Mike Frost needs a little runabout town car as his X-reg Golf Mark 1 failed its MOT last year he's been without a car since then. Mike is happy with a second-hand car and can spend up to £2,500, although ideally he would prefer to spend £1,500 to £2,000. The car ought to be small, not a saloon and only require minimal maintenance as well as being able to cope mainly with town driving plus the odd long journey once in a while.

Aahhh, my favourite subject, bangernomics. The great news is that buying a cheap, economical car has never been easier. I'm glad that Mike has a decent budget and isn't thinking in terms of £500, because with up to £2,000 to spend he should be spoilt for choice.

In 2006, depreciation of used cars is accelerating, and any car more than five years old and with what is regarded as a high mileage becomes truly affordable.

So he can get himself a brilliant town-centre assault vehicle that could cost the minimal amount to run. Indeed, Mike should only worry about having third-party insurance, although it would be a mistake to skimp on maintenance.

As he is mainly doing local journeys, all that stopping and starting means he should change the oil at least every six months or 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

Basic maintenance will prolong the life of the car and help prevent embarrassing breakdowns. As usual, I would point Mike in the direction of ultra-reliable Japanese vehicles, but there are good-value options built a little closer to home that could be perfect.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

There is one little Japanese, but British-built, car that consistently tops reliability surveys - the Nissan Micra. For Mike it is usefully small and practical with up to five doors. The 1.0-litre engine is more than adequate around town, although he may prefer to consider finding a 1.3 example for those longer journeys. Prices are very friendly. I found a 1.0 Twister model registered in 1999 with 50,000 miles that had driver's airbag, air conditioning and was only a little bit scruffy.

Scruffiness should not bother Mike if he is only charging around town and anyway, my theory of bangernomics states that scruffy is better. You don't worry about it in the supermarket car park and don't spend outrageous sums in body shops putting it right. Oh yes, and the price of this well equipped three-door? Only £1,695.

I also spotted a less well-equipped 1.3 GX from 1998 at £1,395. Alternatively, there is the Vauxhall Corsa, a very honest little car. The old-shape model can easily be picked up for £1,500 or so and for that it is possible to get a year 2000 Merit. The specification is basic, but there is virtually nothing to go wrong.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

The obvious choice would be the Ford Ka. This is a great little car which is becoming great value. It is small, but if Mike is going to use it around town the small boot should not matter that much. The great thing is that on the open road, the 1.3-litre model is loads of fun to drive. It feels like a perky sports car even though it is painfully slow.

What Mike has to be sure of is that the Ka he buys has power steering. He will miss this when parking in town. But then again his old Golf never had it, so perhaps he won't notice the difference. As for prices, I came across a 1997 example that had covered 85,000 miles and was fitted with power steering.

Being on sale at a dealer it would come with a warranty and the cost was a reasonable £1,595. However a 1999 example with just 54,000 miles, but still with power steering was £1,895 and probably the better buy.

Otherwise it is my pleasure to recommend a British-built Rover. A 1998 214 with 43,000 miles is £1,200. It is comfortable, has proved to be reliable and will be cheap (group 4 insurance), although not as a cheap as a Ka (group 2 insurance) to run.

CAR CHOICE Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@indepen dent.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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