A private sale may be better than a part-ex as a reader seeks to upgrade to a family vehicle. And he doesn't have to think big

Alistair Reed and his wife are expecting their first child and need a car suitable for the new family unit. They currently have a three-door Renault Clio (with some damage to the bodywork) and a three-door Fiat Punto (with key damage to the paintwork). They would like to swap one of these and are looking to add no more than £7,000 for the trade-up. They want a vehicle with four or five doors and, as Alistair's wife has a slightly weak back, would prefer the higher seating of MPV-style cars to make it easier to lift in the baby.

There are a couple of issues here as Alistair wants to know how to make the most of his potential part exchanges, feeling that they may not be easy to sell privately. I would need to know more about the damage to each vehicle but neither should be a problem to sell as they are small, economical hatchbacks, which is what most buyers want these days.

The Renault would probably be the more attractive buy, but Alistair should consider a private sale. He may be surprised at how much he gets compared to part-exchanging at a garage where he will usually receive the minimal amount plus a car salesman shaking his head at the repairs needed and offering even less.

As far as the damage is concerned, the main thing is to avoid corrosion setting in; a simple touch-up paintstick may be enough to stop the rot on the key damage. Buyers also like to see a clean car, and if you point out the damage and will knock off the repair cost from the asking price, they should be happy.

As a guide, Alistair should look online or in local car ads to see what the going rate is for the car he decides to sell.

A car for the head

I'll assume Alistair has around £9,000 to spend. Even though his wife's back means raised seating is a good idea, I don't know if they should be going down the people-carrier route with just one child. There are some small family-car options that will be much better value and offer just as much as something with clever seats. The Mazda 3 is worth a go. It is great to drive and also very versatile, combined with Mazda's well-earned reputation for reliability. The driving position is excellent, with a very adjustable steering wheel and a supportive, height-adjustable seat, so I think Alistair's wife will be fine. But a long test drive or even overnight loan will settle this.

The boot is big enough for baby stuff and the rear is spacious. TS or TS2 specification is better and Alistair should buy from a Mazda dealer to get a good warranty. I found a 2005 car at a dealer and a very low-mileage 2006 TS at a car supermarket inside the £9,000 budget.

A car for the heart

An interesting model is offered by Seat in the shape of the Altea (pictured). It's a sort of people carrier but without those clever removable seats that many owners don't use. Seat actually calls this a Multi Sports Vehicle, although it will look to many people like a very tall hatchback. Alistair's wife will be happy with the driving position, which is suitably high, while both the seat and steering wheel are height-adjustable too. There is also plenty of room for babies and their baggage in the rear.

This is a tough little car, which comes with 1.6 or 2.0 petrol engine plus diesel options. The basic specification is very good, and while the suspension may be too firm for weak backs, a test drive will reveal if this is the case. I found a 2007 1.6 XL model at a Seat dealer with just 163 miles, so it was as good as new and cost just over £9,000 and would have the balance of the warranty.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested and your budget.

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