Can a 22-year-old, £200 Nissan Micra complete a demanding 500-mile road trip - or will it be marooned on the hard shoulder by lunch?
6 April 2020

Allow me to introduce you to P289 BUX. It’s a 1996 Nissan Micra and, as far as I can tell, it is the cheapest used car in Britain.

We wanted to know just how low you can go when buying a second-hand car; to find out if, for the price of a single monthly payment on a leased Renault Captur, you could buy, outright and with no debt whatsoever, a functioning and serviceable car.

Of course, there’s no way I can verify that claim, but I do think I can make a strong case for my flaky Micra being this country’s cheapest car. We set ourselves some rules, you see, and within those guidelines P289 BUX was by a clear margin the most affordable car I could find.

The first of those rules said the car must be drivable and in need of no immediate work to make it roadworthy. I had to be able to drive it away. That meant nothing listed as ‘spares or repair’, or anything that required attention beyond the very basics, such as air in the tyres and a splash of windscreen washer fluid.

Rule two ties into the first: the car must have at least three months’ MOT. It would be no good buying a cheap old snotter, have its test run the following week and be left with something that required costly remedial work to get it going again.

The third rule said the car in question must be relatively close to home. At this price point, all the way down on the seabed, where it’s murky and the only living creatures use bioluminescence to navigate their way through the mire, every conceivable cost becomes a significant one. If you insist on buying a coffee on the way to the transaction, for instance, you have effectively added a few percentage points to the overall cost of the car. This will not do. Similarly, it would be folly to pick out a car at £150, then spend half that again travelling across the country to collect it.


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Finally, says our rulebook, the car must be legitimately for sale via a public forum. Buying your gran’s old Polo for £20 absolutely does not count.

In light of all of the above, then, this Micra – from where I’m sitting, at least - really is the cheapest used car in the country. I spotted the classified ad within an hour or so of it being posted (Gumtree is the place to look for really filthy old sheds) and – would you believe it? – the car was a mere four miles from home. It was listed at £250, which was far too rich for me. I sent a message to the vendor bidding £190, desperate to bag it for something beginning with a one. He simply would not budge below £200. Oh well. Within 12 hours, P289 BUX was mine.

Other costs? I paid £85.25 for six months’ tax and bought a few litres of coolant to top up the reservoir. Let’s call it £300 all in, with insurance on top. Allow me to give you a brief walk-around. Rust is bubbling away here and there, not least near the rear numberplate. There are many scuff and scrape marks on the bumpers. The sills are pretty rotten. The lacquer is coming away quite enthusiastically on each flank, like peeling sunburnt skin. P289 BUX is best viewed from a distance of 20 yards, from where you can’t really spot those flaws but instead appreciate the Micra’s adorable two-bubble shape.

The interior is in remarkable nick, thanks in part to the seats having been covered for the past few years. There’s plenty of dog hair, though, but the previous owner’s Jack Russell – as far as I can tell – must have been a mutt of notable hygiene because the cabin doesn’t smell at all bad. The car had covered precisely 136,000 miles when I collected it. The vendor had owned it for nine years, which was encouraging, and most remarkable of all, it came with 10 months’ MOT.

I could hardly believe my luck. What’s more, my mum used to have a K11 Nissan Micra, so I’d be buying a car very much like the one I was driven to school in. The K11 is an historically important hatchback too. A bit of a game-changer, in fact, and for a long time the darling of driving schools. Today, the K11 is popular with grass-track racers and grassroots rally drivers because it’s known to be tough.

So what to do with it? Clearly I would have to use the car to prove the £200 shed concept, or otherwise. I could either run around in it for a month, or take it on a monster road trip and cover, in a single day, the 500 miles it has averaged every month during its 22 years.

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And so, one fine Tuesday morning, I set off from home in Bristol and pointed P289 BUX east along the M4, not at all convinced it would even make it to Heathrow. At Reading, it took £42 in unleaded and in a matter of moments the car’s value rocketed by 20%. Somewhere around Slough, I began to relax. I had started the journey nervous and apprehensive, driving the car with the care and patience a mucky old snotter would surely require. Soon enough, though, we were keeping up with the German saloons in the outside lane and I was treating the Micra no more gently than I would a brand-new car.

We joined the M25 and headed clockwise, eventually peeling off onto the M11. We were on our way to Swaffham in Norfolk, where we’d meet Mr Bangernomics himself, James Ruppert. You can read his thoughts below but, suffice to say, I was a little surprised and ever so slightly sore that this magazine’s cheap car champion chose not to make me a happy man with a very generous offer.

With half the journey complete, it was time to turn around and head home, this time hacking cross-country rather than using motorways. From Swaffham, we skipped across to Huntingdon, then past Northampton, down to Bicester and across the Cotswolds to Cheltenham, before picking up the M5 for a short blast back to Bristol. A whisker under 500 miles in total.

The Micra simply didn’t miss a beat. It rode well (at least until I hit anything larger than Petri dish), it was comfortable, visibility was excellent, the unassisted steering and lively handling made it a giggle along B-roads, the 16-valve petrol engine was as sweet as anything and the gearshift was tight and direct. Aside from the clutch bite point being very high, there was no sign whatsoever that P289 BUX might be about to expire. I bet I could run it for 10 months, let the MOT lapse, sell it for parts and make back a good chunk of my £200.

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But we have bigger plans for it. To find out exactly how tough a 22-year- old Nissan Micra is, we’re taking it grass-track racing. Stay tuned...

Bangernomics in action: 

I’m often asked whether it is still possible to practise hardcore Bangernomics. You know, buy a car for a couple of hundred quid and actually use it. Well, right now I am looking at exhibit A and that’s Dan’s magnificent Micra.

This everyday hero has just been driven halfway across the country so that I can kick the tyres and it is hard not to be very impressed. It is, of course, cosmetically compromised on the outside with fading red paint, some rust on the arches and cracked front bumpers, but none of that stops it working. There is some underseal slapped on the sills, which suggests that structural rot will get it eventually, but not just yet. What keeps the Micra moving is the powerhouse 16-valve engine under the crumbly bonnet. No leaks, no drama, no issues – just an utterly reliable buzzbox.

The interior is a testament to the power of seat covers. It is comfortably hard-plastic 1990s in there and proof that a six-figure mileage does not necessarily mean trashed surroundings.

Dan’s followed all the fairly fluid, golden rules of Bangernomics and got it right. If you are careful, you can buy a cheap, characterful banger.

This article was originally published on 6 October 2018. We're revisiting some of Autocar's most popular features to provide engaging content in these challenging times. 

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Nissan Micra review

James Ruppert: the best used car alternatives to buying on finance

James Ruppert: the best budget mile-eaters

Join the debate



6 October 2018
There is a whole forum and own little world of people dedicated to running "unloved" cars. It's called

The reason this car was so cheap is because it's unfashionable and older. Those reasons don't make a car not be a car still. It's amazing how many perfectly good cars get thrown away as they're deemed worthless. UK used car prices are ridiculously low - especially compared to the rest of Europe.

Infact we have a thread dedicated to £200 and less cars for sale around the web. Found here:£200-the-cheapest-of-cheap-shite-thread/page-24

6 October 2018

It comes up £575 retail and £50 trade on CAP so you've done well at £200. 

6 October 2018
pitfield wrote:

It comes up £575 retail and £50 trade on CAP so you've done well at £200. 

Yeah, but he wouldnt get that for it without sorting the cosmetic stuff.

6 October 2018

There is a real pleasure to be had by keeping a banger on the road - especially in heavy traffic, when you look around at your fellow motorists and realise that running a £100k luxo SUV does not make you immune to congestion.

6 October 2018

At Reading, it took £42 in unleaded and in a matter of moments the car’s value rocketed by 20%.

6 October 2018

 I take my metaphorical Hat off to People who run Cars like these, only goes to show, if you just want transport to get you from A to B and you don’t care what make or how it looks then buying a runner for £200.00 and running it till it’s M.O.T fun’s out is the way to go, plus, as said selling it for parts might get you your money back!, a win win then?

6 October 2018

Engineer's cars.

6 October 2018

The amount of these little cars, there is a P plate running daily round here, is amazing, so many get passed on to siblings and then back as second cars, the engines are what we would would all like in the reliability stakes, bomb proof.

Sadly Nissan like all other manufacturers cannot seem to keep the size down and all subsequent models get bigger and bigger and negate the whole point of these cars.

6 October 2018

Better to spend a little more on a later Micra with power steering. If you are used to newer cars the un-assisted steering on early Micras comes as a shock.

6 October 2018

I bought a 1998 Micra from the wonderful Facebook Marketplace for £250 earlier this year. 1.3 GX which means electric windows, a sunroof, heated rear windscreen. Automatic with just 38K on the clocks.

Massive dent down the side, filled with all kinds of 'chinese' car accessories, lots of scrapes over the body and a broken radio. But with 1 years MOT, and it drives wonderfully - I took it.

Never faulted me, great little car - even towed an MR-2 with it!


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