Car News: Buying a Banger

A weekly look at all that’s rotten in the car industry, and a few good bits


Dealer or private seller, the sticker price isn’t the actual price

There’s an old adage among restaurant owners which says always eat where the chef eats. That advice can be applied to almost any profession, always go to the doctor your doctor uses; always use the hairdresser your hairdresser uses; always use the funeral director- no, hold on. That one doesn’t fit.

What is true is, buy a high mileage old car your car dealer will buy for his own use. If anybody knows a good, safe bargain, a car dealer knows. ‘I’m looking for a cheap reliable second-hand car, got any ideas?’ is the most asked question I get from friends who know I know from bitter experience the minefield that awaits the unwary buyer.

Three basics to guide you: first choose a car for your needs, second, buy one with a known dependable engine, and third, buy a car least prone to rust if kept outside. Add to that, never buy a smoker’s wheels. You can’t get rid of the nicotine pong.

No matter how uncomfortable you feel, haggle with the seller to get the price down, and always have £500 set aside as a contingency for replacing worn parts. Sellers sell when there’s one repair too many for their budget. They all have a lower price they’ll agree to.

Check the car’s history to see when the last service was done, if over a year budget for a new service. Check tyre wear, and look for signs of leaking oil. It might be a cheap thing such as a cylinder head gasket, or expensive. the gearbox. All interior marks on plastics or fabric tears can be repaired, all dings and dents in the bodywork can be fixed if you’ve a mind to do it.

Space is limited here so I’ll concentrate on family vehicles. My choices assume you have at least two bread snappers and a cordless hoover in the form of a dog.

The models I recommend – not diesel! – are either the one before last or two before the current style. Car makers learned quickly how to exploit our need for one-upmanship; even a mild redesign to nose and dash has us hankering for the new model and ditching the old. Most people avoid the old model, the smart buyer’s opening for a bargain. Some old models can be uprated with the new headlights and grille, but if you’re not concerned with fashion, save your money.

None will punch a hole in the wind, so don’t expect them to cause gasps of envy from neighbours. On the other hand, your neighbour will have burned thousands of pounds in VAT and sudden devaluation buying a brand new car, leaving him to ponder the smug look on your face. The cars I recommend are fine and dandy in snow and ice. They are all practical, designed for harassed parents with more duties than there are hours in a day.


The venerable Toyota RAV4, forerunner of all SUVs – lots around to choose from

Toyota’s RAV4. Okay, hands in the air admission. Regular readers will know I’ve owned a few, all three door variety, but the five door is a fine dependable car to own. There are 1.8 and 2 litre engines, manual or automatic. Toyota runs a discounted parts and service for older models to retain customer loyalty, but the engines are easy to fix by competent mechanics. The rear seats fold down or can be lifted out – a pain to store – offering a vast loading area. You can get two child seats in the back plus one youngster who doesn’t need a seat. 35 mpg is attainable in town, more on motorway journeys. The oldest model hangs the spare wheel on the back door, the newer one inside. Interiors wear well but spend time looking for those with leather. Anything between 100,000 and 110,000 thousands miles should cost no more than £4,000 fully loaded. Over that mileage look at £1,500 or less. A talented Mexican furniture maker I know has one now passing 350,000 miles and it’s still going strong. (Alternative: Honda CR-V – not as handsome as a RAV but as cheap as promises made to Scotland by Westminster.)


Almost any Volvo is worth a look – this is the XC70 estate

VOLVO XC70. Scotland used to be Volvo’s biggest market outside Sweden. These days we’ve swapped estate cars for SUVs, a shame because an estate is better value. In earlier days I used one of Volvo’s stately barges for every sort of task, to shift children, go long trips, carry stripped pine doors, flagstones, shopping, and get to London and back. It never ever let me down. Bought by Ford in the Nineties, resold when Ford got into debt, Volvo downsized its cars, a good thing in my opinion. Their proportions are better now. 10 years use is as nothing to a Volvo. Load area is huge; you can shoot ducks in the back. A 2009 Volvo XC70 D5 automatic with 125,000 miles, full history and important cambelt change at 100,000 miles is the one to look for. Don’t pay more than £5,000. (Alternative, Skoda Octavia Estate 1.5. One of VW’s bargains even new. The unassuming choice.)


The Subaru Outback – a classless car with some oomph in its belly

Subaru Outback. A young friend asked me to find an estate car yesterday to replace the Ford heap of junk that had given up the ghost at the side of the motorway. It was a happy parting of the ways. It had caused him a small fortune in breakdown repairs. A quick scan of the second-hand pages in the Autotrader’s internet site discovered two being sold off by Scotland’s Forestry Commission. They’d seen hard days driving up and down and over forestry track in the Highlands, but built to last with a rugged engine they needed only an interior clean and exterior polish to make them sparkle. His budget was £5,000, his above average annual use over 15,000 miles. I bought one for £3,750 and a full tank of petrol, only 72,000 on the odometer. A very happy father of two, he’s yet to see a part needing replaced after a year’s use. (Alternative: Skoda Yeti. Yes, another Skoda, not as fast as the Subaru but amazingly versatile especially in four wheel drive version.)


The spy in your car

New car safety laws proposed by the European Council will require all new cars to be fitted with data recorders that will log information such as the car’s speed or the state of activation of the car’s safety systems before, during and after a collision. No divorce from the EU will block the innovation because the cars we buy are, for the most part, made in Europe, the few made here destined to be sold in Europe. If approved by the European Parliament, the laws will require all new cars to have intelligent speed assistance systems, a good compensation for the brain matter missing in bad drivers. ISAS will inform drivers of prevailing speed limits and, when used in conjunction with cruise control, automatically adapt to the speed limit. It will not be possible “to switch off or suppress” the speed assistance system. The Black Box is a-coming.

Winter lights

This is the time of year when you discover how many stupid drivers have one headlight beam pointing up to the night sky, or see any number of show off drivers blinding you headlights full-on plus fog lights, and not forgetting the driver who dislikes headlights altogether, who relies on the Pole Star as guide. Blind drivers are sometimes in modern cars where the dash illumination comes on automatically soon as the key is turned, fooling the unwary into assuming front and rear lights are switched on. The rest are idiots driving without due care and attention. The one light up, one down syndrome is a mystery. Why don’t they notice when behind a car in slow moving traffic? Get yer lights fixed!

Death of wing mirrors 

Audi is sounding the death-knell for traditional wing mirrors by replacing them on its first ever electric car with all-seeing hi-tech video cameras and screens. The new Launch Edition of Audi’s e-Tron SUV is the first mass-production car to ditch conventional reflective mirrors and replace them with a live video stream on screens inside the vehicle. Instead of the driver looking through their windows into wing mirrors, the £82,240 five-seater SUV has replaced them with streamlined side-mounted video cameras and a live feed embedded inside the doors. The cameras automatically adapt their view to cope with motorway driving, turning and parking. The driver can even use the touch screen to zoom-in on specific trouble spots. £82,000 for that facility? How much if I just turn my head left and right and do without the cameras?



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8 Responses to Car News: Buying a Banger

  1. greig12 says:

    I just got myself a Subaru Forester for more or less the same reasons you’ve given for the Outback. I would even at this early stage say though that if you do a lot of miles then fuel consumption may be an issue because the AWD fair burns the gas. Mines is a 2.0l petrol and the fuel consumption average according to the computer is about 26.1 mpg around town. The longest run I’ve had it on so far has been about 60 miles and the average went up to 30.1 mpg, and I’m no heavy on the pedal honest. This makes it a bit worse than my 3.2l Ford Ranger pick up.

    Another annoyance, and I don’t know if the Outback suffers from this but the tank only has a 330ish mile range between fills which may be a bit of a nuisance when I start taking it around the highlands.

    I only do around 8000 miles pa these days though so I’m not that bothered about the thirst and I do need the 4 wheel drive so I’ll see how it goes. Two things I do like though is the turning circle and it’s got a sunroof, something I haven’t had for years so I’m looking forward to summer.

    That’s if we can get or afford petrol after brekshit of course.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    The 4-wheel drive makes all the difference in all weathers. Worth looking for that model. Subaru engines are tweaked for high performance making average mileage disappointing. The 2 litre engine is particularly thirsty compensated by offering more get up and go compared to the smaller. I’d always choose the bigger if needed for regular long journeys. I hope the Forester has proved reliable. What’s dealer servicing like?

  3. angusskye says:

    When I retired from my business I left my 4WD behind and so had to look for a replacement. Initially I was blinkered to looking “traditional 4WD” and SUV until I started looking at estates. I had had an Audi A6 Avant and loved it and this led to an A6 Allroad. It has been brilliant. At 3 litres it has loads of oomph when wanted, that all important 4WD and a tank that holds up to 600 miles worth of fuel at 50 mpg. Ok, I bought nearly new but there are plenty available out there today between £5K and £8K.

    Sorry GB, mine’s diesel (but the next won’t be!).

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    I almost included the Audi A6 AllRoad – now a tremendous bargain preowned for an outstanding estate. I never had a garage long enough to hold one! I’d hazard the rule that all but the shortest journey city cars should be 4-wheel drive if used in Scotland. Our winters and heavy rain are similar to Sweden where 4-wheel is the norm.

  5. greig12 says:

    I’ve not put the Subaru in for a service yet GB so don’t know what it’s like yet but I will let you know. Service interval is one year or 12000 miles though which seems a bit short compared to many cars these days that give the same time interval but longer mileage.

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    Greater servicing because the engine is highly tuned. Service costs are the issue next. (The reason a#ve never bought a BMW, that and their parts costs.) Still, buying cheap helps to balance the hit on the wallet.

  7. Robert Innes says:

    Interesting that you consider the Skoda Octavia estate as a possible cheap second-hand car. I would agree, apart from the risk of buying an ex-private hire taxi. From casual observation about 70% of private hire vehicles in the Glasgow area appear to be either Skoda Octavias or Rapids. Must say volumes about their reliability, but driving one surely runs the risk of being mistaken for a taxi, constantly.

  8. Grouse Beater says:

    I have the same problem with Mercedes saloons – Europe’s favourite taxi. By the way, I would have recommended the Audi All-Road, a Jack-of-all trades load carrier, jacked up higher than cars and 4-wheel drive, but they are few and far between at £5,000 usually with close to 200,000 on the clock because owners keep them a long time. Pre-owned with lower mileage are still expensive.

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