What car for under a grand ??

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My job often means doing a high mileage. I spent a lot of time with nearly new cars, piling mileage onto them and watching the value plumet ! So, after a while I decided to buy "cheap" cars and run them till they die. However, that's the thing, I found that they just dont die !

Choices for this are limited. Think about it, you need comfort, reliability, economy. To get all three is difficult, so, if you, like me, get a mileage allowance say 25p - 40p a mile then you need to ensure the economy will fit this.

After selling the Range Rover, I went for a £600 car.....£34000 to £600 was a bit of a culture shock !

£600 bought me a 1989 BMW 535i. One of a series of these Germanic house brick's I have had. From 1988 to 1996 these 5 series were really well built. The 535 I had was comfortable, relaxingto drive, quiet, fast, fun and, thanks to the massive power to weight ratio, pretty economical too. With mostly motorway driving it brought in an average of 30mpg !

OK, so it had a ripped seat, a couple of dents and always smelt funny but it was 100% reliable. In two years and 35000 miles it never ever let me down. All it ever needed was a headlamp for one MOT.

Dont worry about mileage ! This one had 161000 on it whan I bought it. At this kind of mileage, all the bad stuff has already happened ! You no longer need to keep up an expensive service history, you dont need to keep it clean and tidy, all you need is an oil change.

When I had had enough of it, I did a rally in it from London to Naples with the idea of leaving it there and flying home. 9 Countries in 3 days and 2000 miles later I deceided to drive it home too ! One dent on the Amalfi Coast and no other issues at all...Oh, my wife drove it off the ferry too fast with a boot full of wine and ripped the back bumper off but hey ho !

After this, I used it for another 6 months before selling for £850 !! So, my advice.....but a 5 series ! BUT READ ON FOR MORE BARGAIN TIPS .....................

But, what if you need a 4x4. What if you only have £1k again ? What can you get ? Mostly rubbish, apart from: The Jeep Cherokee.

£1000 will buy you a Cherokee, either 2.5 or 4.0 petrol ( strangely the 4 litre is more economical ! ) up to about a 1998 with 100000 miles ish and in reasonable condition.

They go forever, they are very capable off road, nicely mannered on road and very cheap to maintain and service. Think about it, what else can you get for a grand that you can drive to then up Ben Nevis and get back home in comfort again ??

There are many other car bargains out there too. Forget your Vectra's Mondeo's etc, think more European.........

BMW 5 series: These are pretty much bullet proof. The bigger engines tend to be strong and the 6 cylider ones seem to be indestructable ! 525 or 535. Look out for the 525ix. This is the 4x4 version !

Mercedes 124 series ( Total bargains !! Especially for a big estate car. Just do a search on "Mercedes 230TE" and see what you get for the money) 230 is the best engine. Capable of 300000 miles easily, go to any African Country and look at the taxi'

An update on these, I have had the need again and bought a 1990 230TE for £244 ! MOT and TAX, 181000 miles and a reported blowing manifold. Well, trailered it back from Cumbria ( and picked up 3 points on the way ! 69mph with the trailer on !! ) tightened the 4 manifold bolts and no blow. Fitted a new thermostat housing ( £4.90 ) and now done over 4000 miles in it ! What a car ! It starts perfectly, drives without fault and is one of the most relaxing cars I have ever driven. OK, so I can run faster from 0-60 but a superb motorway car. Go out right now and buy one of these ! they are just the best, I had forgotten how good. Check out E-Bay, they fetch from £0 to £1000. Look out for the 300 4matic, Mercedes answer for the 4x4 car world. Hydraulic system cuts in the front wheels when the rear lose traction, excellent when it works, turn it off ( under the bonnet ) when it does'nt. Update 31/07/09: Merc 230 TE still going strong. 15000 miles now since I bought it and nothing untoward to report. Exhaust centre box had to be replaced and cost £35.00, that's it !

Volvo S70/V70. Getting cheaper by the day. A good 1998 will set you back as little as £1K. A bit thirsty though.

Alfa Romeo 166. What a car for the money, seriously, just do a search and have a look. The 2litre twin spark is a cracking engine and as long as the cam belt and variator have been changed then should give loads of fun. My favorite though is the 3.0 litre V6, the best engine sound !

Alfa Romeo 156, GTV, Spider: General heading for all these as they came in about the same time and all have similar things to look for and similar bonus points. Alfa are all about passion, once you have one and live with it' minor indescretions, you'll see what I mean ! They may not always get you where you want to go but my word, you'll have fun getting there...well, near there !

The 2.0 litre has a major "issue". If you start it and at tick over it sounds like a diesel, dont start it again until you have changed the variator. This £70 bit of kit is the main reason for the cam belt breaking which will take out all 16 valves if you are unlucky.

Saab 9000/9-5, Big, comfy and excellent build.

I think you get the picture now. reasonably large cars of a pre-98 vintage will offer value for money beyond all others.

If you dont believe me, just do an E-Bay search on these and look at what you get for the money. You care far less about a car that costs as little as this ! Park where you like, if someone opens a door into you....so what ! I love 'em, just swallow your cudos and pride.

Update 13/10/08.

I wrote this a while ago and have noticed that it has now had nearly 3500 hits ! Seems more people than just I want a cheap reliable car. A bit further down the road. I can add a couple more ideas.

For a while now I have been running round in a 2002 Laguna 2.2DCI Initial bought, against my own advice for £3K from E-Bay. It has everything to cosset you from leather to a sunroof you can hanglide into ! Well, with the current car market and the press fuelled credit crunch, these Laguna's have dropped like the value of banks !

A good early Laguna 2 will now set you back way less than a grand, in fact, a friend of mine has bought a 2002 1.8 hatch for £550 ! The Laguna is comfortable, fast and really well equipped. Beware though, they are very expensive to repair when the electronics go wrong. My advice is read the many threads on the web about them and you will soon find that all the issues appear in the first 90K miles, therefore buy a high miler.

Mine picked up it's first fault in 35000 miles after buying it. ( I do 3000 miles a month ! ) The computer and annoying female voice tells me it has "fuel injection failure" It still runs but randomly cuts out. To buy some time and to keep on the road I bought a cheap replacement, which leads me neatly onto my next advice: ( 5 months later....still not fixed ! No-one can find out why !! )

Subaru ! I have bought a 1996 Legacy 2.0 litre estate with 4 wheel drive. OK, it's rather bland and the flat four boxer engine does really need the turbo but wow ! What a car for £400 ! MOT and TAX to next May and 114000 miles on it. First thing we did was drive to Snowdonia for a survey ( Work stuff ! ). In order to get the required pictures we needed to get to the top of a hill, via a muddy track with water flowing down it ! Well, the Subaru ploughed up it, bearly even a wheel spin ! I was amazed at it's capability.

Now, I had a bad experience with an Outback some time ago. Head gaskets are very expensive to fix !! The only way to tell it's gone when you look at it at first is bubbles in the coolant when the rad cap is removed.

I have been searching on Subaru's for a couple of weeks now and under a grand can buy you a very decent 1998 - 2000 Legacy or Outback. These are great cars and as long as you avoid ones with stupid exhausts and dump valves, they should be a very decent prospect for a long term 4x4 with pretty cheap running costs. Now sold for £400 with a slipping clutch !

Now, what if you have children...I do ! 3 of the little bliters ! All under 4 and very messy and demand space for their stuff when travelling. For the ultimate in cheap people movers, may I introduce you to the Chrysler Grand Voyager ! Yes, this is the size of Kent inside and cheap as chips to buy.

The 3.3 V6 is smooth, quiet and fast(ish), the interiors and immense with silly facts such as 18 interior lights, 9 cup holders and with the seats removed you can carry 8'x4' sheets flat on the floor ! I had 10 sheets of plasterboard in ours just this week.

The 3.3 returns over 30MPG on a run and if you can deal with the comedy handling characteristics then it is really nice to drive too. 97 - 99 models now around a grand. Pretty good for a car that can easily carry 7 adults and all their luggage in confort.

That's it for now....back to work !


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