Car Choice: Bangers and cash

Two readers have much-loved Saabs, reliable but ancient. Do the costs of these classics add up?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

This week we have Rob McClean and Dr Cherry Bradshaw, both owners of high-mileage Saabs. Rob has a 9-3SE diesel with 150,000 miles on the clock, while Cherry has a 170,000-mile 900 convertible. They're both asking: should they stop spending money on their "bangernomics" projects and buy another car?

It was great fun to read Rob and Cherry's e-mails, which marked them out as Saab enthusiasts. Both mentioned bangernomics as a guiding principle, but they asked, not unreasonably, about the point at which it would be wise to give up on their old cars.

The truth is that, compared with the depreciation on a new car (up to half the purchase price over a couple of years), spending a thousand or so on a used car is far more cost-effective.

In Cherry's case, she has a 15-year-old classic, and she had an unfortunate experience with a blinged-up Mercedes convertible she bought and quickly regretted. I reckon she should spend a very small fortune sorting out her Saab.

I should declare an interest here; I am a big fan of Saabs and have a high-mileage 11-year-old 9000 in my fleet. It's probably the least characterful Saab of the past 20 years, but it is still better value and a better drive than similarly aged Mercs and Audis.

I'm not that attached to it, though, and when the automatic gearbox goes (which costs £1,500 to sort out), I will buy another cheap Saab. But is that what Rob should do?

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

As I said, Cherry should keep hold of her Saab convertible. The sensible thing is to sort it out for a few thousand pounds.

She could, of course, go for another four-seater convertible from Sweden in the shape of the Volvo C70. It's hardly a common sight, and not as quirky as a Saab, but the 2.0T GT model has a decent turn of speed and is comfortable. At £8,000 to £9,000 for a clean 2000 example with a warranty, it's pretty good value too.

Rob has £2,000 to spend, plus the amount he gets for his old Saab 9-3, which could be up to £3,000. So he could get another Saab, although it will have about 60,000 miles on the clock, have been registered in 2000 and be the SE specification, so that it would be a like-for-like swap.

Rob could go for a change of make, but £5,000 won't buy him much that's well equipped and diesel. The ideal choice would be an Audi estate, but they are pricey. An A6 Avant with 1.9TDi diesel engine will be much older than his Saab and have a similar six-figure mileage. It seems like another case of going for a later Saab or fixing his up.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

Cherry must stick with her Saab convertible and invest a few thousand - or, perhaps, try a C70 convertible for size, or possibly trade up to a later 9-3 version. These are good-value models, and a 2.0T SE from 2001 with 50,000 miles will be £9,500. She would appreciate the better dynamics and equipment of the more up-to-date model.

Saab fans might argue that the later cars aren't as good or characterful as the older ones, but Cherry has to be the judge of that. Rob is in a more difficult position, as finding something to replace a Saab that has the same appeal is tough. He could buy a boring diesel from Volkswagen, because he can't afford a BMW, Mercedes or Audi.

But I think he could dare to be different and consider a Skoda. I like the large saloon, the Superb, which can be bought with VW's excellent diesel engines for £5,000 or a bit less. If Rob wants the hatchback format, the Skoda Octavia Estate will do well. Or there's the Seat Toledo, another VW spin-off but classier than a Skoda; a 2002 1.9TDi can be bought for £4,995.

CAR CHOICE

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail 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 budget.

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