James Ruppert: How £1000 can bag an engaging estate car

There have been some spectacular examples of well-bought budget cars by Autocar readers. (Please see this week’s ‘Reader’s ride’ for one.) Sometimes, we can get lucky, but what generally happens is that we are buying on our wits and sifting through pages of cheap classifieds. So it’s always nice when I’m asked to narrow down possible choices.

The latest wish list is from Sam, who wants petrol power, an estate ideally but a hatch will do, and something “interesting” to drive, although that’s very subjective, and he needs it to be decent on the motorway, whatever that really means – and all for £1000.

First off, I have a lot of time for the increasingly unfashionable estate car format, so I’ll stick with that rather than a compromise hatch. Straight away, I find myself looking at a 2001 Ford Mondeo in white. It’s a 2.0-litre Ghia, too, with 150k miles and a four-owner past. There are bills for a new battery and tyres and it has been serviced, which may just be an oil and filter change, but that’s better than nothing. It’s yours for £495, in a ‘company car forces sale’ scenario. Best of all, a Mondie is certainly interesting to drive. All boxes ticked then, with £500 to spare for any unforeseen issues.

Then again, if the Mondeo is a bit boring and safe, a Volvo V40 is an interesting and rather more exclusive sort of banger buy. I stumbled across a 2000 example with just a couple of owners for £950. Not cheap, but clearly a cared-for private car with an absolute ton of verified history covering its 116k miles of life. It should be a very safe buy and didn’t look like it’d been eaten by rust, as some have.

When operating in the marginal motor area, we return again to the marques that are consistently reliable and just get on with the job of working for a living. That’s why a Toyota Avensis 1.8 VVT-i T3-X estate would be perfect. So a 2003 example with 105k miles is yours for £950. It has a towbar and virtually no description, which makes this a motor to go and see.

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“Top on the list of jobs is a rear anti-roll bar to make it handle better but there’s something about the simplicity of this car that makes you think it could just carry on plodding its own sweet way for many years.”

Readers’ questions

Question: I’m interested in a new BMW i3 but have heard rumours it will get a new battery next year and be phased out in three or four years. I worry that might affect resale values. Advice? Helen Holland, via email

Answer: BMW sales boss Pieter Nota recently said the i3 “still enjoys double-digit sales growth and is an extremely successful car which will be with us for some more years”. Even when it does eventually meet its end, values are likely to hold strong because it’s a unique offering. It’s unlikely to borrow a larger battery from its new stablemates because it sits atop a different platform, so you shouldn’t miss much by taking the plunge now. FP

Question: I’ve been holding on to my old car hoping the government would launch a scrappage scheme. Am I out of luck? Tom Finchley, Devon

Answer: At one point, it seemed the government was considering the launch of a nationwide scrappage scheme, but now that’s looking less likely. Your best bet is to take a look at the incentives offered by individual manufacturers: Mazda, for example, is offering up to £4000 off a new model in exchange for your pre-2012 car and Kia will contribute up to £2500 for a seven-year-old car on some of its models. FP