Miriam Roycroft has just spent £670 on her P reg Vauxhall Omega estate which has covered 150,000 miles and is now thinking of changing. As a 41-year old cellist and single mother of two young sons, she obviously needs an estate car for everything from the school-run to concerts. Miriam has been looking at Astra estates, Daewoo Nubira and Skoda Fabia estates. She is thinking about leasing has a deposit of around £3,000 and can handle a monthly payment of around £150 to £200.

Leasing is a complex issue. Anyone with little money for a deposit ought to consider personal contract hire schemes which is effectively a hire agreement and at the end of the period the car is handed back to the dealer.

There will be mileage restrictions and it could suit someone who has been used to running a company car. It can prove an expensive way to run a car though compared with alternative forms of finance. For those with less money to put down a Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) keeps the monthly payments down because the cost of the car is being deferred until the end of the agreement. Watch out though for the cost of the credit and a very high guaranteed final value on the car which may not cover a deposit on a replacement. The problem with PCP and lease schemes is that it leaves the buyer without any car at the end of the period. The only option is to sign up for another PCP or similar buying package from the same company. Some dealers who offer loans for any deposit get high commissions for these sums and the interest rate may also be unfavourable. Always look at the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) which tells you how much money costs to borrow.

A car for the head

I can't help feeling that Miriam would be better off with a compact people carrier. The ability to slide seats and remove them would be a huge advantage. The Vauxhall Meriva may well fit the bill. At the heart of this car's appeal is the FlexSpace seating system. This allows the three rear seats to be moved independently. All three of them can slide forward and back or even disappear completely into the floor to provide a large flat load bay. Not only that, it is possible to fold the centre seat into the floor and then slide the remaining seats closer together so rear seat passengers have more shoulder room. For lugging children and bulky instruments this has to be a good solution. I notice that several Vauxhall dealers have five year 0% finance offers. That means a brand new 1.4 Life model at £11,660 can be had for a £99 deposit and Inchcape Vauxhall 0845 121 1568 is one of those dealers. The Meriva is a nice car to drive and, if Miriam can afford it, the larger 1.6 engine is probably the better unit.

A car for the heart

I think Miriam is right to consider a Skoda Fabia, but I don't think it will have the space she really needs. The Skoda Octavia might be appropriate. Based on a Volkswagen Golf, it is just as well built and also has the same wide range of impressive VW engines. This is a good looking car but clearly a quality one. Inside it may look a little dark but again the materials used are of an impressive quality. You can get five inside, although rear legroom is on the tight side whilst the boot area is massive. The Volkswagen petrol and diesel engines are good and the larger ones accelerate eagerly. The 1.6 engine is adequate, but the 1.8 would be better and the diesels are the pick of the range. Miriam will have to borrow a little bit to afford one of these, but they are not hugely expensive. Prices start at under £4,000 for a 1999 example, but a 1.9Tdi Ambiente with air conditioning would be £7,300 for a 2002 example.

*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 contact number, and details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested.

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