Help me buy a car in the UK
June 7, 2011 3:58 AM   Subscribe

I need a cheap, dependable car with a tiny engine in the UK. I have never purchased a car in this country before. What should I look for and where should I look?

I will have my license in about a month, and due to what will be astronomical insurance for a first-year UK driver, I need the cheapest, most dependable car with the tiniest possible engine. I would like to spend about £1000, give or take. I could probably go up to £1500 if needed.

I have purchased cars in the states so I know how it works there - take my dad along so I don't pay the woman surcharge, kick the tires (tyres), drive it to my uncle's mechanic shop so he can have a look at it, write a check (cheque). That's not really an option for me here - no dad, no friends who know anything about cars, really, and no uncle who is a mechanic. Should I look at used car dealers or private sellers? Are there any tricks or scams to watch out for? And, of course, what makes and models should I be looking at? Appearance is absolutely not important, but dependability is.
posted by cilantro to Travel & Transportation around United Kingdom (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Nissan Micra?
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 4:00 AM on June 7, 2011

Best answer: The tiny car market is pretty good in the UK. However, you're still going to pay a fortune for insurance. A newly-passed friend of mine (in her 30's) couldn't find insurance for *any* car for less than £246.00 a month. (Yes, I know. It's shockingly high).

As for what car to buy... We just got rid of Britney, a 12 year old Ford Ka, and it was an awesome car to run. She started getting a bit expensive at the end, but considering we paid £800.00 for her 4 years ago, she did us proud. People tend to sneer at them, but they are really good, cheap fun-to-drive cars.

I don't think it matters what you buy as long as you steer clear of the Vauxhall Corsa. Japanese cars (esp. Toyota) have a reputation as being rock solid. There's a reason why Taxi Drivers buy and drive Toyotas, and it's because they just don't break down.
posted by seanyboy at 4:12 AM on June 7, 2011

Best answer: This is a list of the cars in the cheapest insurance group (1).

By the look of it, the inclusion of the Volvos is a mistake.

Of that list, the Fiat Panda and the Citroen C1 are by far the better cars. Parts and servicing for the Vauxhall Corsa will be cheaper. None are bad cars, but Japanese cars by far hold the edge for reliability and are typically priced at a premium for that reason.

If you jump group 2, which also seems to include some cars that don't look to me like they should be there, then the best cars are the Toyota Yaris and the Skoda Fabia, both of which are well made.

At the budget you are looking at, you will be taking a chance, of course. I would personally go with a Ford Fiesta or Vauxhall Corsa or Astra, which are dirt cheap to run, will be in plentiful supply and do not cost a lot to buy. Parkers will give you prices. I trust Honest John for reviews.

Yes, there are plenty of scams. Dealers give you more security under the law, but at your price the legal recourse if something breaks is somewhat limited. But the law has been tightened. Don't buy off the street. Get an HPI check on any car you look at seriously to buy.

You might also consider going to an auction. Yes, it can be a little scammy like anything in used cars, and you don't get to test drive or see the car run apart from when it is driven into the hall. But at your price it is not a bad option.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:16 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

At your price range, I'd look at private sellers. Get a copy of Auto-Trader magazine and look through the classifieds for that. I believe Auto-Trader also contains lists of what cars buy and sell for.

Another tip is to use webuyanycar or equivalent instant valuation website to get an idea of how much the car would be sold for second hand.

Finally, with any old car, it's worth getting a mechanic to come with you to check the car out before you buy. I think you can use the AA or RAC to do this, but I don't know how you organise this. There will be a charge associated with doing this, but you'll avoid any lemons.
posted by seanyboy at 4:18 AM on June 7, 2011

I am not a car owner, but if I were, this would be my first port of call when buying insurance and checking how not to get conned. I know people who have used it that have saved a heap of time, effort and money.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 4:18 AM on June 7, 2011

Following on from MuffinMan. The Citroen C1 is an identical car to the Peugeot 107 and the Toyota Aygo, and they're good cars. The Toyota Aygo is what I'm currently driving and I'm very happy with it.
posted by seanyboy at 4:20 AM on June 7, 2011

I have a Yaris which has been incredibly dependable throughout its life.

If you're buying a high mileage car, get a diesel - it should last much longer, provided you remember to get the oil changed every 4000 miles or so.

Some friends of mine always get cars at auctions and seem to do well out of it; however, they do lots of research first into the makes and models that are listed and know exactly what they are prepared to bid for each possibility. There's also the difficulty that if you buy at auction, you have to get it insured and possibly also taxed on the spot or else pay to take it home on a low loader.
posted by emilyw at 4:21 AM on June 7, 2011

The episode of Top Gear I watched yesterday* concluded with this advice: If you're buying a £1500 car, buy something Japanese.

* "£1500 coupe that's not a Porsche"
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:25 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Yaris consistently comes out top in the small car category in consumer and owner satisfaction tests (Which?, JD Power and the like). From personal experience Japanese cars are the best for reliability and French cars break down. YMMV (pun intended).
posted by jontyjago at 5:29 AM on June 7, 2011

You can't get much tinier than a Citroen C1/Toyota Aygo/Peugeot 107 (as seanyboy says, they're essentially all the same car) and I drove a C1 about 3 years ago and loved it - great fun, really nippy. You really can't fit 4 people in one comfortably, though, if that's a consideration. They do have four seats, but don't let that fool you.

I don't know if these models have been around long enough for you to be able to pick up a used one in your price range. Still, it's worth looking.

Still smaller is the Smart car, but they are expensive for the size.

I and family members have had several Hondas and Toyotas (Yaris, Carina, Accord), and they've always been very reliable. The Honda Jazz (think it might be the Fit in the US?) is a great small car, though nowhere near as small as those I mention above and, again, might be expensive.
posted by altolinguistic at 5:44 AM on June 7, 2011

Smarts are great but you will not get a great condition one for £1,500 or less. Plus they are expensive to fix because they don't use generic parts (tyres are weird sizes, etc).

To be honest though you are not going to get anything newer like a C1/Aygo for <£1,500, and if you do it will have over 100k miles and everything will be worn out and ready to fail. Better to look for something older but well-maintained and reliable, like a Ford Fiesta - my SO had one that was super reliable and very cheap to fix (since generic budget parts could be used), the only down side was it drank petrol like there was no tomorrow.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:22 AM on June 7, 2011

I also recommend Auto-trader as a decent site where you can put in your max price and see everything available in an e.g. 20 mile radius, and then narrow down as required (only petrol, only manual, etc, etc).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:26 AM on June 7, 2011

Response by poster: Hi everyone - just an update, in case anyone was wondering. I bought a 2006 Toyota Aygo 3-door from my local Toyota dealership. I decided to spend about four times what I initially planned. I had enough money saved to pay cash up front, and I decided it was worth it for the peace of mind of having a newer car that will (hopefully) spend less time in the shop.

It was about £700 over the estimated dealership price, but it has really low miles for its age (25,000), one owner, complete service history, and a year's warranty. It's super cute, too.
posted by cilantro at 2:42 AM on August 15, 2011

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