What new saloon? Three-year-old car for wife? Why is my car so hard on fuel?
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'.
Could you advise me please on buying a new saloon? I have three children aged six to 15 who need to be ferried to school but I don't want to buy one of those SUVs you write about. I have €15,000 to spend. My husband will take over the Opel Astra we now have which is eight years old and has 130,000 kms on the clock. It has taken a battering over the years but will be okay for my husband's short drive to work. I would prefer a diesel but will be guided by you.
Aidan: No SUVs; understood. And favouring diesel in a family saloon is something that I can certainly appreciate. However, by dividing your Astra's mileage by its age, it returns an average annual usage of circa 16,000 kilometres. There is a possibility that you could make petrol work for you. Don't rule it out. Have a look at the Toyota Corolla. It's suitably sized and has a 1.33 litre engine. It won't rival diesel for torque but it is frugal in its own right. The last of the old shape 2012 model is certainly within reach and you might just find that you come within a whisker of a 131.
Similarly, the Skoda Octavia comes with a 1.2 TSi engine that packs a punchy 105bhp and enough pull through the rev range to make decent progress even when fully laden. Look for 2013 old shape models (both new and old shape available in 2013). Ambition trim should be the preferred choice.
Now to bigger saloons with diesel engines. Well, actually, start with the five door lift back Mazda 6. It looks like a saloon but operates like a hatch. It's enormous, though. A 2012 model with a 2.2 litre diesel engine comes in on budget. The engine might sound a touch big but it's eminently manageable and not much worse on fuel than smaller engines.
If you are loaded up with children and sports bags, the bigger engine won't be under as much strain. The Hyundai i40 is a sound purchase. It has a frugal 1.7 diesel engine and comes generously equipped with interior kit. 2012 models that have been properly minded should still have one year's manufacturer warranty remaining.
Another car I can wholeheartedly recommend is the Ford Mondeo. Firstly, you will lots of choice. They're everywhere. Secondly, they are a solid machine and particularly so if you opt for the 2.0 diesel version. The 1.6 diesel is perfectly fine and has lower tax and is the one most people opt for. The list really is endless as many models perform so similarly. You will be spoiled for choice with Passats and Avensis'.
The Insignia ironed out little niggles early on and has a proven track record with families around the country. Just to confuse the situation a little more; what about an estate? You could get a lovely Kia cee'd SW or a Peugeot 308 SW that would sip miserly on diesel, cost buttons to tax, drives beautifully and ferry your family about effortlessly. It's worth considering.
Eddie: Lots of choice there. I'm pushing for consideration of an estate here. With three children, a saloon is fine but an estate will give a lot more room and flexibility. And I have to say if you can take a look at a Skoda Octavia Combi (that's their word for estate) you will be pleasantly surprised. If I had to pick a car for you and could overcome your predisposition towards a saloon it would be the Combi.
I am tracking down a three-year-old car for my wife who has just taken up a job 20 miles from home. She doesn't need a big car but I would like her to have something substantial in case of an accident and because the roads around here (west of Ireland) are poor and are prone to flooding too. As she has been unemployed for many years we don't have much money so our budget is €12,000.
Aidan: Are you fixed on having a three-year-old car? I don't think you should be. Used cars aren't all alike and so a decent four-year old with low mileage can be as good as a three-year-old. Also, if you want bulk, then a family hatch is the answer. And three-year olds will be somewhat unattainable at this budget. What about the Toyota Auris? I can blindly recommend it to anyone who cares to heed my advice, safe in the knowledge that they should be well taken care of. Look for a 2012 petrol 1.33 model in Terra trim. They are most common. Luna or Sport would be lovely but it's better to get a car with low mileage that has been well minded with this budget.
Although a little more scarce, the Honda Civic would be an ideal fit for your needs. It has a 1.4 litre petrol engine that will run and run. It's spacious and gives the feeling that many describe as being "solid" on the road. Basically, it feels surefooted. How about this for an odd-ball? One that flies below lots of buyers' radars. The Suzuki SX4 1.5. I'll say no more other than to take a look at how much car do you get for your money with one. And it's a Suzuki. I've never heard of anybody complaining about repair bills on a Suzuki. I want to give you a broad menu of choices so take a look at a few diesels. Your wife's mileage works out at around 16,000kms a year. And that's excluding any leisure driving at weekends or in the evenings. Price differentials between petrol and diesel is narrowing. At this mileage, the initial outlay for a diesel car might not be such a false economy as it might have been over the previous few years. Do your fuel costs maths and take a look at a Volkswagen Golf. Solid car, that. Loads of choice and easy to live with. The Focus 1.6 diesel is a sound purchase, too. It's another deserved big name in the motor trade because it appeals to so many and does its job well; 2012 Edge models are most prominent at this budget but don't be afraid to drop back to the older model 2011 if the condition and mileage stacks up. Buying a used diesel is all about mitigating risks and high mileage can (don't read as 'always') bring some element of risk. However, if you're stuck on a three-year-old then superminis enter into the equation. Eddie, what do you reckon? Are the Yaris, Fiesta et al worth a look here?
Eddie: I definitely think so Aidan. The cars you've mentioned are excellent but maybe she doesn't need such a large vehicle for just the one person occupying it most of the time. Her choice is, realistically, going to be dictated by what is available locally and how many garages within reasonable distance. I'd urge a good look at some of the following: Toyota Yaris, Peugeot 208, Skoda Fabia, Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta, Suzuki Swift, Honda Jazz, Mazda2, Nissan Micra, Opel Corsa, Renault Clio, SEAT Ibiza etc. Lots of good small cars and no bother getting into an excellent three-year-old model.
My 10-year-old Ford Focus seems to have got really hard on the fuel lately. It has a 1.8-litre petrol engine but I have noticed how even with the fall in fuel prices over recent months it is costing me more to cover the same ground. I do about 350 km a week on average. My garage man tells me the engine is okay and has checked it over but I still think something has gone wrong. Have you any suggestions?
Aidan: Unfortunately, I have more questions than solutions. It is not normal to suffer a sudden drop in fuel efficiency. Have you checked your tyre pressure? When did you last service your car? To what extent was it serviced? Were all of the filters changed? Was the correct oil used? If an oil grade of too thick a viscosity was used then it might lead to increased consumption.
It might even be something more sinister that didn't show up under the routine inspection. By no means are these questions a slight on your mechanic. But you don't seem to have found a suitable answer so you should probe further.
Eddie: Dramatic fall-offs like that could spell a major problem but the intriguing thing is your mechanic hasn't discovered anything - if he is worth his salt he would have by now.
I think there is a chance your ECU - the computer than controls the engine's workings - may have developed a fault. These things happen; computers do strange things.
Your mechanic can check this fairly easily and hook it up to run a diagnostic test. There is something wrong. Don't let it out of the garage until it is sorted.