Currently reading: James Ruppert: a cheap used car could go the distance, but should you?
You’ve seen a bargain online. How far would you travel to view it?
4 mins read
20 November 2018

Autocar readers are, of course, awesome, and it is fascinating when they let me chip in on their quandaries. Andrew has been in these pages several times with excellent rides, including Mercedes-Benz W124-series and Ford Focus estates. Anyway, he saw an advert for a Volkswagen Transporter T5 Kombi with a good MOT and an odometer reading of 199,000 miles. The high mileage was one consideration, but the other problem was its location on the other side of the country to him, in Exeter. 

I’ve had the same conversation with other used car buyers, which amounts to how far you are willing to travel to buy a used car. Because I live in a fairly inaccessible part of the British Isles, I almost always have to travel an hour or so to collect one. The plain fact is that the internet has turned the whole world into a car showroom and forecourt that sits on our laptop, tablet or phone. Because we love cars, there is therefore no distance we won’t travel to look at a motor. I have friends in Scotland who say that they don’t have a huge choice of used cars, especially if they want a bargain, so they always pack their sandwiches and winter coat to travel. 

That might explain why I would travel 128 miles to buy a 2002 Subaru Impreza 2.0 GX. It looked clean in the pictures and this would be a useful and cool saloon to run this winter at only £995. Just the two previous owners as well. It was at a dealer, so they would hold it for me and they would have done the all-important background checks. 

Distance does become an issue if you are buying something cheap and cheerful as a stop-gap banger, so best make sure you don’t travel too far. For me, cheap means less than £995. In that case, I wouldn’t cross the Irish Sea to see a 2002 Fiat Punto for £200 and a short MOT. But the ad said it had done 720k miles, so I’d love to see that if it wasn’t a printing error. On the way there, I could stop in Wales to see a 2001 Honda CR-V with 180k miles at £250. A couple of months’ MOT, but really not worth the effort unless it is down the road and you can accept or reject it after a once-over and then move onto the next cheapie. 

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Back to that earlier consideration about buying a higher-mileage car: of course we would and we’ll go into that topic soon. In the meantime, if you have made an epic journey to buy a used car, I am sure the Autocar community would love to hear about it through the usual channels.

What we almost bought this week

Volvo S60 R: Volvo likes pulling rabbits out of the hat. Remember the 850 T-5R of 1995? The S60 R of 2003 made slightly less impact but acquired a discreet following for its 300bhp turbo five-pot motor, four-wheel drive and underthe-radar looks. One seller has a rust-free import with 83,000 miles up for £6000. Worth it for its burnt-orange interior alone.

Tales from Ruppert’s garage

Porsche Cayenne, mileage 99,360: What the MOT test uncovered was some tyres with only a few thousand miles of tread left. The front near-side one was particularly bad, but I am just a bit tyre obsessive. I prefer the correct donuts for the job, so what to get and from where? 

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I spoke to the good people at Falken Tyres and they have developed the FK510 SUV, a tyre specifically for SUVs. Obviously, it’s important to use a tyre with the correct load and speed rating and not use an everyday car tyre, so let’s get these fitted and then I can tell you what they are like.

Reader’s Ride

Renault Mégane CC: We are indebted to Kenny Smith for yet again persuading a relative to show off their bargain purchase: “Steven Smith wanted a fun occasional car for high days and holidays, one that was well equipped, a convertible and roomy enough for his children. 

“He spotted a 2008 Renault Mégane CC 1.6 Dynamique S for sale privately with only 63,000 miles and a full main dealer service history plus lots of receipts. It had had a fresh MOT and service two months earlier. It was dusty, damp free and £950.”

Readers’ questions

Question: Which cheap new car has a heated windscreen? Julia Cornfield, Bicester

Answer: It's not exactly cheap but check out the Fiesta Zetec. It has what Ford calls a Quickclear windscreen and it’s precisely that. No more starting your engine, running indoors while the blower melts the frost and risking your insurance cover. John Evans

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Question: When is a nearly new car a new car? Tom Harris, via email

Answer: It never is but some dealers insist on describing late-plate cars with delivery mileage as ‘new’. To be so, there should be no former keeper on the V5 form (log book). A nearly new car will most likely have been registered by the selling dealer. John Evans

Question: I buy and sell antiques. Which estate will take my old Chippendales? George Benjamin, Oxford

Answer: A Volvo used to be the car of choice for the nation’s Lovejoys, but since the manufacturer went all Scandi on us, its wagons have shrunk. What you need is a Skoda Superb estate. You could hold an auction in one. John Evans

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Join the debate

Add a comment…
ldsau93 27 November 2018

Distance to travel

Currently considering a move from the UK to the east coast of Canada. I've been trawling the whole of North America to find the correct spec Saab! Great thing is, assuming you're happy buying the car unseen (on the strength of a pre-purchase inspection) is that you can get it shipped practically anywhere in the continent for $2-3000.

230SL 27 November 2018

Puzzled on the Superb being

Puzzled on the Superb being classed as a useful estate, have had one, great for sitting in with the heated rear seats, but the boot was not so great with its sloping rear window when the seat was folded down, though at least it folded flat unlike the latest Superb where the just the backrests tips over at an awkward angle as another cost cutting measure.

Jeremy 27 November 2018

Antiques dealer

No self-respecting antiques dealer would put up with an esate car these days. With vans getting ever more car like the T5 Transporter combi mentioned or similar is where the sensible antiques dealer would put their money. Room for mutliple Chippendales and a whole lot more besides, and decent to drive too.