Which Car? 'What's best for our son to learn in?'

Jo Mulkerrin, of St Austell, Cornwall, has two second-hand cars in the family for work, a J reg Vauxhall Corsa, and a N reg Citroën ZX. The latter has 115,000 on the clock, the former 45,000. She wants a car for her son, 17, to learn to drive, so plans to buy another vehicle. But the family cannot decide on who has what. Mrs Mulkerrin is due a £12,000 inheritance and really wants a new Mini Cooper. The others think she should buy a used Vectra, or another Citroën. She is loath to give up perhaps her only chance to get something special, but would the Mini Cooper suit their needs? They are open to other suggestions. What is the best buy, and a good arrangement for them?

The first question to be resolved is which car does Mrs Mulkerrin's son get? Despite the possible inclination to give him the six-figure mileage ZX, he will probably be better off with the low-mileage Corsa.

The reason is that the insurance implications for anyone under 25 are horrendous. A Corsa starts at group 2 and the lowest possible group for the Citroën is 4. So, in theory, the Corsa should be cheaper to insure for a new driver, not only because parts and servicing should be easier and cost less, but miles-per-gallon is much better because it is a much lighter vehicle.

For a first-time driver, the Corsa is also the quintessential learner mobile. Chances are Mrs Mulkerrin's son will be or has been taught to drive in the nation's favourite L-plate car so it should be familiar. The Corsa could not be easier to drive and manoeuvre which is again perfect and there is much less bodywork to scrape with the pint sized hatchback.

And by the time Mrs Mulkerrin's son wants a change, her 14-year-old daughter will be coming up to driving age. Despite the Corsa's age, it will again make a great set of training wheels.

A car for the head

That leaves the ZX as second-string family transport. I am pleased to discover the Citroën has been so reliable and there is no point changing it for the sake of change. Instead, Mrs Mulkerrin should spend some of her inheritance on sprucing it up. At that mileage, new shock absorbers would be a good idea to help handling and braking.

So a major service, including a change of the cam-belt, will mean the ZX should last at least a further 50,000 miles. That will still leave Mrs Mulkerrin with plenty of money, but I do not want her to spend it all on a new car.

If she wants something that is sporty, stylish and has real character there is a used model that can deliver in all these areas. The Ford Puma is closest in spirit to the new Mini. Underneath the pert, coupé body is a Ford Fiesta, but that is a good thing.The handling is sensational and the 1.7 litre engine delivers a very sporting drive, matching the Mini for fun.

A 2000 model costs just £7,500 which leaves enough money to maintain an old Corsa, an ageing Citroën and also pay the insurance premiums for a teenager.

A car for the heart

There is no point in living if you do not have a dream, so if Mrs Mulkerrin wants a new Mini, she should have one. But getting full-sized teenagers in the back is close to impossible, but if one will soon be driving himself it may be less of an issue. Of course there is also a sensible and slightly more spacious ZX as back-up.

But Mrs Mulkerrin should not be seduced by the sporty image of the Cooper badge. The Mini One and Cooper use similar engines, but Cooper's version is slightly more powerful. That does interfere with the overall fun factor.

The real difference between the two models is the price, with the One costing £10,405 and the Cooper £11,705. The big catch though is Mrs Mulkerrin will need to add specification to make the Mini more comfy and better-looking. Air con is £600 and sporty alloy wheels, £270. Better value is the £100 TLC fixed-price servicing package for five years or 50,000 miles, which costs £100.

Search for used cars