James Ruppert: Twenty is plenty when shopping second hand

Just in case you wondered, that groovy car for surfers in the shape of an old Peugeot 505 Estate that featured on this very page last month went for a solid £20,000.

Make of that what you will, but clearly when the right car and customer come together, the sky is the limit. So my top-end buying budget in difficult times has to be £20k. What on earth can you get for that these days?

We’ve established that you can bid your way into an old practical car, but how about one that’s much newer and reliable? That would definitely be a Honda Civic, which as recently as 2020 was topping reliability surveys.

Just £19,495 gets us inside a 2016 2.0 i-VTEC Type R GT with 30,000 miles. Here’s a hot hatch with a more-than-adequate 306bhp nad lots of option boxes ticked, including plenty of black detailing and a carbon package. There was a wonderfully detailed service history in the advert that took in valve clearances and fresh Michelin Pilot Sport tyres. A joyous way to part with £20k.

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If you don’t want something so excitingly full-on, then £20k should get you a car that is at the very least comfortable. We could go way back in time with a Roller or an S-Class, but then again we don’t want to break down or be lumbered with a big bill, so how about a Mazda CX-5? A few years ago, it was a real-world comfy car, according to ordinary motorists.

It may be an SUV, but the CX-5 looks pretty stylish, and I would be inclined to go for a smooth and easy-to-live-with petrol model connected to an automatic gearbox. I came across a big main agent with a 2018 2.0 SE-L Nav+ for £19,000. It certainly had all mod cons, from lane-keeping aid to radar cruise control and all that sort of stuff.

Reliability and comfort is all very well, but what you really want for £20k is also a bit of character: right proper, out-there nonsense and maybe some wind in your hair. Basically, you can afford a Caterham. I saw a 2015 1.4 K-Series Supersport with around 10,000 miles for £19,990. That’s what’s left of the British car industry right there. It had carbonfibre mudguards, a limited-slip diff, wet-weather kit and a heater, so would certainly be comfortable for a Caterham. Reliability comes in the shape of a one-year dealer warranty.

Here’s the proof that with a thick five-figure sum to splurge, the used car market is a consistently exciting and rewarding place to go shopping. And if you do want to actually go shopping, a 22k-mile 2018 Mercedes-Benz C220d AMG Line for £19,000 is the compromise buy and miles better than an old 505.

What we almost bought this week

Toyota Corolla 1.3 GS: All the excitement surrounding the GR Yaris has got us musing on Toyotas of old. Something like this £600 emerald green Corolla five-door. It’s a 1997 car that has done a modest 85,000 miles. Get this, though: it has had only one owner in the past 20 years and the service book is filled with workshop stamps. Now that’s really exciting.



A. Rusty brake discs, tarnished alloys, bird poo and algae are the kinds of issues you can expect an unused car to suffer. Thankfully, yours is young and its components are still fresh. Ideally, you’d take it for a long drive, but you can’t do that in lockdown, so at least push it a few feet to relieve the tyres and brake pads, check the tyre pressures, give it a wash and polish, then clean and finally spray the alloy bits (cylinder head, pipes, ABS pump etc.) with WD40.