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Alex Robbins contributes to the writing of Telegraph cars where, in addition to answering readers’ questions, he also contributes new and used car reviews, as well as articles on buying and selling.

His knowledge of the used car market informs his many buying guides relating to best buys in particular sectors, with an emphasis on value for money. Each week, he will answer your questions about buying and selling, as well as solving your automotive problems, whether consumer or mechanical.

Do you have an automotive dilemma that you would like our expert to solve? For consumer and used car advice, or car breakdown advice, email [email protected] quoting your subscriber number. This week’s question…


Dear Alex…

My daughter hopes to pass her driving test soon and has £600 to spend on her first car. What kind of things should she watch out for? What models would you recommend?

–KM

Dear KM,

With the demand for cheap and cheerful cars during the pandemic and the subsequent rise in used car prices, £600 doesn’t go as far as it used to. In fact, buying a cheap small car for that amount has become tricky. At this price, even the first obvious cheap car options such as the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa are quite hard to find in good, serviceable condition. I saw a 2003 Corsa 1.0 liter costing £700 with a nine month MOT but the photos suggested it had had a rough life so it wasn’t worth further investigation.

A second-generation Nissan Micra might be within budget. They’re relatively reliable and incredibly easy to drive – and because they’re undesirable for thieves and boy racers, insurance costs are about as low as for a young driver. I found a 2002 1.0 E with a 10 month MOT and 60,000 miles for £629, although that seems like a bargain in today’s market. You may have to accept higher mileage to stay within your budget.

The Renault Clio is another favorite early car; second-generation examples are cheap as a chip. They can be troublesome if not well maintained, with common electric gremlins, but if you can find a good one it should offer a comfortable and cheap ride and shouldn’t be too expensive to insure. A 2005 1.2 Extreme with 90,000 miles and 12 months of MOT can be yours for £650.

Even a Ford Ka, traditionally the quintessential cheap learner’s car, is a bit out of your daughter’s price bracket, though she might be able to afford one if she can save a bit more; I found a Studio 1.3 with a seven month, 65,000 mile MOT for £750. She’ll want to be careful, as they’re prone to rust around the fuel filler cap and sills. On the plus side, they still look great and are extremely fun to ride.

I found a more affordable car: a Chevrolet Matiz 1.0 SE with 54,000 miles and a full year’s MOT for £650. They’re not great to drive and have a cheap interior and vague steering, but a Matiz will certainly be cheap and reasonably reliable, but without panache.

What should be paid attention to? You can’t be too picky at this price, but as you may have realized, the most important thing is a long MOT. Use the government’s online MOT history checker to look up the car’s past.

A test drive is essential. Make sure the car goes where you direct it and check for slamming suspension, noisy engines and smoke from the exhaust.


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