Which Car? What's hot for £2,000?

James Ruppert
Tuesday 17 February 2004 01:00

Nigel Rudd, 40, is a plumber in Nottingham. He is after a second car as a runabout for two-mile journeys twice a day. He would prefer a low insurance group and small engine. He is keen on a modern-looking set of wheels with a boyish image such as a Seat, Renault Megane or even a Vauxhall Tigra. Budget is £2,000 max

Nigel wants quite a lot for not much money, but I also think he shouldn't spend quite as much as £2,000. The bottom line is that short journeys are a killer for cars.

Such a short run means that the engines barely has time to warm up and that causes the most serious engine wear. Inside the unlubricated bores can score and cause smoke whilst condensation in the exhaust will cause premature rusting. It's horrible.

So the best option is to buy a very cheap, simple, small-engined car that might survive a couple of years of abuse without too many problems.

A second car should cause the minimum amount of bother, being reliable, simple (no air conditioning or electric windows) and the lowest possible insurance group. But if it does break down repairs should be easy and cheap.

What makes this case more complicated is that Nigel insists on running a car that has some sort of style and credibility.

My usually knee-jerk recommendation would be that Nigel should go and get himself something dull and Far Eastern. A Nissan Micra, or Toyota Starlet may never, ever break down even though they are boring. So here are the alternatives:

A car for the head

If Nigel wants to be one of the boys then he can't go far wrong with a Citroën Saxo. For the last few years this model has been the wheels of choice for the booming bass-box generation.

He shouldn't panic though, because he does not have to buy a high-performance VTS model because a basic 1.1X will do (although he can add fluffy dice from Halfords).

The X is reassuringly basic, although there should be a rear wash/wipe, tinted glass and a radio-cassette player. You should check for parking dents and scratches around the handles and tailgate. There have been a few problems with starting. Power steering may leak and that is related to some heavy tyre wear. Electrical glitches are common.

Going through the small ads, I found a 1998 SX model at a dealer for £1,895. This had an airbag, sunroof and electric windows which seems far too complicated. Insurance is group 2 and some privately advertised models can be found for around £1,500.

A car for the heart

A Fiat Seicento Sporting would be the answer. Group 3 insurance and returning 45mpg, running costs are very containable.

The Seicento isn't quick -- 0 to 60mph in over 13 seconds -- but feels nippy enough. The Sporting specification means alloy wheels, sports seats and front fog lamps -- that should bring out the boy racer in Nigel without any problem. The metal seems pretty slim on the Seicento and that means there can be lots of little dents. The gear change can feel notchy and noisy and the water hose can leak, which will cause overheating. The trim is flimsy.

Provided Nigel changes the oil regularly it should not let him down. The only trouble is, the prices of Sportings from 1998 are around £2,000. That is the limit of his budget, so he should also consider the previous model, the Fiat Cinquecento Sporting. I easily found a 1996 model with a service history for £1,300. Alloy wheels, bright yellow colours and chunky styling will certainly set Nigel apart from all the learner drivers in Pug 205s and old people in Nissan Micras. Travelling four miles a day will never have been more of a laugh.

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