James Ruppert: Interesting cars that won’t break the bank

You may not be planning on buying a car, but fate can have other ideas. So when some carelessly distributed builder’s rubble takes out the sump on your prized Volkswagen Golf 4Motion, suddenly you become very interested in the used car market. You may be wanting, like my pal with said dead Golf, a characterful replacement that is cheap and possibly Ultra Low Emission Zone-friendly – and that means petrol power.

As an almost reflex action, I am drawn to just about any BMW 3 Series from previous eras. They are stylish and mostly reliable when looked after properly. I came across a 2005 318i coupé from 2005 with 120,000 miles and a service history for just £1400. When I went back to check on its progress, no one had bothered buying it, so presumably the dealer would be keen to sell at, say, £1200.

Sticking with BMW and going for a Compact on the grounds that it is an equivalent hatchling to the Golf, £1450 buys a 2004 318ti. They actually look quite distinctive these days. This one had a fresh MOT and two keys, which counts for quite a lot. The car had 125,000 miles and looked very tidy, and this was another that had spent a month on the forecourt with no serious movement. Maybe a pattern is emerging.

To complete the trio of BMWs, next up is a 1 Series at similar money. This was a 2008 116i ES with 156,000 miles, and it’s another out-there design that has matured nicely. It’s practically hatchbacked with a couple of extra doors compared with the other Bavarians.

As a break I switched to Audi A3s, which are not always cheap to sort out when they become affordable. So a 124,000-mile 2004 2.0 FSI Sport at £1500 certainly seemed worth a closer look. The condition was tidy and the history was apparently full and all stamped up. Just the one previous owner was the possible dealmaker and the 17in alloys made it all look very pretty.

So far, so German, then, but I do like a certain old-model Swede as the perky hatchback choice. The Volvo C30 is much missed, by me at least. This example was a 2008 1.6 R-Design Sport, so it looks the part. It had 131,000 miles and, like all the others, had an awful lot going for it, not least the fact that it had a dealer warranty, if only a short one.

The punchline is, dear reader, that none of these suggestions hit the spot. Well, the Audi and BMW coupé did, but getting to see them proved a problem when you don’t have a car. Instead, my mate played the waiting game. Indeed, he waited so long he ended up with a free Nissan Micra via a relative. That was lucky.

What we almost bought this week

Peugeot Partner 1.6 HDi Escapade: Take one tough PSA van, give it a couple of rear windows and some headlight protectors and you’ve got the Escapade. An ambitious name, but this 2007-reg with 120,000 miles on the clock should have some adventures left in it. It’s in good condition, too, and only £500 – so if it goes bang, no harm done.

Tales from Ruppert’s garage

Innocenti Mini, mileage – 7275: I have been out and about in The Italian Job Innocenti quite a bit. Before you call the authorities, it’s all legit and I do have papers and all that. What I noticed is that the rear nearside tyre (although is that offside when it’s a left-hand-drive car?) deflates slowly. I did look for any foreign bodies in the Falken rubber, but no. Putting the compressor on it led to a bit of blow back. That’s the problem, then: the valve is leaking. I can manage that. I’ve also got a big job to report back on later, and I may finally be getting the spanners out to deal with another major issue.

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Readers’ ride

Jaguar XK: Here is another one of reader Stuart’s magnificent charity Jaguar XKs: “The car has done 34,000 miles. I bought it in January and had it wrapped by Blueprint of Nottingham. It is sponsored by Sheffield Prestige and has been fitted with yellow Alloygators, who help to sponsor my other cars. When the coronavirus has cleared, the car will go to events and shows, helping me raise funds for Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice.” To donate or find out more, visit justgiving.com/fundraising/sherwoodjaguarracing

Readers’ questions

Question: I’ve been looking at financing my next car and thought personal contract hire was only available to companies. How does it differ from personal contract purchase? Kevin Blake, via email

Answer: Like PCP, PCH is a form of leasing, only you’re renting rather than purchasing the car. Of course, few people actually buy a car on a PCP, choosing instead to part-exchange it for a new one, but the option is there. With PCH, the buying option is not automatically available, but if you ask nicely, the leasing company might let you buy it at the end. Also note that terminating a PCH deal is less straightforward. JE

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Question: We’re a big family physically and have £6k to spend on a hatchback. Not too old or too many miles, and well equipped. Any suggestions? Karen Blake, Chepstow

Answer: The Nissan Pulsar springs to mind. The front cabin is very roomy and the rear has masses of leg and head room. You can fit three on the back bench thanks to a low centre tunnel. We found a 2015-reg 1.2 DiG-T Acenta with 37,000 miles for your budget. This trim has parking sensors, alloys, Bluetooth, climate control and keyless entry/start. JE