Over Easter, I was talking to a chap who lives down in Hampshire. Given that he had three children, a dog and a history of sporty cars, I wasn’t surprised he had bought an Audi Q7 back in 2010.
He was just the sort of relatively affluent driver whom Audi has served so well over the past two decades. Having worked his way up the corporate ladder, and enjoyed one of Audi’s high-performance estate cars, he was a dead cert for the Q7 once marriage and children arrived.
The Q7 is smart, has a lovely interior, is fleet (thanks to the V6 diesel) and surefooted (quattro, of course). But there’s a limit to premium motoring, as he pointed out to me.
The Q7, which was five years old, had developed a couple of faults. Firstly, one of the big 21in alloys was cracked and possibly bent. Secondly, the wiper motor had gone nuts, leaving him with wiper arms that were stuttering across the windscreen. Finally, the car needed a service.
According to Mr Q7, the local Audi dealer wanted around £1300 for a wheel, more than £700 for a wiper motor and around £500 for the service. Not impressed, he took the Q7 and traded it in against a 64-plate Land Rover Discovery 4 – partly on an earlier recommendation by me.
But what he told me next amazed me most of all. Apparently he also bought an insurance policy from the Land Rover dealer, which covered the Disco against damaged wheels and tyres.
The car already has a two-year warranty left to run, so that just leaves him the standard-issue servicing to cover with his own wallet. Call it two years of relatively shock-free motoring locked in.
But I was amazed that manufacturers charge so much for original equipment parts that it’s now possible to insure yourself against the cost.
But – and I’m sure you are already ahead of me on this – what happens when the factory warranty runs out and he’s faced with main dealer parts prices?
Most of us have an eye out on the classifieds for these older premium cars, idly wondering when something upmarket and interesting might become cheap enough to afford. But affordability doesn’t mean just the purchase price.
Of course, all cars have become mechanically more complex, which is making repairs ever more expensive. Relatively modern turbodiesel cars can melt your wallet quite easily, with not-uncommon failed dual-mass flywheels and defunct high-pressure fuel pumps each costing north of £1000 to fix.
But £1000 for a wheel or £700 for a wiper motor puts modern premium into a completely different perspective. (I’ve still not got over the £450 I paid in 1997 for an idle control valve for my old Audi 90 20v quattro Sport.)
I once met Nick Mason (race car collector and part-time drummer) and asked him why he bothered with old cars - which are awkward, noisy and uncomfortable – when his day-to-day car was the awesome Audi RS6.
He looked at me as if I was a bit dim and said "because you can rebuild the old cars". Which is a fair point. I don’t imagine that an RS6's main ECU will be easy to find in 2025.
It is no wonder that my Autocar colleagues are voting with their hard-earned cash and buying rather older interesting cars. In past couple of months we’ve seen super-budget purchases of an MG F and a Jaguar XJ X300, as well as a Dodge Charger.
Indeed, it's possible to buy every single part for the Dodge, as was well as impressive upgrades (such as decent brakes), for something approaching sensible money. The rear window and zips of the MG F’s roof were replaced locally for well under £120.
Increasingly, it seems, owning an ‘interesting’ car means either something still under the manufacturers warranty, or something that’s old enough (and simple enough) to covered by cottage industry back-up.
If, like me, you would like something with relatively modern safety and dynamics, there's quite a narrow window of potential vehicles you could afford to run. No wonder three-year lease deals are so popular.