2 Nov 2012

Buying secondhand. Our guide to buying a used family car

The response to our article "Are car prices too high?  We try and buy a car for £18,000" was a mixture of shock that car prices have risen so high and resignation that some car companies are pricing themselves out of the market - and suffering as a result.

Dacia are going some way to addressing the balance by offering their Sandero for £5,995 and Duster for £8995 but, in reality, the only way to get a decent car for good money is to buy secondhand.  That way someone else has taken the initial depreciation hit and as long as the car is within a couple of years old it will still come with some manufacturers warranty.

Using the arbitrary specifications we set ourselves in the above article we have a budget of £18,000, need seating for 2 adults and 2 children (and enough space for acoutrements), reasonable economy, low tax rates and the Speedmonkey factor - it must be fun to drive.  Plus, it should have a hatchback so the family dog can be taken for walks.

These are our recommendations.

2012 Ford Mondeo 2.2 TDCi Titanium

Amazingly this car cost £28,000 when new but a 2012 model with 6000 miles on the clock retails at £18,000 from a Ford dealer.  OK it's a diesel but it's got 200bhp and shoots to 60mph in 8 seconds.  It's a Mondeo so looks good and handles well.  It's also loaded with equipment, has a hatchback and does 47mpg.  Just don't be tempted by an automatic as they're pretty awful - see Adrian Harding's review of his automatic 2011 Mondeo here.

2010 Nissan X-Trail 2.0 DCi 173 Tekna

X-Trail's have for some time been the most sensible practical soft roader, or small SUV, for those in the know.  They're spacious, good to drive, have great engines and, if you buy from a main dealer, come with 12 months warranty.  The 2.0 DCi has 173bhp, does 0-62mph in 10 seconds and will return 38mpg.  The Tekna designation basically means it comes with lots of accessories such as heated leather seats, Satnav and automatic lights.  Phil Millar reviewed his X-Trail for Speedmonkey, which you can find here.  The best part is that they cost £30,000 when new so someone else has lost £12,000 over two years.

2011 Audi A4 2.0 TDi 143 SE Avant

To put things into perspective £18,000 buys you a base spec Astra with a tiny engine or this 1 year old Audi Avant.  It makes you wonder why anyone would buy new.  The 143bhp engine, with multitronic gearbox, does 0-60 in 9.7 seconds and returns 48mpg.  When new it cost £29,000.  Being an Audi it will look and feel fantastic and it's value will fall at a less steep rate than that brand new car you could have bought.

2010 BMW 320i SE Touring

Another German luxury car in our budget.  The latest 3 series looks best in estate form.  There are a multitude of diesel engined variants but we would go for the 2 litre petrol engine.  It has 170bhp, does 0-60mph in 9.2 seconds and will return 40mpg.  Because it's 2 years old you'll get leather, satnav, iDrive and lots of other trinkets.  The 3 series estate doesn't have a massive boot but it's enough for a family's needs.  When new this cost £28,000. Buy from a dealer and you'll get 12 months warranty.

2010 Subaru Forester 2.0 XS

Subaru have fallen from favour in recent years due to some strange marketing decisions and some bland cars.  However the Forester continues to hold it's head high.  It's a great car that does everything well.  £18,000 buys a 2010 petrol engined XS (don't buy the malignant diesel) that has 150bhp, does 0-60mph in 12.7 seconds, returns 37mpg and cost £28,000 when new.  OK so it's not fast but you will ride in comfort and the knowledge that you can go anywhere - Subaru's 4x4 system is second only to Land Rover's.  You'll get a high spec with leather seats and electric everything plus 12 months warranty if you buy from a Subaru dealer.

2010 Mercedes-Benz C 180 CGI Sport Estate

The C Class estate looks fabulous, was expensive when new (£28,000), oozes class and quality yet has lost £10,000 in value over 2 years.  The engine is a supercharged 1.8 litre petrol unit that produces 156bhp, does 0-60 in 9.2 seconds and returns 37mpg.  You could also buy a 200CDI diesel for similar money, that will give an extra 10mpg but it'll be slower.  Buy from a Mercedes-Benz dealer and get 12 months warranty.

2010 Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TSI GTi

The MKVII Golf is a wonderful car.  You could buy a lower spec 2012 car for £18,000 but we'd rather go for a GTi.  This does 0-60mph in 6.9 seconds and has 210bhp.  It'll also do 39mpg.  You'll get the iconic GTi tartan seats and all the usual refinements that a modern, top of the range, Volkswagen brings.  It also has one of the best chassis in it's class.  This is the only car in our selection that'll lift an inside wheel when cornering enthusiastically.  It cost £25,000 when new and will depreciate quite slowly.

2012 Skoda Octavia Estate 2.0T FSI vRS

An absolute performance bargain.  Skoda keep their prices just below the rest of the VW group and a used Skoda represents pretty much the best value car on the road today.  You can buy a nearly new vRS estate for less than £18,000 which means you'll get 2 years warranty and all the space and gadgets you could ever need.  It's powerful (200bhp), fast (0-60mph in 7.3 seconds) and economical (37mpg) and it's a vRS so has that all important Speedmonkey credibility. You'd be mad not to.  Brand new these only cost £22,000 which is why you can get a nearly new one in our budget.

In summary we would say you should choose your car based on what you want and need.  For sheer class go for the Mercedes, for maximum car for the money in terms of equipment, handling and age go for the Mondeo, for off road ability go with the X-Trail or Forester, for German build quality it comes down to the Audi or BMW, for fun go for the Golf.

But for all round value for money that won't continue to depreciate at a steep rate (which the Mondeo will do) the Skoda Octavia represents the best, used family car choice.