Because of the shortage in microchips, supplies of new cars have been restricted and this has meant customers have had to buy used instead - pushing up prices across the board. But what if you really just need a cheap car? And want that cheap car to not let you down? You've come to the right place: seriously affordable cars that we reckon should prove reliable, especially if you choose carefully. Let's take a look:
As with buying all older cars today, bear in mind any low emissions zones that may operate near you as these can add to the expense of running such models
As an ‘E46’, this is the last of the pretty ones. You get a proper six-pot petrol and a lovely turbine sound. There is a decent amount of space and in the company car park even an old BMW still has a certain amount of kudos.
The Mondeo has been one of the most practical stuff-shifters for several model generations. Mk3s from the Noughties are great. Make sure the previous owner has spent a bit on the suspension bushes and done all the engine belts – so a big fat service history is good.
Probably best to buy a 1.8 Zetec, then, though we're also partial to the 2.5 Zetec S, which comes loaded with the likes of cruise control and a heated windscreen.
Most SUVs are soft-roaders these days, so why not get a proper soft-roader in the first place? We have always adored the futuristic styling of the HR-V, which has shades of the Evoque about it. Even if only half of it works, it’s still worth buying.
The Stream followed the Shuttle, and had in common with it a terrible name. Put that aside, though, because the Stream really won’t let you down. Any used Honda is a very safe used car bet, of course, but this one also has seven seats.
There aren’t many in circulation now, but we managed to stumble across a 2.0 SE Sport from 2003 at £1490. A dealer sale with 96k miles. Bargain.
Hyundai Santa Fe
A Discovery 2 without the disappointing breakdowns. If all you need is a vehicle to stick the dog in and do the mad school run when there is inclement weather, the Santa Fe is your ride. Not a pretty sight, but who cares?
Crankshaft sensor failure can happen; overall, though, they rack up big mileages without serious complaint. A 2006 2.4 CDX at £1895 in black with a reasonable 90k mileage seems fair money for such a tidy example.
We can’t believe how many cheap Ford Pumas are around, but they are rusting away. Better to find one of these prettier Coupés from 2002. You might want to resist it, but you would be wrong.
Hyundai didn’t get to where it is today without building highly reliable motors, and they’re super-cheap right now. Indeed, we found a dealer sale for a 2003 1.6L S with only 80k miles. The car is in overall good shape and at £1195 is hard to go wrong.
Lexus GS 300
A GS 300 will rack up the miles and not break down, and with a six-cylinder engine powering the rear wheels, it should be good to drive. The timing chains need doing at 90k miles, and the air-con may leak into the footwell.
We found an 85,000-mile 1998 SE with a full history that looks very tidy indeed.
Lexus LS 400
Lexus’s big battleship is something of a legend (no, not a Legend – that was a Honda). The LS has been the quintessential bargain barge for years and is almost impossible to kill. Availabilityhas been going down, though, and prices creeping up.
Nothing usually goes wrong but, if it does, it will cost a fortune. Suspension can be the culprit. We did find a 1997 example with high mileage but supposedly carefully maintained, all for £2250. Buy one.
You may have forgotten all about it, but it’s worth remembering what an unburstable family banger the 323 was, and still is. Most were bought privately and seem to still be immaculately intact. No common faults, just consumables like tyres and exhausts.
We would prefer the earlier, cooler, pop- up-headlight model, but our heads were turned by a 1995 1.5 with almost a year’s MOT. The £850 price tag sounds stiff, but it looks great and has just 75k miles.
One of the non-charisma Mitsubishis, to rekindle a bad old pun. The reliability stats, though, seem to speak for themselves; these are utterly unbreakable daily hacks. Add the estate rear end for even more sensibility.
A lot of people know how good they are, which is why most that are up for sale right now cost around one and a half grand. So we ended up in Worcestershire looking at a pokey 2005 2.0 Sport at £2300. With 6 months warranty and only 92k miles it’s worth having a look.
Mitsubishi Space Wagon
For a while, we fancied a Grandis which, at least, does not look like a shipping container with windows. But they are pricey and still quite leggy. If you can live with the looks, though, the old-school Space Wagon is of course faultlessly reliable.
We did have to sift through some iffy imports with body kits and automatic gearboxes but eventually found a tidy 2003 2.4 GDi at £995 - it's even compliant with the new, larger London emissions zone.
Nissan Micra 1.0
We really should be looking at funky Smarts, but they’re compromised and overly complex. What you need is one of these driving-school specials in the shape of a K11 Micra. They are now hundreds of pounds and dozens seem to live on quite happily.
They can be killed by rust and the throttle body disintegrates – when that happens, you won’t get the claimed 47mpg. We found a 2000 car with 120k miles for £495: immaculate inside and with a sunroof.
A 900, or even a later 9-3, is a proper grown-up cabriolet at a giveaway price. There are often lots of niggles to deal with, but the core of these cars is pretty tough. An interestingly flaccid driving experience, but it looks great. Coil packs can expire but are easy to fix.
A tidy, black 1997 2.0 i S with new tyres and a partial service history to cover 58k miles seems great value at £2450, with no problems highlighted by the seller. Worth the risk.
An alternative to a Focus that is fun to drive and tough enough. There are a bunch of engines to choose from and right now the 1.6 petrol is the best compromise – although, if you can stretch to a 1.8, do.
Faulty coil pack and plugs can stop them starting but are an easy enough fix from the VW parts bin. The 2005 1.6 SX we found only had 69k miles at £995. Looks like a bargain.
Suzuki Wagon R
This edged out a Toyota Yaris because it offers micro-MPV practicality. The running gear is excellent, the seating position is OAP-friendly and there is a ton of space in the boot or inside with the seats folded – and it’s cheaper than its Vauxhall Agila relative.
Low- mileage neglect means brakes and suspension often need attention. So find a 2005 1.2 GL with almost a full year MOT and 60k miles for £750 like we did.
How we miss the Celica. The modern GT86 is a very different beast, but the Celica still has a sharpness to it that is very endearing. Mostly, though, it is a Toyota, and that means day-in, day-out reliability, although it can burn oil.
Avoid anything that the tuning brigade has gone anywhere near. Online we found a solid 2002 example with a respectable 110,000 miles. At £1000, this example comes with air-con and a full service history.
Vauxhall Astra Convertible
Yes, it’s an Astra, but the Convertible should never be underestimated. Here is a working-class drop-top that will tear around all day long like an old Astramax van. The roof can give you a bit of grief if it goes on the blink, so make sure you check that.
We came across a rather wonderful looker, a 2003 1.6i with 98k miles and a lot of kit including electric mirrors and air-con. Let’s just call it a Bertone and hope nobody notices, eh?
The S80 is often overlooked and underrated, which explains why it is so cheap. The spec is sky high and the petrol engines are very dependable. Most issues relate to the automatic gearbox, suspension (it’s a heavy car) and ABS warning lights.
We found a 2005 2.5 automatic at £750 with 100k miles and black leather interior. The car is not in its greatest shape, understandable for this price. There are a lot of buying options; most are automatic and the miles fluctuate wildly, from 100k to 200k, so shop around. An S80 will barge the distance, mind you.
Volvo C70 T5
Who needs a Polestar when you can have an achingly pretty C70 T5? Not the sharpest handler, nor the most charismatic badge, but it’ll do 155mph and remains seriously cheap. The Volvo is a reliable old thing; suspension, ABS issues and electric window malfunctions happen, but no biggies.
A gold coloured convertible 1999 example with 98k miles is just £1250, though the roof mechanism needs fixing but this may be a simple electronic issue, not mechanical.