Your Guide To Buying A Used Car On A Budget


Time for a new car, but every time you see a low monthly payment you look at the finance deal and there’s a massive deposit? Unless you’re keen to have the latest emissions technology or there’s a car that is truly, your dream machine, it’s a lot of money to spend on something just to get about. You could easily take that initial payment, often as much as £5,000, and buy a car outright.

And these days, second hand cars are far removed from the stereotype of an old banger, with rust and smoke. Most cars survive well past 15 years old with presentable bodywork and reliable engines if they’ve been looked after, and styling might have changed a bit in that time but it’s very much a matter of opinion if it’s improved.

Out of the hundreds of thousands of used cars for sale in the UK, the range available for less than £5,000 is quite astonishing. Naturally there are some tired old luxury or off-road cars hiding in that price bracket (would you like to take on a Range Rover or Porsche Cayenne that costs 1/20th of the new price?) but there’s also a great selection of sensible buys that shouldn’t cost a fortune to run.

How to buy a used car – a quick primer

When looking for cheaper cars, leave no stone unturned. Autotrader, Parkers, Gumtree, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, even the board at the supermarket. If all you want is transport, don’t narrow your search too much; choose three or four cars that meet your needs, then find the best example out of them. Conversely, if you know exactly the car you want, look for an owners’ club or forum as they often have looked-after examples for sale with plenty of history to see.

On most ‘private’ advert sites you will find a lot of cheaper cars offered by dealers; these may be stock that isn’t good enough for their main business, or they could be trade-ins that they just want to sell quickly; telling which can be tricky but on Facebook, always view the seller profile – if the car looks like a private sale, but there’s a whole load of cars listed, that’s a trader trying to avoid giving you statutory guarantees.

Before enquiring about a car, if you can see the number plate check the MOT history online. It’ll tell you mileage history as well, plus point out any big issues it’s had than may need more scrutiny when you look at the car, it could also show the car’s been maintained well and is worth making an effort to see.

Finally, since you’ve set a budget, you may as well make the most of it. When looking at cars from 2006-onwards, make sure you know the tax rates – you could end up paying a lot of VED each year for not much performance with cars like the PT Cruiser.

Which cars are worth buying for £5,000?

Top of the list for a family car is the Skoda Yeti.

It’s a tough, practical little car with big space inside, and you can even get 4×4 models. It’s rare for a car to be this good when it’s trying to be so many different things, but as a small car, an SUV, a load-lugger and a funky fashion statement the Yeti is quite accomplished. Aside from occasional rust issues on the arches, and slightly weaker small petrol engines on older models, they’re quite reliable and very easy to maintain as well.

Skoda also offer a great choice for a city car, the Citigo. It’s quite expensive for what you get, but undeniably charming and effective. The Suzuki Swift is also worth a look here.

A safe choice is to go for one of the top two contenders for Europe’s favourite hatchback. The Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus have been locked in a battle for buyers for decades and their respective makers have invested huge amounts of money making them suitable for the widest market, and good enough to build loyalty. £5,000 gets a broad spectrum of cared-for older models and newer higher mileage examples, which you’ll want to look at if you want diesel and live in a ULEZ. Both cars are easy to live with and age well, with great access to new and used spares and lots of knowledge from specialists.

Fancy something sporty? You could go for either a Mazda MX-5 Mk3 or a BMW Z4. The former is best bought as a retractable hardtop for day-to-day use, and offers low running costs and more space than you might expect. 2.0i models are better on fuel and more reliable in the real world than the 1.8. The BMW Z4 looks more exotic, and offers six-cylinder smoothness and excitement. In both cases do check carefully for rust – the Z4 can hide it very well, the MX-5 has a wealth of information online on where to look and how to avoid it.

Finally for the brave, you can get luxury or a massive 4×4 for £5,000 – but remember that these cars have maintenance and parts costs that match their new list prices, meaning they can be neglected as they get older and very expensive to fix. You can, with care, get a Range Rover that should last a couple of years, or a Porsche Cayman that could last a long time if you’re prepared to take the monthly payments on a new car and spend them maintaining it. A safer bet, though, is a Jaguar XF. Poor examples are under £3,000 now – so check the history, inspect the paintwork, and you could find a great one for £5,000 and still save loads compared to that brand new, relatively anonymous SUV.

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