Currently reading: James Ruppert: Aim for cheap, but not too cheap when buying second-hand
Bangers shouldn’t cost the earth, but be careful where you buy

The demand for cheap cars never goes away. Sometimes they are stop gaps between a replacement, but quite often it is a motorist spending all they afford.

I’ve been reading back over interviews I did more than 25 years ago with proper banger dealers, ones who sold sub-gorillas (under £1000) and had a lot between two housing estates for the £99 dross. What they told me then remains highly instructive and is in effect a blueprint for anyone who wants to buy and deal in 2021.

My biggest takeaway was: don’t buy cheap cars from auctions, ever. A fancy classic for a load of money, maybe a nearly new or end-of-lease company car with a history, but never, ever a banger. So where should we be going to source them?

Click here to buy your next used car from Autocar

Always buy on condition, never on price, and if you can’t afford anything decent then save up for a few more weeks. So with that in mind, let’s start expensive, at a proper car dealer. They will have obligations to make sure their cars are clean and roadworthy, and you have a comeback if there are issues, all of which is perfect. Pick a well-regarded model that is known to be reliable and cost-effective to fix, like a Toyota Yaris.

Ideally, it will have just a couple of owners and a full service history with a credible mileage that isn’t too intergalactic. Luckily, I found just that car: a 2006 1.0 T3 with 73,000 miles, up for £1400. Nicely presented, cheap to insure and run and itching to do a job. A three-door but otherwise the perfect runaround. 

Those after something family-sized ought to try a Mazda 6, which seem to go on and on without giving much trouble. I stumbled on a partex trade sale 2011 2.2d Sport with 150,000 miles. There’s an element of risk there, but with an asking price of £1400 there’s also room for a bit of remedial work. That’s quite a lot of car for the money and, okay, it isn’t a 10 quid banger, but it is much better than that. You do have to spend a bit more to save yourself some grief.

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If those aren’t banger enough for you, let’s go to a dealer who has a 2002 Citroën Xsara 1.6i LX for £995. It’s a compact but roomy hatch with a strong and reliable petrol engine with 93,000 miles, and it comes with a three-month warranty. These are pretty unburstable and starting to become ‘ironic classic’ rare. What more would you really want? It might cost less at an auction, but at least a dealer has done some of the hard work for you. 

What we almost bought this week

Suzuki Jimny Pick-up: In the mood for some unfettered mud-plugging this winter? The Jimny you’re looking at has been converted into a pick-up by specialist Kap Suzuki, with a bodykit to match the hardware changes. It has a suspension lift, steel wheels, mud terrain tyres, flared arches and a removable aluminium canopy, and is on sale for £19,995.

Tales from Ruppert’s garage

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Land Rover Series 3, mileage 133,876: I have never been truly happy with the Lorry’s battery. For once I actually wrote the installation date on the top – 26.1.21. It seemed to lose its charge now and again, even when the weather was mild, and it certainly didn’t seem to be holding a full charge. The battery company was quick to respond. They simply needed to know the voltage and the cold cranking amps (CCA) of the battery in order to condemn it and then replace if necessary. I popped into my friendly local garage and they hooked it up. Reassuringly, it said “REPLACE”. I’d say that’s pretty conclusive, but I’ll let you know how I get on.

Reader’s ride

Saab 900: Thanks to Andrew for his offering to Reader’s Rides.

“Bought by my late dad in 2002, it’s been in the family ever since. It’s one of the most reliable cars we’ve owned. Supremely comfortable – as you’d expect of a Saab – and a great motorway mile-muncher, but not so good in the twisties. Only sold because it’s now too low for my elderly mother to enter and exit, combined with it having an increasing number of niggly faults. Depreciation has worked out at just over £300 per annum. It will be missed.”

Readers’ questions

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Question: I often carry a lot of cargo and have to put the seats down. Can you recommend a midsized SUV with a big boot? Emily Baxter, via email

Answer: At the cheaper end of the scale, the Dacia Duster packs a boot almost as competitive as its price, with a 445-litre space beneath the parcel shelf with the rear seats in place. 

Other models come with equipment levels the Dacia can’t match. The Honda CR-V provides a more assured and comfortable ride with 497 litres of space. Seat’s Seat Ateca gives 510 litres while the Toyota Toyota RAV4 has 580 litres. 

The Volkswagen Tiguan even offers up to 610 litres with the rear seats slid (not folded) forward. If you can stretch to it, have a look at the Land Rover Discovery 5, with 1137 litres with five of its seven seats up. JW

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Question: Can you find me a used car in a classic ‘rosso’ for less than £10,000? Ben Franks, Marlborough

Answer: Lots of choice here, many from Alfa Romeo. We found a stunning 3.0-litre Alfa GTV for £7950. It has done 84,000 miles and has a full service history, including a cambelt change by an Alfa-approved specialist. 

Or how about a 1985 Alfa Romeo Spider for £8250, or a 29,000-mile 1972 Fiat 500 R in ‘rosso medio’ for £8990? 

We also found a 1987 Fiat Bertone with 56,000 miles and a bulging history for £5500. Further outside the box is the future classic Fiat Panda 100hp. You can buy one for just £2500. JW

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WallMeerkat 20 December 2021
I gave up buying private sale cars a while back, typically you're investing in someone else's headache that they're looking rid of.

Never had an issue buying from a dealer in the £1k-£2k bracket, typically they've had their mechanic give it the once over, will sort out any major issues and offer a 3 month warranty.

Though the worst car I ever owned was a £500 Ford Orion from a Scottish dealer, was sat unloved at the back of the lot, given a years ticket and they just wanted rid.

Strange to see GTVs go for thousands, I bought one for £500 about 10 years ago, a private sale admittedly, but all up front in that it was an MOT failure and with a list of jobs needed to get it to a good condition. Once those were done it was a fun little thing to dash about it for a while.

So I guess there's good and bad in both dealer and private buying.

LucyP 14 December 2021

James,

The problem is that when you go to the banger dealers, who are all a bit Arthur Daley. I test drove a diesel Ford which wasn't running properly. The dealer said that it was probably the spark plugs. I questioned spark plugs on a diesel, and then he said it was probably the coil pack. I didn't have the heart to ask why a diesel would have a coil pack.....!

 

The dealers are just sitting there, watching the car auctions on their phone, buying cars and putting them straight on the forecourt. You test drive them, find the faults, go back, and they might, at best, knock about 10% off the price, but won't fix anything except the most serious of faults. The market is such as the moment that it is take it or leave it with so many dealers. Imagine going back and asking them to sort out problems that arise after purchase. You are just going to end up in Court, using the Consumer Rights Act, but it isn't going to be worth the time, trouble and expense over a banger money car.

You might as well buy the same banger from the auction and save the dealer mark up, because you are literally getting nothing for it from the dealer, or buy privately.