Emma Muparadzi is a student nurse who needs a car to get from her Nottingham home to Derby because the three buses she uses are causing her stress. That's not good for someone in the medical profession. She has £1,500 but is prepared to borrow an extra £3,000 on her credit card. Yes, Emma is desperate, and thinking along the lines of a Ford Ka, Toyota Yaris, VW Polo, Skoda Fabia or Renault Clio. Does she really need to get herself into debt to get the car she needs?

I can't argue with Emma's shortlist of commuter hatchbacks. All are pretty reliable and cheap to run, but what concerns me the most is how much Emma is willing to borrow on a credit card. As a starting point, don't do it - the interest charges are sky-high and effectively Emma will be paying more than the car is ever worth. With my Bangernomics hat on, I would recommend she buy a car for £1,000, using the rest of her money for tax, insurance and servicing costs for the first year.

The problem of buying a good cheap car is regularly explored in "Car Choice" and there are bargains out there. A flick through the local Autotrader usually brings up some tidy, privately owned hatches, but they must be professionally checked. Emma, though, seems to want a fairly modern, reliable car and she can't be blamed for that. This means tha twe should take a closer look at manufacturer offers to see if there are low-deposit, low-rate finance deals, but again Emma has the problem of finding enough for a deposit and the day-to-day running costs.

A car for the head

How about a car that costs £1? Once upon a time, if you heard that the £1 car was a Kia you might not be so keen, but now they have a brilliant small car in the shape of the Kia Picanto. It is well-equipped, with a CD player, power steering, electric front windows, twin airbags and anti-lock brakes. It is also nice to drive and returns an impressive 57.6mpg. The asking price is just £5,495 and you do get a lot for your money, especially if you pay only £1 deposit. What should get Emma's attention, though, is the impressive finance deal they have cooked up for the Picanto, which works out to just £78 a month. Apparently, it works out to 12.3 per cent APR, which is some 20 per cent lower than a lot of credit cards. Emma will have to go to a Kia showroom for more finance details, but I see no reason why she should not be able to afford this over the next few years. Not only that, Kia is celebrating its 60th birthday and is offering 60 per cent off 60 new Kia cars for 60 days, and all Emma has to do is take a test drive to qualify for the draw.

A car for the heart

It is hard to think of a car better than the Kia. For under £1,500, Emma can buy herself a whole bunch of trouble. If she wants to borrow, a look up and down the high street reveals that if she wanted to borrow a modest amount to give her a bigger budget, RAC Financial Services (0808 100 0250) is offering an APR rate of just 6.5 per cent. Personally, I don't like the idea of anyone being saddled with debt and believe they are better off buying what they can afford. I looked in Autotrader for the Midlands and found at least one Nissan Micra from the mid-Nineties at around £1,000. A professional inspection would be £100, which would leave £400, of which £300 would cover the cheapest third-party insurance, leaving £100 for Emma to keep in reserve, just in case the car needed minor repairs. It is tight, but if the Micra is in decent condition, there is no reason why it should not run well enough for a year, giving Emma time to build up her savings and qualify as a nurse. She can then buy a better, newer car when she can realistically afford to own one.

* 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 you are interested in.

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