Mary says she must have an estate car. That's a shame because when it comes to fitting five bodies and a dog into a car it would probably be more comfy to do it in a people carrier. The higher roof and seating position gives a much less claustrophobic feel. Usually there will be five individual seats which makes it very comfy for the people and removing the two rear seats means there is space for the hound in the boot area. That makes something like an old 1995/1996 Ford Galaxy perfect. However if Mary definitely wants an estate then we will stick to that. The other issue though is mileage. Low mileage does not necessarily mean that the vehicle will be better. Also a low mileage will almost certainly guarantee that the vehicle will be more expensive. The simple truth is that a car which has been used regularly, kept warm and covered motorway mileages is probably in much finer fettle than a car used sparingly. Short journeys kill cars. They don't arm up probably and parts wear out more quickly. If Mary only wants to pay £4,000 she will have to put up with a highish mileage, but believe me that will be for the better.

A Car For The Head

The default estate car choice is quite rightly a Volvo. It would be easy enough to get an older 850 model within budget, but I think Mary would be better off with the more contemporary looking V70 launched in December 1996.

It has the traditional Volvo appeal and values here, being big, safe and sound with bags of room. No one else does this sort of thing better. They may be cheap to buy, but running costs if you stick to the dealer network are on the high side with pricey parts and servicing. Insurance starts at Group 11 and economy is not a strong point as all models, apart from the 42mpg diesel fail to crack 30mpg.

The seats are very good and most models have a neat built in child seat in the rear armrest. Obviously it is very practical, with good estate load bay and sizeable boot. Air conditioning was standard from 1997 and automatics usually fitted to the 2.0 litre and 2.5 litre engine are common. I easily found quite a few in the classified ads.

At £3,950 an 87,000 mile 1999 model with a private seller, and for £3450, a 145,000 mile 1997 example from a dealer. There are plenty out there.

A Car For The Heart

Mary might like another Mercedes, but at £4,000 it won't be in any better condition than her current model. However, there is another German model which I reckon was built to a higher standard of finish and is superior value is the Audi A6 Avant.

The model from 1994 to 1997 was an uprated Audi 100 and in Avant (estate) form it is very spacious indeed. What Mary has to bear in mind is that there will not be three point safety belts in the back.

Never mind though, because the Audi is a very safe vehicle which always performed well in crash tests. Most buyers might prefer the excellent diesel engines, but the reality is that the majority of automatics have the V6 petrol engines.

In the classified ads I soon found a 1995 with 68,000 miles (which isn't much at all) 2.6 V6 being sold through a dealer. It had two previous owners and came with a full Audi service history and was on offer for just £3,695. In full SE trim this was great value.

Another dealer had a similar 2.8SE with 100,000 miles at £3,999. All that counts against these models is the sub-30mpg economy, especially with a full complement of people and dog, but at least both of them had dark metallic green paintwork.

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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