Currently reading: James Ruppert: The past is the future when it comes to cars
If you’re hardly driving any more, why buy new? Instead, plump for a banger
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4 mins read
2 February 2021

Far fewer of us than usual are buying brand-new cars right now, and that doesn’t require an explanation. People are still buying cars, but they have a bit of history. Nothing wrong with that. The feedback I’m getting is that a lot of people are waking up to the fact that they really don’t need a PCP any more. They certainly don’t need a new car with a warranty, because they won’t be driving 20,000 miles per year any more. All they need is the confidence to put money where their mouth is. So let’s find the right sort of cars that inspire confidence, but avoiding the high mileages that many of us don’t mind.

First off is a relative cheapy, at £3000, in the shape of a 2006 Ford Focus Estate. It has a reassuring sub-40,000 registering on its milometer. It has a 1.6-litre petrol engine, so there’s no worry about clogged-up filters or other expensive injector-related problems, and an automatic gearbox, which isn’t exciting but quite often means it hasn’t been hammered. It’s being sold with a warranty by a dealer, and all for the deposit on something brand new.

That’s my idea of a family vehicle, but for a normie car buyer, it would have to be a Nissan Qashqai 1.2 DIG-T Acenta Smart Vision, which is one hell of a model name. Perhaps that makes the £7890 asking price seem like rather good value. Anyway, it’s a 2014 model with 30,000 miles and a full service history. It’s a car supermarket sale, too, with one of those warranties, so what’s not to like?

Well, it could certainly be a bit more exciting. I dodged past some quite pricey Volkswagen Sciroccos and came across a 2016 Vauxhall Astra GTC 1.6T, which really looked the hot coupé part, all black paint and thin alloys. Most importantly, it’s a Limited Edition. Well, actually no one cares about that, but the sub- £9000 price is reasonable enough, with a mileage of 20,000. It’s a really big dealer group behind this one; what could be more reassuring?

Then, entirely by accident, this popped up as I was perusing coupés: an MG X-Power SV. Incredibly and temptingly, it was parked in a garage just 20 miles away, under an MG cover and plugged into a trickle charger. Enthusiast-owned and up for £39,995 with just 12,000 miles under its wide tyres… There are more questions than answers about this one, and you would really need to see it to find out much more, because the details were fairly sparse.

It would be a risky buy and not one for my target buyer, who would be better off spending £35,495 on a 2020 Audi A5 Coupé 2.0 TFSI special edition with 3000 miles at a main dealer. Which brings in the destructive concept of depreciation. Back to square one, really.

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Car review

Focus retains its position as the best-in-class to drive – spec dependent – while adding extra space, functionality and connectivity

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Tales from Ruppert's garage

Land Rover Series 3, mileage - 132,569: I’m still not using the Land Rover that much for various reasons related to its battery and me being busy. Plus, I’ve misplaced my portable booster charger thing, which put using it on the back burner as well. The Lorry was actually stored in a safe place, but more winter arrived, meaning ice formed on the inside; I haven’t seen that for a few years. So it has become a shed for random stuff that I can’t be bothered to actually put in the shed. In the meantime, I’ve begun buying the bits I need to perform a basic service. All this is pretty terrible ownership behaviour, but I promise to do better in the coming months.

Reader's ride

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Volvo V70: Remember Martin from last week? “The story gets better. Browsing social media, I found a 2001 Volvo V70 2.4 Auto with 135,000 miles and leather etc, but also the ‘transmission service’ warning, engine check light and ‘emissions service’ warning all illuminated. It was the seller’s mother’s car, with an MOT until 18 April and 18 service stamps in the book. A DVLA MOT check confirmed the mileage, so I took a gamble for £399. I collected it by trailer, taxed it, insured it and read all the forum advice. I tried a secret trick and the warning lights went out. It drives like a new car, with no rattles, no scratches and unmarked leather – amazing!”

Readers' questions

Question: I fancy something exotic for my big post-pandemic road trip. What could £20,000 buy me? Andrea Fisher, Warwick

Answer: You could easily pick up a leggy BMW M3 or Porsche Cayman, but let’s dream big: how about an Aston Martin DB7? Just £19,000 bags a well-kept 2001 V12 model with new brakes and a recent MOT, just watch out for cooling issues and sill rust. Early Lotus Elise S2s are also in reach, at around £18,000, and will be more frugal albeit a lot less comfortable. We also found an immaculate 996-generation Porsche 911 Cabriolet at £18,995 for the best of both worlds. FP

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Question: Can you modify a car without telling your insurer? I’m considering an ECU remap and new suspension for my Mk4 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Tom Browne, Maidstone

Answer: Insurers ask whether you’ve modified your car for two reasons: to determine whether the value of your car is affected and whether the changes increase the risk of an incident. Your planned modifications are likely to impact both of these considerations, and because declaring modifications is a legal requirement, you risk not being covered in the event of an accident by not telling your provider about any aftermarket additions to your vehicle. Honesty really is the best, ahem, policy in this instance. FP

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runnerbean 2 February 2021

Re declaring modifications to insurance companies, they can be incredibly silly about these.  I read recently that someone had asked permission to fit two £15 spotlights and had been quoted a £70 extra payment.  It might be better to skip the mods altogether.

WallMeerkat 2 February 2021
Is it just me but £3k for a 15 year old Ford Focus regardless of the low mileage seems a little pricey? And as LP says, an older low mileage car can often be a false economy.
LP in Brighton 2 February 2021

Bangers? 

I'd agree that affordable used cars are great in today's climate of lockdown. But I'm not sure that those sold for upwards of £30k qualify?

Also, is a recoded mileage of 40,000 really reasusuring on a 15 year old motor. That means that it will either have been clocked, or more likely stood idle or had lots of cold starts with the engine not warmed up. Either way you will likely be paying a premium for a car that may well have skipped a few services, have rusted up brake discs and other ailments associated with lack of use. I'd take a cheaper higher mileage alternative any day... 

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