Car Choice: If it's value you're after, why not buy British?

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Sue Bradley has, in her own words, a very small budget to spend on a second-hand car that amounts to around £1,000.

Sue Bradley has, in her own words, a very small budget to spend on a second-hand car that amounts to around £1,000. Currently she runs a slightly troublesome Peugeot 206 and wonders what we could suggest.

Fortunately my specialist subject is Bangernomics, the science of running a car for less. Indeed, the other day I met up with an architect whose wheels of choice are a G-registered Ford Escort Orion with faded red paintwork, lots of rust, no wheel-trims and gaffer tape patching up the bumpers.

Was he happy? Of course he was. His running costs, especially third party insurance, were minimal. He did not have to worry that when he parked on a building site a stray JCB would flatten it. He could afford a Porsche Cayenne, but preferred to spend his cash on his holiday home in Spain.

His is a great example to anyone who wants to cut their motoring costs, but as I often point out, you don't have to slum it in a wreck of motor. The combined effect of depreciation, falling new car values and the fact that many people change their vehicles like underwear means there are lots of great used cars to choose from.

One thousand pounds over 10 years ago only bought a fairy marginal car, but now it brings a whole selection of very tidy vehicles into range. The only way to properly assess what is on offer is to look at real adverts. So let's do that.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

When you are buying a cheap car, unless you simply want to be flash (and straight away I found two Jaguar Sovereigns for £825 and £325), you really need reliability. That means buying Far Eastern. A couple of early 1990s Honda Civics at £995 and £425 appear to be just the ticket, with strong engines, a good badge and a decent amount of luggage space in the three-door bodies.

Indeed, there were even a couple of Honda Accords with four doors and automatic gearboxes available for a really easy life. These are classy cars and I would pick them over a Nissan Micra at £995, even though it is a later shape model and recently topped the Warranty Direct reliability list and was crowned Used Car of the Year.

Again, if Sue needed more room, or was considbecoming a minicab driver, there are plenty of Nissan Primeras from the mid-1990s around at between £400 and £900, some with decent GLX specifications.

At the Toyota end of the spectrum, a late 1980s Corolla is not contemporary enough to be taken seriously. A 1994 Seat Cordoba 1.6 CLX saloon is, though, and a price of £925 proves that it is possible to get a lot of reliable Volkswagen-based vehicle for less.

CAR FOR THE HEART

I understand that Sue liked her 206 until it started playing up, but characterful cars at this end of the price spectrum are characterful for one reason alone - and that is because they frequently break down.

If Sue enjoys driving, then an old Golf GTi is the way to go. I regret ever selling mine and a Mk II example in excellent, unmodified condition could be hers for just under £1,000.

I found half a dozen that were worth a second look, and even if Sue does not want a hot hatch there are some sluggish 1.6 and 1.8 GLs available for similar money that have a basic and solid appeal.

Sue could, of course, be loyal and buy British, in the shape of an old Rover. Except that it wouldn't be that old. Even before the recent bad news from Longbridge it was easy to pick up a mid-1990s Rover 200 or 400 for under £1,000. The demand for Rovers has collapsed and prices are now even lower, yet underneath it all what you actually have is a reliable Honda, which takes us back to a car for the head. The difference is that Sue will be driving a classic, with a bit of wood and chrome that sets it apart from the rest of the cheapies.

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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