Currently reading: James Ruppert: making drive before you buy more fun
New test drive rules mean now's the time to book that solo evaluation
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5 mins read
26 May 2020

News as I write: car dealers can now bolt on trade plates and allow you to take a solo test drive.

In my experience, decent dealers will be prepared to do that anyway, and it’s a great way to make a sale. The psychology is that you actually end up selling it to yourself, and you can be very persuasive. With that in mind, which cars and which dealers should you be bothering in order to get the drive of your life?

The Mazda MX-5 is a ‘must drive before you die’ cliché, but clichés exist for a reason. I can remember every MX-5 I’ve driven through all four generations, and they’re truly wonderful. It was interesting to find a 20th Anniversary car (one of almost countless limited editions) from 2010 with just over 60k miles. It looked in prime condition and the price struck me as eminently reasonable, at £5300. It was only 88 miles away, too.

Land Rovers, especially the proper old ones, still offer an almost unique driving experience – not least because it’s so very lorry-like. Plus, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that prices have started to become relatively sane.

I was rather heartened to discover that a 1960 Series 2 Soft Top with reassuringly faded green paintwork was just £7995. Yes, all patina’d up. A freshly painted 1970 Series 2 Hard Top was just a grand more. Both are with dealers who might be happy to let you tackle a ploughed field.

Every home should have an Alfa Romeo on the drive, and each ought to be lovely to look at and have a characterful engine under its pretty bonnet. That’s why I have a massive soft spot for the Brera coupé, which is such great value. I would go for the 3.2 V6 JTS Q4 SV, and I’ve found one with 75k miles on offer at just £5995. That’s enough to tempt me to travel 175 miles just for the fun of it.

When it comes to fun of the uncompromising variety, it has to be a Caterham. The Seven is all about steering and very little about comfort, or indeed a functioning roof. There are some mad ones and you can pay an awful lot, but you don’t have to. There are a lot of privately advertised cars with fairly marginal mileages. Dealers have equally interesting examples, though, and I want a Prisoner-spec one anyway.

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Here is the fourth-gen Mazda MX-5 - the definitive small sports car

Fourth-generation MX-5 heads back to Mazda's roadster's roots, surpassing its predecessor in every area

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For £14,995, you could buy a 2003 1.6 Beaulieu, which had the model-run-out Morris Ital suspension and an eight-valve Vauxhall engine. Now that does seem like a laugh, especially if you can manage to keep it on the road. The bottom line is that test driving a used car is the most important and possibly the most exciting thing that you can do this year.

What we almost bought this week

BMW 728i: James Ruppert has filled many a page with stories of his Shed 7, and this late-E38 7 Series is your chance to fulfil dreams of similar high-luxury, low-cost enjoyment. At £1395, the BMW looks in good nick cosmetically inside and out given it’s travelled 106,000 miles since 2001. We might go for it, if only to pretend the telephone inside still works.

Tales from Ruppert's Garage

Land Rover series 3, 131,449 miles: In-Lorry entertainment has always been a bit dicey, and I’m not truly bothered any more whether it works or not. I have been spending a lot of time with the old girl, though; I’m lucky enough to be busy, and the not-really-that-cavernous but conveniently high load bay makes life easier for an old boy like me. Anyway, the radio reception is terrible, as it is in every car out here in the sticks. I use my phone to listen to things, but I soon realised that costs money if you don’t download before leaving the house. Anyway, the stereo issue turned out to be a loose wire. Sorted.

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Reader's Ride

Mercedes E2320: Reader Phil thought we’d like to see his daily driven W124 E220 Auto, and obviously we do. “I paid £1000 for it 18 months ago and have covered 15,000 troublefree miles since,” he says. “The MOT history backed up the low mileage. There was some main dealer history from years ago, although not much recently. Incredibly, everything works, including the electric mirrors and roof, and the ’box shifts smoothly. It has quirks but I’ve found that if something stops working, giving the fuses a wiggle sorts it out. I give it the respect a 25-year-old car deserves, and it gets about 35mpg on my 100-mile daily commute. When I hear people talking about their horrendous experiences with unreliable modern cars, I know Bangernomics works if you pick the right car!”

Readers' questions

Q. What impact will the coronavirus have on used prices? Should we buy now, or will we get a better deal after lockdown?

A. Nobody can say with any real certainty at present. Sales have dropped dramatically during the lockdown, but many dealerships still have an active presence online. So with dealers desperate for sales and nobody buying cars, you may find quite a bit of leeway in negotiating right now. If you find something that you want, get in touch with the seller and make an offer. And if you’re worried about picking up the car while restrictions on movement are still in place, many dealerships will allow you to strike the deal now and pick up the car later.

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Q. My daughter loves horses. I don’t. But I do love cars. Is there something out there on a budget of £5000 that can keep me entertained and tow a horsebox?

A. An E61 BMW 530d Touring will be fun and sensible, while a Volvo V70 R puts out 296bhp and could tow the whole stable. Or if you’re feeling brave and flash, a Porsche Cayenne Turbo from 2005 will do the job for the same money, and a lot quicker – so long as your horses don’t suffer from motion sickness…

READ MORE

Coronavirus: What motorists need to know ​

How to buy a car during a pandemic​

DVLA approves solo test drives for car buyers to maintain social distancing​

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Comments
3

26 May 2020

I think it's only fair to take a test drive if there is some possibity of purchase, or do dealers readily accept that it's their job to provide free entertainment for enthusiastic tyre kickers? 

And given the way many of us mistreat our own cars, I can understand why some dealers are reluctant to provide unaccompanied test drives of expensive machinery. If I was a dealer, I'd be pretty keen to examine the buyers own vehicle for minor damage, kerbed wheels etc before agreeing to a test drive - and I don't think it would be unreasonable to make a token charge for fuel and insurance etc to be refunded on purchase. 

That said I have purchase a number of cars following unaccompanied test drives, so maybe dealers just accept the rough with the smooth knowing that this will produce a decent number of sales...  

26 May 2020

It can be a slippery slope for a dealer regarding test drives - trying to determine an actual candidate versus a joy rider without any potential of discrimination perceived. This can be especially hard when highline products are involved. That teenager who wants to test the 911? I he a joyrider, or a millionaire "Youtube influencer?" That's just one example. It is a hardship for the dealer if the car is damaged in any way, and moreso if injury is involved.

26 May 2020
Insurance excess for us is just way too high to high to offer unaccompanied test drives, however we can provide accompanied ones using the correct procedures.

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