James Ruppert: say goodbye to finance and buy used instead

The ’70s are back. Indeed, many years ago, I would have been writing something about how exciting it was to buy a new car and what bargains there were to be had. Then a week later, I could do a flip-side used one, what with all those part-exchanges turning up. It is more of an effort these days to get us into the showroom. Manufacturers have money to throw at you tied up in a tempting finance deal. So let’s take these incentives and see what we can do with them on the used market.

Mini is offering a £1750 contribution towards a brand-new model, so what would that get you on the used forecourt? There are a lot of sub-£500 ‘spares or repairs’ that you should avoid, unless you want a hobby. Otherwise, there are some £700 Coopers and Ones with MOTs that seem to be worth a look before you click any ‘Buy Now’ button. With £1600, and a bit in reserve for some insurance and a tank of petrol, I can buy a 2007 Cooper with a warranty from a dealer. It has a full year’s MOT, six previous owners and just over 90k miles. For some, the most important line in the advert’s description will be that it is ULEZ friendly. So £1500-plus will get you a half-decent one, but caution is always advised.

Audi has a range of deals and will give you a £3000 contribution on the Q2, but there are plenty of perfectly adequate other Audi-shaped options that you can buy for £3k or less. Traditionally, a big-miles A6 diesel is a fine way to travel. So a 2010 2.0 TDI saloon with 160k miles and a proper full service history and just a couple of owners is very appealing. Then again, there are plenty of 2007 A3 1.6 petrols in tidy condition if you want something handier sized that will get you in and out of a ULEZ.

Traditional discount-led brands such as Citroën have plenty to offer, starting at £1000 ‘deposit contributions’, but its ‘swappage’ scheme amounts to a solid £4k. You can get a lot of used Citroën for that. Actually, £3800 gets you a family-friendly 2012 C3 Picasso 1.6 HDi with less than 80k miles from a dealer. Indeed, a Vauxhall dealer was offering two years’ free servicing on a less-than-50k-mile 2010 C3 1.6 HDi Exclusive if you don’t need the space.

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Readers’ questions

Question: I have an E46-gen BMW 330i Touring and am thinking of upsizing to a 2007 550i with 83k miles. Is this a good idea? Tom Philpott, via email

Answer: It depends largely on the reasons for the upgrade. If it’s a bit of extra grunt you’re after, then the 550i’s 362bhp 4.8-litre V8 certainly has the edge over your 330i’s 228bhp straight six, but you’ll spend more time at the petrol pumps and at tyre shops. Plus, values for the E46 (particularly the top-rung 330i) have been climbing, while the E60 5 Series is still awaiting a renaissance. Our advice? Hang onto the 3 if it’s still going strong. FP

Question: I have a 2010 Jaguar XJ. The switches for the hazard lights, central locking and the small panels either side of the display screen have become sticky. How do I fix it? Tim Williams, via email

Answer: You’ll be amazed how common this problem is with all cars of this vintage. The sticky substance is a result of the buttons’ protective coating degrading. Some patient owners have had good results with hand lotion or make-up wipes, but replacement is the easier way out. Avoid harsh substances like white spirit, as you risk erasing any writing or graphics. FP