Here is a long-distance problem from Annie Nissim. She has a young family, is based in Israel, and is looking for a second-hand car with plenty of room for children and clobber - preferably a roomy estate. The family needs a budget car that is economical, and they would accept a diesel. The vehicle needs to be tough, safe and both easy and cheap to fix. Annie has £2,000 to £3,000 to spend.

First off, Annie does not have a huge budget and I don't have any idea how far her money would go in Israel. I will stick to models available here, and hope that Annie can get access to similar ones over there. She certainly wants a lot from the vehicle, including space, economy and reliability, but with that amount of money she will have to make do with a model which has covered substantial mileage. This is especially true if Annie is prepared to consider a diesel, as these are particularly popular at the moment. As a car gets older it needs more, sometimes expensive, maintenance. Annie, though, should not be frightened of above-average mileage because that means the vehicle has been operating at the correct running temperature for longer. A car used only once a week to go to the shops and back may only have a few thousand miles on the clock, but the wear on the components is likely to be considerable. There will probably be more maintenance issues once it is used normally, so don't be scared of a largish mileometer reading.

A car for the head

Annie already mentioned the Volvo word to me and I completely agree that the big, safe box on wheels that is the V70, and the older 850 estate, would certainly work for her. They are so good I have just bought a year 2000 one for the family and it seems to be working well. It doe not have a diesel engine though, which would deliver an average of more than 44mpg compared with 33mpg for the smaller petrol engine. I would say that Annie would have to look at an older V70 or an 850 which is pre-2000, yet it will still have a strong safety cage, crumple zones, side impact protection, ABS brakes, driver's airbag, and possibly an optional one on the passenger side. In terms of durability, these are tough cars. But they are not cheap to repair, and Annie needs to make sure that the suspension and brakes are in decent condition before she buys. Those are the high-wear items, which need a professional check. I found a well-equipped 1999 V70 Classic 2.5 D with 136,000 miles, but with the reassurance of a full MOT and side airbags too, all for £2,795.

A car for the heart

Actually, that may have been the Volvo, but it is also the most sensible choice. Then again, a large reliable car such as a Vauxhall Omega with a diesel engine is worth considering

One model that might be a bit easier to source in Israel is a Peugeot 406 estate. Here is a very smart and roomy vehicle that is very nice to drive and hugely practical on the road. Not only that, the diesel engines are some of the most fuel efficient on the market.

The 2.0 HDi engines will routinely deliver in excess of 50mpg. French cars have a reputation for being fragile but the 406, on the whole, has proved itself very reliable. There may be some niggly electrical things, but what Annie will need to check is that a high-mileage diesel does not smoke, which would indicate that the injectors are worn. Otherwise, there could be oil leaks, and Annie should ensure that the cars starts easily and runs smoothly.

We came across a particularly good value example being sold privately. A 2001 2.0 Hdi 90 with GLX trim with just 65,000 miles, full history and MOT, plus six months' car tax for £2,000. A recession busting bargain.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or click here to email James Ruppert at, giving your age, address and phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested and your budget.

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