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Car Choice: Help! My family has grown, but my car's still the same size

After 10 years, Antonia Stowe wants to replace her reliable but uncomfortable Vauxhall Astra. She needs space for her husband, two growing boys and the dog, so the new car must be at least Astra sized. She wants an automatic gearbox, easy-clean leather upholstery and a sunroof. In the longer term, she wants to convert the car to run on liquid petroleum gas (LPG). She has between £10,000 and 15,000.

A car for the head

Because Antonia wants to convert her car to run on gas it must be petrol powered, and it should also be out of manufacturer's warranty. There is no point buying brand new and then, a year later, voiding two years of warranty by having the conversion done. That will cost between £1,500 and £2,000 and should form part of her budget anyway. I recommend a well equipped car more than three years old and, to me, that means a Saab. The 9-3 series is like a giant executive hatchback, which has an absolutely huge boot area and more than enough room for big and small boys plus a dog. The specifications of the SE models in particular were always very generous, and Antonia could buy the pre-2003 model and get an awful lot of car for well under £5,000. I have a friend who bought a Saab like this and converted it to LPG, and because the gas is half the cost of petrol now enjoys the equivalent of 60mpg. Antonia will have to search carefully through Saab specifications because, although cars with leather and automatic gearboxes are easy to find, increasingly sunroofs have been deleted because air conditioning doesn't work with the roof open. However, there are many like Antonia who like to feel the breeze and there will also be larger Saab 9-5 models with this option.

A car for the heart

Antonia needs space so I think an estate model would be a good idea, and large petrol cars are now very cheap. You can get a quality estate car like an Audi A6 Avant for less than you think and Antonia would be very comfy in this car, which would be several steps up in class, ability and performance. It will feel like proper luxury; inside there is masses of space and it is also superbly laid out. The standard SE specification is very good, but first owners who bought these as company vehicles could well have included leather, automatic and a sunroof. A simple search turned up an A6 Avant 2.4 from 2005 for £12,000. It had covered a reasonable 30,000 miles, had an automatic gearbox, leather trim and a glass electronic sunroof. On top of all that was a full sat-nav system, alloys and just about everything else you could think of. Essentially this is a lot of car for not much money and could be converted to LPG within the budget. One warning: running costs will be slightly higher than an Astra.

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.