James Ruppert: Ignore the mileage, focus on condition

‘Clocking’ is the ancient art of changing the mileage on used cars, which should be called what it actually is: fraud. Oh, and it seems to be getting much worse. Here is a long-established stat: the car check people at HPI estimate that one in three cars that they check every year has a hidden history. 

Apparently, used car buyers now have a one-in-14 chance of purchasing a vehicle with a mileage discrepancy, which is extremely concerning. Well, that’s HPI’s take on it. I am so old I can look at something I wrote about this 19 years ago. 

Back in 2000, the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI) said that it could “eradicate this problem once and for all” by logging the miles at every service, MOT and bodyshop pit stop. And yet the problem is still here and at apparently an all-time high. 

You would have thought that lowering the mileage to boost the value of a used car would have gone away by now. Especially as the 1980s digital dashboards and mileage readouts were supposed to be tamper-proof. Well, it didn’t take long for a criminal with a laptop to work that one out. A radical one-point plan is simply do nothing. Just rename the odometer, or milometer, as the service interval indicator. So when you go and buy a car, look a little further than the row of digits. Concentrate on the condition. 

In that case, let’s look at these. Avoid the MOT failures, ‘needs work’ and ‘spares or repair’ bunch and seek out a frog-eye 2005 Nissan Micra 1.2 S three-door with 208,000 miles at £400 and apparently in good working order. That’s a wonderful starter car if it all holds together. 

For a little more practicality, a 2007 Skoda Fabia estate in Elegance trim and a 1.9 TDI PD diesel engine seems to wear its 280,000 miles rather well. Charging £490 for it seems jolly reasonable and it is a dealer part-exchange as well, which often means that it is decent but they struggle to get anything remotely retail with those miles. 

Oh, and what is it with Skodas these days, which are like old-school redacted Volkswagens? A 2008 Octavia 1.9 TDI Classic with a staggering 318,000 miles and a year’s MOT for £490. Fantastic. 

If you want something posher, a 2003 Volvo S60 2.4 D5 SE with 250,000 miles and a year’s MOT is just £799. But here is a real head scratcher: a 2011 Alfa Romeo Giulietta 2.0 JTDM-2 Veloce with 206,000 miles for £1850. 

A pattern emerges here in that all these mega-mileage cars are those evil diesels. Okay, they will cost a bit to sort out when they go wrong, but they do seem to be capable of some serious mileage – clocked or not.

What we almost bought this week

Honda Accord 3.0L Coupé: The Accord coupé of 1998-2001 was a stylish and, in 197bhp 3.0-litre V6 guise, potent motor that deserved a better reception than it got. We found a 1999/T-reg with 140,000 miles for £800. With just three owners from new and “no issues”, save for a broken wiper, it prompts the question: what stopped us?

Tales from Ruppert’s garage

Land Rover Series 3, mileage – 129,910: Well, this wasn’t good. It happened rather suddenly one Friday when the Lorry sprang a leak. First thoughts were oil, because it looked very oily. I assumed a seal had gone on the transfer box or something, looking at the location. 

Oddly enough, I’d been pre-booked to pick up a massively heavy old sofa to add to the old sofas we already have. When I got back, I looked underneath and clearly it was fuel. The flexible part of the line had been holed. It was messy, but packaging wrap and gaffer tape made for a temporary fix. Irritating. 

A to Z Bangerpedia

A is for Audi A3: Here it is, a small quality hatch that you’d be proud to own. There is a great range of engines. Some argue that the petrol 1.6s are not that sporty, but they are more than adequate for most buyers who just want a posh hatch. If you want to get places, though, there is a 2.0 turbo, while the 3.2 V6 is sensationally quick. 

Buy the five-door if you often take more than one passenger but the three-door is great otherwise. Reliability has been fairly average. Still, a decent 1999 1.9 TDI is £695 with 150k miles and 10 months’ MOT.

Readers’ questions

Question: I’m replacing a Peugeot 208 GTi. I have £5000, do 8000 miles a year and want something that’s as sporty. It must be reliable and have done less than 50,000 miles. Shaun Riordan, Bracknell

Answer: You need a Skoda Fabia 1.4 TSI vRS DSG. With 178bhp, it can crack 0-62mph in 7.3sec and is an agreeable little handler. Being a Skoda, it’s practical and will never let you down. We saw a lovely one-owner 2010 car with 46k miles and full service history for £5k. John Evans

Question: Can you fry an EV’s battery by fast-charging it? A lithium battery costs up to £1000 – a considerable expense. Ken Bashorun, via email

Answer: Fast-charging a lithium ion battery can cause it significant stress but EVs have systems that help manage the process. In any case, a good-quality fast-charger should match its charge rate with the battery’s ability to absorb it. Check if the battery is designed to accept ultra-fast charging and, if it’s fitted to a used EV, establish its age and condition. It’s best to fast-charge in moderate temperatures but the battery’s heating and cooling systems will help optimise conditions. Only fast-charge when you need to and avoid fully recharging. John Evans