The bottom end of the used car market is awash with reliability and excellence, says James Ruppert

This week we take a look at the cheaper end of the used car market as we try to help two Independent readers with small, self-imposed budgets.

Brian George is looking for any a vehicle - petrol or diesel and preferably a hatchback - and is prepared to spend up to £2,500 on acquiring it.

Meanwhile, Charleston Tull is looking for an old Audi and is hoping to spend less than £1,000.

In the face of it Brian and Charleston's predicaments are very dissimilar. Charleston is very specific about the required make of vehicle, an Audi, while Brian has more than double the budget.

The thing is, though, that neither of them is prepared to spend a lot on a vehicle and that position is to be roundly applauded. In fact, it brings me neatly on to my favourite automotive subject, Bangernomics.

Basically bangernomics is the joys of depreciation-free motoring. Buy cheap, run cheaply, then run into the ground or, provided that the car has a valid MOT certificate, it may even be possible to resell.

Bangernomics is the ultimate in recycling and the great thing is that the number of decent, affordable cars available has never been larger.

Most cars beyond P registration, that is a decade old, are not worth much at all - but the brilliant thing is that vehicles have never been more durable. Indeed Charleston is likely to have picked an Audi because they have such a great reputation for build quality, but aren't burdened with the premium price that an older Mercedes or BMW would doubtlessly attract.

That, too, is the sort of vehicle that might suit Brian's wide brief, but I also reckon that he might be better advised to consider a more mainstream vehicle - especially if he wants to have a diesel. Diesels, however, which can effectively double petrol mileage, are always highly sought after and that means they can be too expensive.


Charleston can easily get an Audi 80 under £1,000, and it would mean he would have money in his pocket left over for a tyre, maybe a service, or even a year's tax.

The 80 was a great little tough saloon and estate, although the ride is very firm. The Volkswagen engines, though, go on for ever. I found a 1994 1.6 with power steering and an electric sunroof at a dealer going for only £400. Indeed, there was no shortage of examples for up to £500 being sold by the car trade from the early to mid Nineties.

If Brian wanted to go diesel and run an Audi, then very high mileage Audi 80 TDIs sell for around £600 to £800. The saloon would not fit his hatchback brief, but there are Avant estates in this budget, too, even if they are not the most capacious, and an 80 matches most hatches in terms of luggage space.

Ideally, however, with £2,000 to spend I would point Brian towards to an ultra-reliable and cheap to run Japanese car such as a Toyota Corolla. For £2,000 he can get a 1998 example with a 1.6-litre engine. Upping the budget usually means less and a better specification such as a CD or GS with air conditioning. Not very exciting to look at or to drive, but these cars are utterly reliable.


At £499 I spotted an Audi that offered Charleston just about everything he would ever want. It was a 1992 Audi 100 Avant, so there is a decent amount of space inside this estate, plus it had an automatic gearbox as well as climate control air conditioning.

It came with full service history with lots of bills for important work, so in value for money terms, Charleston could not buy better. I think it would be a loveable old bus.

Brian is spoilt for choice really when it comes to finding an interesting car at an agreeable price. In the hatchback class, I would have to say that the Ford Focus remains one of the nicest both to drive and to live with. The budget of £2,000 puts 1999 and year 2000 models within reach - whether he wants a 1.8 TDI diesel engine or a 1.6/1.8 petrol one.

I would say that the petrol engine is the better bet as it will come with a lower mileage and is rather more satisfying to drive than the older generation diesels. Indeed, at £2,350 I found a car dealer with a 1999 1.8-litre Zetec that had covered just over 44,000 miles and was well equipped with air conditioning, alloy wheels and foglamps.

A year's MOT and six months tax was also thrown in, making it a great value buy for Brian.


Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at, giving your age, address and contact telephone number, as well as details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested as well as your budget.

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