Wednesday 7 December 2016

Advice desk: Car for a learner driver? Focus on trouble? Estate for young couple?

Aidan Timmons and Motoring Editor Eddie Cunningham team up to help readers make the right choice with their next car. Aidan visits dealers all over the country to produce a monthly guidebook on the values of used cars. He is co-editor of Motor Trade Publishers, who supply a car-valuing service to the motor trade, insurance companies and finance houses. Eddie is author of former best-seller 'Clever Car Buying'.

Published 20/07/2016 | 02:30

I recently received my learner permit and am researching the various insurance options available, along with cars. I have concluded you have a greater chance of passing your driving test if you have your own vehicle that you have used all along. What car would you recommend for a novice driver? My budget would be around €5,000.

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Aidan: The best advice I can give is to stay patient. Far too many hot heads and people will do silly things around you all the time. Expect it and don't let it fluster you. You will be a better driver by staying calm. I am sure you are already thinking of something with a manual gearbox, but just in case anyone tries to convince you that learning to drive an automatic might heighten your chances of passing your exam - try your best to ignore them.

A manual gives you more choice of used cars and might become crucially important in times of emergency. I also think you are right to buy a car now and learn to drive in it. You are going to need one sooner or later, so best get accustomed to things like the seat height, the feel of the "bite" in the clutch, and the length of the throws between the gears. I tend to favour small Japanese cars at this budget. I don't mean Japanese imports either.

We recommended a couple of cars at this budget some weeks ago; the Mitsubishi Colt is a great choice. You might need to travel to find one. Good 1.1 litre engine that can take a bashing. You'll never go wrong in a Toyota Yaris. It's got a 1.0-litre engine and is a cinch to drive with its light clutch and short, direct gear changes.

The Honda Jazz and Mazda2 both have bigger engines (1.2 and 1.3 respectively), but shop around for insurance premiums. You will find that your money might not go as far in a Jazz. They hold their values tremendously well.

The Ford Fiesta probably doesn't need a mention. It should be on the shopping lists of everybody looking for a supermini; regardless of budget.

The same goes for the VW Polo. There are loads of them so you can be picky. Renault Clios will be plentiful, too. They are a doddle to work on, so your service costs won't be huge. As an outside choice; what about a Fiat Panda? The Panda is brilliant value. You might even get a low-mileage 2010 model for this budget.

Eddie: My advice to you is dead simple. Get the best and safest car you can afford because your safety comes first. All those mentioned by Aidan are excellent. I'll just make the point as forcibly as I can: buy from someone, preferably a dealer, you trust and can go back to. Let me be blunt. You are a prime target for someone to slip you a car for a bargain and leave you to pick up the pieces ­- repair bill after repair bill. The cars Aidan outlined are excellent, but if someone has abused them and covered up faults or damage you, you my friend, will be at severe loss. Please take this advice.

I note that week after week you recommend the Ford Focus. My current car is a 151 Focus 1.6 diesel 6spd and prior to that, I had a 131-ref 1.6 focus diesel. The 131 exhibited clunking noises when gear changing at lower gears and it was attributed to a dual mass flywheel fault. They fitted new flywheel, but never fully corrected the fault. My present car is now due to be repaired for the third time for displaying similar noises when gear changing. The fault is supposed to be due to transmission problems. Repairs to transmission were carried out twice. On both occasions while my car was being "repaired", I was given another Focus and on both the gear change was not much different to what I was experiencing with my own. I find this unusual and was wondering if in your dealings, you had ever come across this issue? If it's a feature of the car, no one is saying it. Hope you can throw some light on this.

Aidan: I am terribly sorry, but I don't know what to tell you. The Focus manual transmission is not something that has ever been pointed out to me as a known troublemaker. I visit dealers of all brands every month and I tend to hear of niggles when speaking with a dealer who traded in a competitor's product. However, I have never heard of a dealer being frightened of trading in a Focus because of well-known transmission problems. Dual Mass Flywheels are a different story.

They are a costly repair, but Ford are not the only ones who uses them and, unfortunately, they are a wear and tear item. They are used for vibration suppression at low revs, but are constantly in action, so they can wear out over time. What does your dealer say when you bring the car back for repairs? Maybe look for a report on what was done and keep a track of dates and mileage intervals between each major repair. Eddie and I can investigate this one further and revert to you another time if we find anything.

Eddie: You sure sent us checking big time on this, but there does not seem to be a widespread problem. If anyone reading has had similar difficulties, let us know. My advice to you, if you are still getting trouble, is to get an engineer to check it out. Yes, it will cost you money, but if there is something genuinely deep-seated wrong, you should be able to recoup at least some of it because you will have mechanical proof.

Check back with us, okay?

I'm driving a VW Golf (141). It's on PCP (due to good deal) and I have a decision to make fairly soon. Ideally, I want an estate. So I was thinking of the VW Golf estate. (I've always driven Golfs; local dealer seems to do good deals). I do very little mileage (around 10,000km/year). I'm in my mid-thirties with one (and soon maybe two) children. I definitely want an estate. Always loading something. VW Golf is 110hp. Is this enough? I could stretch (using PCP again) to a Passat, but that might be overkill considering the mileage. Should I break away to something like a Skoda Octavia Combi.

Aidan: The Passat estate sounds superfluous to your needs. There is a small discrepancy in your comparison between the Golf and Octavia. Both 1.6 TDi versions have the exact same output because they use the exact same engine. So, a standard 1.6 TDi Octavia also has 110bhp. The 150bhp version is a 2.0-litre diesel. Granted, the only 2.0-litre diesel estate available in the Golf range (according to the most recent price list) is the Highline version, but, still, you are not comparing like with like.

There is a €1,600 price walk from the 1.6 Octavia Combi to the 2.0 litre with 150bhp. Not sure you will get the benefit of it. Diesel engines are all about torque anyway. And the torque from the standard 1.6 is fine; impressive, even. There is a lot to be said for keeping the good relationship with your local dealer and so that brings the Golf firmly into focus.

You know both Golf and Octavia also come with a 1.2 TSi engine? It does not have as much torque and will be of somewhat limited appeal on the used market, but it is worth discussing with your dealer and determining what the likely resale price will be, so that you can get a better indication of any equity at the end of your next PCP deal.

You won't be able to hold them to it, though. The GMFV (Guaranteed Minimum Future Value) is as far as anyone goes. Honestly, as much as my mileage maths doesn't say so, I still reckon a diesel is right for you. I happen to think the Octavia Combi is probably what you are after, too. It's marginally more practical and a far superior product now to what it was 10 years ago. I could, and maybe should, point out worthwhile competitors such as the Kia cee'd SW, Toyota Auris Touring Sports etc, but you seem to have a fair idea of what you want already. Just be sure to check all available deals from VW and Skoda.

Eddie: Buy the Volkswagen Golf estate with the 110bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine. The car has 605 litres of boot/cargo space, but that shoots up to 1,620-litres with the rear seats folded flat. You won't need more than that. Loads of room and with your small mileage (10,000 is only 100km a week after all), why spend money on a diesel that will clog up with soot because you don't sound to me like someone who is going to floor it too often. Open and shut case. Golf estate.

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