A weekly look at all that’s rotten in the car industry, and a few good bits
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.
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.)
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.)
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.)
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
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.
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?