24 Jan 2014
Used car advice: family hatch for €5,000
At the time of writing this article the immensely popular advertising website Donedeal.ie hosted an eye-popping catalogue of over 52,000 used cars. One could be forgiven for thinking there is a whole sea of choice out there for the used car buyer. And to an extent there is an element of truth to that. In no venue other than the used car arena can you spend the same amount of money on a 1 litre 5 door hatchback with wind-up windows and a tape deck, and a 3.5 litre V6 luxury saloon with heated leather seats and air suspension. Each car appeals to one person or another (sadly the former will likely find a new home more easily).
But there is a segment of the market that consistently finds itself in huge demand; namely medium sized hatchback models costing around €5,000 that are especially suitable for families with small children. However, my search of the 52,000 used cars for sale on Donedeal.ie revealed that just 4,784 of them cost less than €5,500. And it gets worse. Of this number, just 2,332 of them had an engine size of 1.6 litres or less, which means that unless you can access more money or you are happy to cruise around in a veritable sitting room on wheels and pay massive motor tax, then the budget hatchback world simply is not your oyster.
So of the finite number of options available, which models make the best choices? If you are shopping in the budget end of the market, prepare to make some compromises. However, knowing which ones to make should mean you won’t have to suffer driving a plum. But, before we take a look at some options, I want to lend you some advice which will make you a savvier used car shopper.
Firstly, don’t spend your entire budget on the car. This might sound like poor advice. Surely spending as much as possible will result in buying the best used car, right? No, not necessarily. Consider this; you purchase a used car from a private seller (see my tips for this) and it turns out that it needs some money spent on it fixing things that the blighted previous owner neglected to point out (as they tend to do). Remedying items usually gets shown the pointy end of the proverbial long finger and soon enough the issue will have grown some friends, who also need rectifying. My advice is to keep a side-pot of money (around €300-€500 should be fine) which can be used to make good on the bad items that most cars in this price range come with.
Age and mileage
When it comes to used cars, the perception is that buying as young a car as possible is the sensible approach, and in many instances it is. But not always for those at the €5,000 price point it’s not. Again, take this example. You find a dealership selling a 2008 Opel Astra with 150,000 kilometres for €5,500 and a 2007 model with 100,000 kilometres for the same price. The age argument would have it that you buy the 2008 model. However, I would argue that the older car is a better buy primarily on the basis that it has covered less mileage. Of course you need to take some variables into consideration such as whether or not a year older car results in buying an even older shape of the same model and also the existence of a service record, which leads me onto my next point.
Service record and condition
This is an easy one because a car either has or has not got verifiable proof of being serviced. If the book is stamped by a main dealer then you’re usually safe. If it’s by an independent mechanic then make sure you call that mechanic and ask what work was carried out on the car. Most cars in the €5,000 price range don’t come with a service record. In fact, as a nation we are pretty negligent when it comes to servicing our cars. Results of a survey among dealers that I conducted some time ago showed that less than 25% of cars traded in to them had a comprehensive maintenance record. And most of these cars were less than 5 years old too. If fresh used cars aren’t maintained properly what hope have you for a much older model?
If you are still in the dark when it comes to a suitable 5 door hatchback that can accommodate a couple of small children’s car seats and has enough space to transport all of the accoutrements that go with them, then consider the following three options. I have omitted the ubiquitous Volkswagen Golf and Toyota Corolla because, frankly, they should be at the top of everybody’s shopping list. Likewise, I chose to ignore vehicles in the supermini segment, comprising the Ford Fiesta and Opel Corsa et al. for the reason that these cars are typically in such high demand that their values can sometimes appear a little inflated. Instead, I have concentrated on some less popular alternatives to the higher performing brands but, which themselves, represent excellent value for money. All of the cars listed have ISOFIX in the rear seats, they will all achieve circa 40mpg in normal conditions and each one of them has a boot space large enough for a couple of buggies and some shopping to reside. For €5,000, any of the following used cars will make the perfect second, family car.
1. Nissan Almera 1.5 SXE
“Hi, my name is Aidan and I’m an Almera-holic”. I recently spoke with a good friend of mine in a motor dealership (and not from a Nissan franchise) for nearly 30 mins on the virtues of these tremendous little cars. You will easily pick up a 2007 model for under €5,000. The chain that drives the cams can sometimes get a trifle noisy from stretching and require immediate replacement (good thing you kept that €300 aside) but get one that has been properly looked after and it will look after you. 2007 heralded their twilight (though a few snuck into 2008) and Nissan crammed loads of extras such as sunroofs, fog lights, leather multi-functional steering wheels and cruise control into them. And you know that really posh looking bronze colour that new BMWs and Volvos come in? Well, the Almera had that paint scheme way before those brands. It is essentially the hipster of the car world. Okay, I’ll stop now.
2. Mazda 3 1.4 Comfort or Touring
The Mazda 3 is a big hatchback. And it’s comfortable too. The high spec Touring model comes with a multi-functional steering wheel, alloy wheels and air conditioning and for around €5,000 you should comfortably get into a 2006 model with average mileage of around 120,000 kilometres. Mazda’s petrol engines are engineering masterpieces. They are as close to bullet-proof (save the RX8) that you can hope to find. Exercise a little more caution with diesel models, though. They can suffer from being fed the wrong type of oil by lazy owners and mechanics that don’t bother to check the manufacturer’s specifications properly. Also, the saloon was only available as a 1.6 whereas the hatch is usually a 1.4. Despite the 1.6 costing more when it was new, the two body types are only worth the same at this stage.
3. SEAT Leon 1.6 S
I’m a recent SEAT convert. I love them. The 1.6 petrol engine in the (now old) model Leon is astonishingly spritely. And it makes a great noise too. You should expect to buy a 2006 easily enough for €5,000 and with the new model out since last year it means that some clean examples of used models should start making their way into SEAT dealerships around the country. The ’S’ model has a higher level of specification than the ‘R’ model and in my opinion the former is the one to choose. It comes with similar features as the Nissan and Mazda but they are packaged in a more fashionable way. The leather wrapping the steering wheel feels suppler than on other brands and with SEAT having access to innovations from Volkswagen, the Leon feels as though it is built to a very robust finish. It was also designed by the profoundly talented Walter de Silva so you can brag to your friends that the guy who sketches Lambourghinis also penned your own €5,000 hatchback.
Regardless of whether you are spending €5,000 or €50,000 you should ensure that you check the car history with MyWheels before committing to any purchase.