Currently reading: James Ruppert: a reliable car is a great alternative to cheap airline tickets
If you’re travelling great distances but don’t like flying, why not make the trip on four wheels?
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4 mins read
17 August 2021

Some emails I just love, such as this one: “James, I need to drive to the south of France, have transport for two weeks while there and then return. Not keen on flying. I wonder about buying a Volkswagen Passat Estate for decent ride, space for the kids and 60mpg for the 800-mile drive down. Will the sums add up? How old? Where to buy? What to watch for?” Lots of questions there from Nigel, so let’s have a go.

The used car story trope that is ‘a motor for the price of a train ticket’ is always a belter, and this time we have the added advantage of a sexy Riviera destination. Ultimately, though, this is a story about reliability and resaleability.

Personally, I would go for the great big Ford Mondeo, which can rack up colossal mileages. A 2008 2.0 TDCi in Titanium X spec with 134,000 miles and proof of a recent service is yours for £1999. Just check that the climate control works and the remote locking is doing its stuff.

Click here to buy your next used car from Autocar

Admittedly, the Toyota Avensis is a bit of a bore, but it can be great value and shouldn’t break down. I was pleased to stumble across a revamped 2010 example that looks very contemporary, and I had picked a 1.6 V-matic T2 for ease of journey-making. It comes with a not inconsiderable 168,000 miles, but it will be fine. There were a lot of recalls for this generation, so best to make sure they have been ticked off. Otherwise, it’s just wear and tear.

A bit more fun to hustle on the journey across Europe would be a Mazda 6. These are also pretty damned bulletproof, but do be on the lookout for the usual Japanese maladies of recalls and leaky air-con. I went for the curse of the unloved diesel, as a 2010 2.2 TD TS2 with 179,000 miles for £1290 seems to be worth a risk. It has a history and lots of working extras and should be a perfectly comfortable way to travel.

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Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI 190 GT DSG
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I agree that a Volkswagen Passat is a decent old bus for this sort of job. I’m a big fan of the diesels, so it’s easy to recommend a 2008 2.0 TDI Highline with a reasonable 120,000 miles. What a smart set of wheels they still are, and wonderfully practical, too. On a long run, it will do about 47mpg, and all it costs is £1495. I would be inclined to keep it after my hols, too. Proof of a recent cambelt change is essential and check the aircon hasn’t sprung a leak in the cabin.

And as for how and where to buy? Well, dealers at least owe the buyer an obligation. Then run it for a couple of weeks to get to know what the issues are, and get some European breakdown cover. It will be fine.

Tales from Ruppert’s garage

Volkswagen Golf, mileage - 81,501

This is a two-vehicle update. Just to let you know that the Golf’s windscreen crack went on the move, as they often do. It happened overnight, and the good news is that you no longer have to book an appointment at an inconveniently located centre; they do home/work visits again. Anyway, it will be fixed next week. Meanwhile, The Baby Shark has gone AWOL: it went in for an MOT and hasn’t come back. I authorised a stainless-steel upgrade to the exhaust, then got very busy and probably became a bit terrified that perhaps a few more expensive things need fixing. I will find out soon.

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Reader’s ride

Jaguar XK60

It’s great to hear from Stuart about his continuing fund-raising efforts with yet another Jaguar. He says: “I bought this about four years ago from a garage in Basingstoke. It has done 65,000 miles and hasn’t cost me a penny. It’s an XK60 special edition with square tailpipes, and I had it wrapped in Rocketsport Racing Livery. I use it with my other XKs to raise funds for a children’s hospice, and with my driver friends we’ve raised more than £168,000 in four years. Sadly, during lockdown I managed only about £1200.”

Readers’ questions

Question: I want an SUV to tackle farm tracks. I’m worried about the Land Rover Discovery Sport’s reliability, so would a used Japanese or Korean SUV be a good alternative? John Whitehouse, via email

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Answer: The Ssangyong Rexton is well equipped and features a 2.2-litre diesel engine that drives all four wheels via a seven-speed automatic or six-speed manual gearbox. It has an old-school ladder-frame chassis, but this brings benefits off-road. The warranty lasts five years, so a 52,000-mile 2018 Ultimate auto for £24,000 is still covered. JE

Question: I bought a 2016 Renault Zoe six months ago. It’s due a service, but I’m concerned that independent garages don’t understand EVs. Who might service it? Grace Clark, via email

Answer: Independent garages will have to grasp the EV nettle at some point. In 2017, a vehicle technician called Peter Melville formed an organisation dedicated to helping independent garages understand EVs. It’s called the Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Repair Alliance. Visit hevra.org.uk to find an EV-competent garage near you. JE

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jason_recliner 18 August 2021

@Si73 that's what we do. Drive around town in old bangers. If we want to go camping or offroading or touring on holiday, hire something (usually using dirt-cheap company hire adn insurance rates), use it hard, get it filthy, fill the tank and give it back.

si73 17 August 2021
Re diesels, the avensis suggested was petrol, but surely all these cars costing around a couple of grand are far more than the cost of a rail or air travel ticket? And surely for that money, whilst you may get a reasonable return if you can sell it afterward, not always easy selling mega high milers, I'd have thought just hiring a decent car for the duration would be cheaper and probably a more pleasant experience than an old high mileage car that is likely far from its best. Maybe it'd be better to spend more on something newer and probably more reliable that you can sell on afterwards far more easily and possibly even recoup a higher percentage of your outlay? Best of luck which ever way you do it though.
Deputy 17 August 2021

Mr Ruppert just doesn't get it, he can't stop recommending diesels.  He'd rather we all drive 14 year old diesels pumping out 100 times the particulates into air than a modern diesel. Or how about take the train and rent a small new petrol car when there?  Autocar, time to let this dinosaur go please.