Sanjay Mazumder wants to buy a convertible for the summer. He has £5,000-£6,000 to spend. He and his wife are both 28 years old, but she has only had her licence for a year and he is a company car driver, so insurance is going to be an issue. They live in London and absolutely, definitely don't want an MG.

This is a bad time to buy a convertible. If the sun is out and the sky is just a bit blue, then even a skip on wheels can have a premium asking price. That is a problem, because it means lots of tatty old convertibles go on sale. So, it is important that Sanjay and his wife look very carefully at what they are buying.

It is easy to get carried away and not look carefully at roof mechanism and overall condition. Maybe the paperwork is not complete, and perhaps the convertible is rebuilt or even stolen. Proper pre-sale checks and an engineer's inspection are essential, but perhaps the most important thing Sanjay can do is take a detached friend or relative along who can stop him making a mistake.

Insurance is always an issue with a convertible. Sanjay should aim for a non-sporty model until he and his wife have built up a decent no-claims bonus. To minimise the premium, Sanjay can opt for third-party cover (not covered for damage to his car), a large excess (the amount he pays in the event of a claim), and garage the car or, at least, park it off road.

A car for the head

The sensible option is a hatchback convertible, ideally with a smallish engine. That may sound dull, but Sanjay will still get the wind in his hair plus low running costs and realistic insurance cover. Not only that, depreciation will slow considerably and a few years down the line he stands a good chance of getting much of his money back.

The most sensible choice would be the Volkswagen Golf. My personal choice is an old, square-shaped Mark 1 built in the 1990s. It is possible to buy a 1.8 with an automatic gearbox and electric roof for just over £3,000 - and that is within the London area. If Sanjay wants something more contemporary, the next Golf shape is equally affordable. I easily found a 2.0-litre Avantgarde model with twin airbags and ABS brakes for £5,995, and an earlier 1.8 at £4,500 - again in the London area. Both had electric hoods.

These models are very durable, and useable during the winter months. The engines are strong, and as the miles build up only suspension and brake parts should need to be replaced. Insurance groups are 12-13, which is reasonable enough.

A car for the heart

One of the must-have convertibles at the moment is the little Peugeot 206CC. It has a very clever folding metal roof but, unfortunately, costs a little more than £6,000. Sanjay, though, can have a much prettier, more practical (it seats four) and cheaper convertible in the very attractive shape of the Peugeot 306. Here is an overlooked convertible that is great value for money. Mid-1990s examples can be bought for around £4,000. In some London classified advertisements I quickly turned up a 1994 with a full service history and driver's airbag from a car dealer at just £4,695. The insurance situation is that it starts at group 12 for a 1.8 model rising to 14 for a 2.0-litre.

The 306 is not the most durable of cars and can have some niggly electrical and trim problems. Some owners also report that the body flexes a bit when going over bumps, but this is a common trait on many convertibles. Also, the gearbox can feel less than precise. These small problems should not put Sanjay off provided he is prepared to look for the very best examples.

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