio and a CD player. As far as I’m concerned, that is like buying a PC that still has a floppy drive. At least with a cassette player you can use a cassette adapter to play your iPod through. A CD player is useless.

I love radio. I am also a big fan of DAB radio, which this car will not give me. I will survive sticking to bog standard FM / MW radio stations, but it will be a pain nonetheless. The Panda may be a great value car — but you still get what you pay for.

Who says I always manage to find the negatives?…


  1. Can’t you buy an FM iPod adapter which you can tune into your car’s stereo and thus it performs the same function as the cassette adapter?

    They used to be quite expensive as far as I can recall, but I think I saw something in ASDA recently for about £10-20 which does the job, but maybe I was misinterpreting what it does – too many gadgets and too much technology these days!

    But good luck with the car, let’s hope it doesn’t live up to the Fix It Again Tomorrow moniker ;0)

  2. Congratulations on your first car!

    My first car was a 3 year old Renault 16TS – a good and v comfortable vehicle, but my next car was a new Fiat 127 – a good little car, once the initial serious and less serious faults were sorted. Both of these cars were during the time I lived in Casablanca. I’ve not owned a Fiat since, though.

    I have an FM adaptor that plugs into the cigarette-lighter and allows me to link up an MP3 player by tuning in the car stereo to the appropriate frequency. It works reasonably well, but not perfectly, cost £10 or £15 a few years back from Amazon. Some vehicles (notably VW and Skoda to my knowledge) seem to have 3.5mm input jacks as standard, making MP3 linkage very easy and reliable; Tesco sell a cable with a 3.5mm jack at both ends for a few £s. I agree about CDs now being a bit old-hat, but at least with the 6-CD changer I have in my car I can listen to a reasonable range before having to change the discs in the cassette.

    Good luck with your driving!

  3. A very good value purchase. I reviewed a Panda while I was at Auto Trader and you do get a decent car for your money.

    But I share your mystification at how far behind the times in-car stereo technology is.

    And, inevitably, how so many manufacturers ended up putting proprietary connectors in. A typical conversation with a car manufacturer’s PR officer:

    “…and it’s got an iPod connector so you can listen to all your music”
    “But I have a different MP3 player.”
    “Isn’t an iPod an MP3 player?”

  4. Best recommendation I can make is to change out the stereo. We bought out last car (a nippy & exceedingly fun to drive 2002 Civic type R) in 2007, just before heading off on honeymoon – a driving holiday round Europe.

    There was no way I was bringing a box of CD’s with us when we had a 30GB media player to hand. I thought swapping out the radio would cost a fortune, but you should be able to get Bluetooth Radio/CD player with Aux in (regular headphone jack pin) for about £100 and if you want to go the DAB route they run a little more, but not too bad. Halfords are great, they usually have someone that can advise you well, they aren’t too expensive and they can help install in most cases.

    If you’re commuting for over 30 mins a journey, I’d strongly recommend Bluetooth so that you can connect your mobile, it’s just a lot safer if you do need to make/take a call.

  5. Congratulations on your purchase. Sadly my experience with Fiat’s hasn’t been as good as yours – plus as you say I’d be contributing towards paying Kimi Raikkonnen to have a year off if I bought one… Having said that, if I could afford a Ferrari I probably would buy one :p

    My wife had a Griffin FM transmitter for her iPod – it was OK, but there was only a small bandwidth that she could use that wouldn’t interfere with local radio stations. (and at the time, they were classed as being illegal). It is a relatively inexpensive way of connecting your iPod.

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone! Sorry if any of you have had any trouble leaving a comment — this is a stop-gap solution until I get round to updating the code!

    I have been looking into iPod adapters, but all the ones I have seen so far require a cigarette lighter, which my car doesn’t have! A friend tells me you definitely can get some that don’t require a cigarette lighter, so I’ll need to investigate — although I imagine they would just drain the iPod battery very quickly!

    I will also investigate DAB radios. They are a bit of a nice luxury, but given that two of my favourite stations are MW, the increased audio quality would be appreciated! Plus there are one or two DAB-only stations that I would really love to have in my car.

    Keith, thanks for the reassurance about the value of a Panda! Good to see my instincts backed up by a real expert. 🙂

  7. It’s crazy that cars are being shipped these days without cigarette lighter sockets! Apparently when purchasing new you have to ask for the “smoker’s option pack” so that you get an ashtray & lighter. With all the gadgets powered off lighter sockets these days you’d assume they’d be automatically installed in cars.

    We have a 3-way splitter for ours, so that we can plug in car fridge / cool box, mobile phone charger and GPS!

  8. Congrats on the purchase. I’m a bit surprised, though, that the car does not come with a 3.5mm stereo mini jack as auxiliary input? The smallest Toyotas and Fords come equipped with it as standard.

  9. My FM transmitted runs off AAA batteries – got it in Tesco’s

    But it is crazy that you don’t have a cigarette lighter – useful for nearly everything, not least a satnav

    My dad’s car has got one in the boot.

    Did you buy new or save some money?

    Whilst I can understand your frustration at the commute time, at least on the bus you can do stuff (more than just listen). Stephen Glenn often blogged on the bus, although his commute is down to seconds now.

    If I didn’t have family to transport and get home quickly too, I’d ditch the car in an instant and get on the bus – although my bus commute is only an hour door to door.

  10. Useful to know you can get an FM transmitter that runs off AAA batteries! I will definitely go on the hunt for one!

    Paul, the car was a year old with around 7,000 miles on the clock. So it’s not all that old, but I didn’t pay over the odds either. There is little point in buying a new car in my view!

  11. Amazed also that cars are available without a 12v socket – they may have originally been used for cigarette lighters, but these days they seem to install them as general power points.

    My VW has three – one in the front, one in the back and one in the boot area. Only trouble is they are only powered when the ignition is on, which is a real pain.

    Bill, my four-year-old VW doesn’t have a stereo jack, but I think they started to fit them as standard after about that time. I think lots of manufacturers fit them now, but like everything else as it’s a fairly recent feature, so older cars certainly won’t have them.

    Lots of car stereos can also play MP3s from a disc now, so instead of being limited to an album on one CD you can have several on a single disc.

  12. Sounds about the perfect age then (and good milage for a year old car – I believe the average is 20k per year?)

    My car is 8 years old and doesn’t have a stereo jack, I’m seriously considering hacking one into the dashboard – I think there is an AUX socket on the back of my stereo