Currently reading: James Ruppert: Twenty is plenty when shopping second hand
£20,000 goes an awful long way in the classified car pages. Our man picks some highlights

Just in case you wondered, that groovy car for surfers in the shape of an old Peugeot 505 Estate that featured on this very page last month went for a solid £20,000.

Make of that what you will, but clearly when the right car and customer come together, the sky is the limit. So my top-end buying budget in difficult times has to be £20k. What on earth can you get for that these days?

We’ve established that you can bid your way into an old practical car, but how about one that’s much newer and reliable? That would definitely be a Honda Civic, which as recently as 2020 was topping reliability surveys.

Just £19,495 gets us inside a 2016 2.0 i-VTEC Type R GT with 30,000 miles. Here’s a hot hatch with a more-than-adequate 306bhp nad lots of option boxes ticked, including plenty of black detailing and a carbon package. There was a wonderfully detailed service history in the advert that took in valve clearances and fresh Michelin Pilot Sport tyres. A joyous way to part with £20k.

Click here to buy your next used car from Autocar

If you don’t want something so excitingly full-on, then £20k should get you a car that is at the very least comfortable. We could go way back in time with a Roller or an S-Class, but then again we don’t want to break down or be lumbered with a big bill, so how about a Mazda CX-5? A few years ago, it was a real-world comfy car, according to ordinary motorists.

It may be an SUV, but the CX-5 looks pretty stylish, and I would be inclined to go for a smooth and easy-to-live-with petrol model connected to an automatic gearbox. I came across a big main agent with a 2018 2.0 SE-L Nav+ for £19,000. It certainly had all mod cons, from lane-keeping aid to radar cruise control and all that sort of stuff.

Reliability and comfort is all very well, but what you really want for £20k is also a bit of character: right proper, out-there nonsense and maybe some wind in your hair. Basically, you can afford a Caterham. I saw a 2015 1.4 K-Series Supersport with around 10,000 miles for £19,990. That’s what’s left of the British car industry right there. It had carbonfibre mudguards, a limited-slip diff, wet-weather kit and a heater, so would certainly be comfortable for a Caterham. Reliability comes in the shape of a one-year dealer warranty.

Here’s the proof that with a thick five-figure sum to splurge, the used car market is a consistently exciting and rewarding place to go shopping. And if you do want to actually go shopping, a 22k-mile 2018 Mercedes-Benz C220d AMG Line for £19,000 is the compromise buy and miles better than an old 505.

Back to top

What we almost bought this week

Toyota Corolla 1.3 GS: All the excitement surrounding the GR Yaris has got us musing on Toyotas of old. Something like this £600 emerald green Corolla five-door. It’s a 1997 car that has done a modest 85,000 miles. Get this, though: it has had only one owner in the past 20 years and the service book is filled with workshop stamps. Now that’s really exciting.

Tales from Ruppert's Garage

BMW 320, 85,063 miles: I don’t want to go on about having a bunch of Road Fund Licence-free motors, but it was a nice surprise to receive a ‘vehicle tax reminder’ the other day for the Baby Shark. When I got the buff brown envelope, I was initially a bit concerned, because I had forgotten that it was due.

Back to top

I’ve been using the Shark recently and checking all the vitals, as it’s due for a 200-mile run. I’m looking forward to that. It certainly starts better than it did a year ago. There is a technique, but actually the best trick is to be patient. I do have a list of things that will make it better as I continue organising my motoring priorities.

Reader's ride

Mercedes-Benz 230 CE: Michael bought a cracker of an old car for just £875: “I had a lease car for company use at the time – a Mercedes CLK convertible – and realised that I was going to rack up a large mileage charge because of my daily commute in the final year of the contract.

This 1991 Mercedes 230 CE pillarless coupé was in good condition, with 87,000 miles and a tan leather interior that was factory-fresh and looked unused. The car was very reliable, with very good economy, and took on the role of the daily commute. In the end, I partexchanged it for a Volkswagen Touareg. Both cars had bags of character, and I would have both back on the fleet today if I had the room to accommodate them. There’s a fine line between liking and loving a car.”

Reader's questions

Q. Can I get an economical family hatchback no older than a 14-reg that’s well-equipped, fun to drive and cheap to insure, with reasonable performance and low mileage, for £6000? Helen Holgate, via email

Back to top

A. Yes, but just the one: a Ford Focus 1.25 Zetec. With luck, you will find a 2014-reg with around 35,000 miles for your money. Don’t accept any tat. It should be as blemish-free as any seven-year-old car has a right to be and with a full service history, although not necessarily main-dealer. The 123bhp 1.0 Ecoboost engine is a gem: sweetly thrummy and torquey low down. It’s so smooth that it’s easy to be in the wrong gear. Expect around 40mpg.

Q. I haven’t been using my car and am worried that leaving it standing will harm it. It’s only three years old, but I can’t help thinking it’s decaying before my eyes. What should I do? Toby Jones, Colchester

Back to top

A. Rusty brake discs, tarnished alloys, bird poo and algae are the kinds of issues you can expect an unused car to suffer. Thankfully, yours is young and its components are still fresh. Ideally, you’d take it for a long drive, but you can’t do that in lockdown, so at least push it a few feet to relieve the tyres and brake pads, check the tyre pressures, give it a wash and polish, then clean and finally spray the alloy bits (cylinder head, pipes, ABS pump etc.) with WD40.


James Ruppert: Bargain barnstormers that will take you anywhere​

Bangernomics 21 for 2021: James Ruppert's best used buys​

James Ruppert: Ordinary cars for extraordinary prices

Join the debate

Add a comment…
si73 6 April 2021
I'd love £20k to spend, I'd be like a kid in a sweet shop, the type R has got to be worth considering for that money, such a great drivers car that could also easily be all the car you'd ever need, and I actually like the styling, though I may feel a little old for it being nearer 50 than 30. But who cares.
Will86 6 April 2021

Except that a 2016 model will be based on the 9th generation Civic and not the one in the photo. That said, 10th generation CTRs start from around £22k...

none 6 April 2021

Avoid focus with 1.0 Ecoboost engine, useless had one on hire, stalls unless you stamp on accelerator.

It nearly killed me on roundabouts and junctions a few times.

If you don't have the rev's up the turbo is useless and the 3 pot 1.0 is not up to pulling the weight.

Also it only saves fuel if you drive miss daisy, once the turbo's on song you might have well got a proper 2.0.




LP in Brighton 6 April 2021

"That's what's left of the British car industry". James - you spoke too soon. Apparently Caterham has just been taken over by its japanese imported. Does this mean we have nothing left?