Car Choice: Please find me a free motor

Need a very cheap car? Your best bets are to ask dealers for trade-ins or to visit an auction, says James Ruppert
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Alix is a 28-year-old graphic designer who has just waved goodbye to his 1991 Ford Fiesta, which is beyond economic repair and off to the crusher. In a few weeks he hopes to get a "proper" new car for, say, £5,000, but in the meantime he'd like a car to run about in. The snag is he hasn't really got a budget. What is the cheapest way of getting on the road, even if only temporarily?

Free cars are a bangernomics student's dream, but it can happen. However, make sure you know why a car is free. It could be surplus to requirements, or an unpopular model, or it could simply be broken and cost too much to fix.

So even if a free car with an expired MOT looks tempting, it's best to check it out thoroughly. Getting a free car is not without risk, but then neither is buying a new or used one.

It is best to do a bit of research to find out what the running costs will be. There is no point in taking a car if you find out later that you or the car, are uninsurable.

Be prepared to spend something on MOT and tax. I've found that family members and friends can be genuine in their desire to give an old banger away. Indeed in my family a close relative hated the hassle of selling a car and offered it to family members free. Maybe Alix should ask around family and friends first, perhaps one of them might even lend him a car? It's worth a try.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

Alix could trace a banger back one stage to his local car showroom by approaching the sales manager and asking if they have any part-exchange vehicles they want to shift. The advantage to them is that the car is sold more quickly, without paying an auctioneer's commission and they may get a better price from you than from a car trader.

For your part of the bargain you need to make a decision quickly, make the payment in cash and undertake to buy "as seen" with no comebacks. Not for those who lack confidence, then.

With the collapse in scrap-car values it has become possible to buy a part exchanged car for a nominal sum. The dealer does not want the hassle or the expense of paying for an otherwise unsaleable car to go for scrap. Better to sell it to you, then, for a token amount.

That is the theory, in practice you need to be persistent and many new car franchises send all of their part exchanges to auction as a company rule to avoid back handers going to sales staff. I have been offered a Volvo 740 saloon and a tatty Rover 800 with a few days' MOT, so it can be done.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

If Alix enjoys getting out and about and using his judgement then maybe he could try some auctions. There are real ones and there is eBay.

Real auctions can be found in just about every major city. The evening auctions have the no-reserve section where just about any old wreck could be sold for a token amount of, say, £10. You will still have to pay some commission on top, but you could come away with a car for £20. But be warned you won't know what you're getting because cars at this level are being auctioned as a last desperate attempt to get rid of them.

EBay is an interesting phenomenon, not least because in many cases it seems to force up the price of cars that might otherwise languish unloved in their local classified ads. This explains why a Nissan Bluebird was nudging £200 and another had bid up to £89 with a day to go.

I did find a free caravan, but you also had to bid for a Chrysler Grand Voyager which had risen to £3,800. Potentially, though, Alix could buy a no-reserve vehicle for 99p.

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 and your budget.

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