Currently reading: James Ruppert: Why you should be pumped for cheap diesels
Small diesel cars can be astonishingly good value – to buy and run
News
4 mins read
25 May 2021

Diesel isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is hard to argue with the benefits when it comes to economy and a long journey to demolish.

But what about if you do only short hops? Would you be mad to consider burning oil? Maybe, but I’ve been chatting to a reader who, for all sorts of complicated reasons, has to stick with diesel. Indeed, a decade or so back, I knew someone who always bought basic Ford Fiesta Ds for the local runs. These days, there are DPFs to contend with, but actually teeny diesels are excellent at what they do and, because they may not be ULEZ-friendly, great value.

Let’s start with a Fiesta and not the ancient commercial-grade Ds. We can fast forward to quite a groovylooking 2013 1.6 TDCi Zetec with 50k miles, yours for £6500. A three-door with four previous owners, it has low-profile alloy wheels and certainly looks the part, plus it can return well over 70mpg overall, which is remarkably good news. There are cheaper Fiesta-shaped options, of course, and a 2007 1.4 TD Climate Style with five useful doors and 110k miles is still a £30-a-year-road-tax car. Plus it should give you around 60mpg. Oh, yes, and the price is £795 with a fresh MOT and good recent service history.

It is almost impossible to go wrong with any Volkswagen and in particular a Polo. A 2008 1.4 TDI Match with around 130k miles is just £895. The one I saw was a five-owner five-door, which will do over 60mpg combined. It may seem like a good first car but I have found that youngsters get punished for diesel, so the petrol version is better for a debut driver. Otherwise, what a spare, backup or second car to have.

When it comes to teeny tiny diesels, it has to be a Smart. They can be loved or loathed, but quite often this is all the runabout that most of us will ever need. Provided the ECU is not on the blink and the history checks out, these are fun little buys. A mega mileage can be a worry, but a 2009 Pulse with five previous owners and less than 50k miles is £1900. Zero road tax is another plus point on these, as is the 80mpg potential.

Indeed, the more you look at these micro-diesels, the more you realise that it is all about the low road tax and reassuringly solid MPG. With an Alfa Romeo Mito, a 2010 1.3 JTDm with just over 100k miles adds some proper pint-sized style for £1950. Long live little diesels.

Tales from Ruppert's garage

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BMW 320, mileage - 85.337: The Baby Shark has been very busy over the past few weeks. We’ve been doing some long runs for work. There are a few things that need doing before the MOT in June, though. I’m not quite sure whether it should spend some quality time with a specialist or carry on as a keeping-it-real retro runner. The warmer weather is better for starting, but you have to concentrate on keeping up the revs until it is lukewarm and ready to go. I’ll show you some bubbling rust soon and the tyre pressure monitors have given up recently, but I tell you what: the boot is huge. I got a big window in there with room to spare.

Reader's ride

Audi A4: Thanks to Paul and his very interesting short story: “Last summer, my son announced he was moving back to Cheshire from London and would need a car. His maximum budget was £1000. I found him this 2000, 120k-mile Audi A4 1.8 being sold privately. It had had just two owners (the last for 16 years), a new set of Michelin tyres and 18 stamps in the service book, all for £690. All electrics work perfectly, the air-con is ice cold and it sailed through its MOT. It’s a joy to drive – as smooth and comfortable as many much newer cars.”

Readers' questions

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Question: I’m sorely tempted by a 2018-plate VW Scirocco 2.0 TSI R-Line DSG with 17,000 miles for £17,750. What should I look for and is it a good deal? Jack Carewe, via email

Answer: Its fresh looks disguise a car that’s based on the Mk5 Golf, launched as long ago as 2003 – so it’s old and feels it. The interior looks old, too, and the doors are awkwardly long. The six-speed DSG is responsive, but to keep it that way it needs its oil changed regularly. On the flip side, the car is built like a tank, is well equipped and has the whiff of a future classic about it. The price looks competitive so take it for a spin. JE

Question: I’m buying a new car on a PCP. The salesman says that to get the best price for it at the end of the contract, I must have it serviced by a main agent. Is this true? Monika Nowak, via email

Answer: Your car should be serviced to secure the best resale price but it doesn’t have to be at a main agent. So long as it’s done when required and the correct parts are used, any garage can do the work and the value of your car won’t be affected. However, some premium makes (BMWs, Mercedes etc) are best serviced by a main dealer because future buyers expect it. JE

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Comments
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michael knight 6 June 2021
James: "It is almost impossible to go wrong with any Volkswagen and in particular a Polo."
It's this kind of blithe horsesh*t that makes one wonder if Dieselgate ever happened?
scotty5 26 May 2021

What an utterly stupid comment by runnerbean. The alternative to lorries and ships and planes is what exactly?

I'm not a diesel hater, quite the opposite, but the case for small diesels was never made whether they be new or old. They only existed in the UK because Co2 was the only factor when the VED / tax system was changed - Labour's attempt at combating greenhouse gases.

Stockholm Calling 25 May 2021

Point taken Runnerbean, though I think you can make use of diesel powered vehicles while also hoping that they will soon be replaced with something cleaner. By the way, don't think I've ever heard of a diesel powered passenger jet!

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