Eric Chambers is looking for a small, economical, diesel, second-hand car for his 19-year-old son, who lives in the Oxford area. Eric's budget is from £4,000, with £5,000 as an absolute maximum. He was thinking of a Volkswagen Polo, a Citroë*C2, or a Peugeot 207. Otherwise, Eric has an open mind about what to get though he needs to be aware of the perennial problem with young drivers – insurance premiums.

A car for the head

Yes, it's that old chestnut: although it is possible to pinpoint the perfect car for a young driver in terms of budget and practicality, it can become academic when an insurance quote reaches a stratospheric figure. So the priority always has be the lowest insurance group possible. Also, the Pass Plus advanced driving course is recognised by several insurers when calculating premiums. This government-backed course costs around £150 for six lessons (including driving on the motorway) taken after a new driver has passed the standard driving test, and can lead to substantial insurance discounts. I also suggest that a small petrol engine would be more than adequate compared to a more expensive diesel. A young driver also needs to build up some no-claims bonus for a few years, so Eric's priority should be to find a car that is cheap to insure. There's the Vauxhall Corsa, which isn't interesting to drive (especially with the 1.0 litre engine), however that's a good thing because it puts it in insurance group one. The 1.0 Life's small engine means excellent economy at a fraction over 50mpg. Plus, being a Vauxhall, parts and servicing costs are incredibly reasonable. Eric's £4,000 would buy a 2004 Life from a dealer with just over 30,000 miles on the clock.

A car for the heart

So is it possible to buy a car that would be a bit more interesting? Well on a small budget and I'm not sure if Eric's £4,000 to £5,000 includes insurance, there is the Ford Ka, pictured below, that can be picked up for around £1,000. This is a stylish little car that's cheap to run, with typically low Ford servicing costs. Also, the Ka was fitted with a driver's airbag from the very beginning, so that's quite reassuring. Low specification and no power steering means rock-bottom prices for the older models. On the insurance issue, the Ka starts in group two. Certainly the small Citroëns are worth considering. All the C1s fall into group one, as does the Vibe and Rhythm 1.1 models, and they would make great first cars. The C1 in particular is cheap to buy and to run and has the sort of funky cabin that young people might just refer to as "cool". The tiny three cylinder 1.0 litre engine is surprisingly lively yet will return 61.4mpg overall, which is key to the tiny running costs. Four adults can fit into the five door and, although the boot is tiny, it is a very practical and great value modern car that is safe and reliable. About £4,500 will buy a 2006 five-door model with around 30,000 miles on the clock.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF or email James Ruppert at, 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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