Safe car for my son? Why big steering wheels? Small, or large, family car?
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'.
My son is after getting a job and wants to buy a car. He likes coupes and sports cars and has always been tricking around with old ones. He would have around €17,000 to spend as I will be funding some of it, but I want him to have something that is first and foremost safe and won't get him into trouble. As a contributor to his funds I want to have a big say. What would you advise?
Aidan: You can't control the way your son drives. You just have to hope that he is responsible enough when behind the wheel on his own.
Don't be afraid to nag about safety. My parents did the same (still do) and it has a tendency to creep into a young man's conscience at some point.
If you are lending some of the money to your son, then you can at least insist that he buys the car from a reputable dealer and that the car comes with warranty and has been properly inspected.
You could also place a caveat on the loan that he has to enrol in a driver safety or advanced driving course (I hope he isn't reading this).
It is funny, but if your son asked me the same question I would advise that he finances the car himself so that his parents don't have any say in the purchase. Is he generally responsible? I bought a good few sports cars when I was in my early 20s but I have a level head on my shoulders. Lots of young lads do.
I hate to say it but every car can get you into trouble if you drive it the wrong way. Sure, there are very powerful cars where the margin for error is much slighter than usual but I don't think this is about finding the right car.
I would have a frank and honest conversation with your son about your concerns and let him make the adult decision about which car to buy.
Perhaps reconsider the 'Bank of Dad/Mam' idea and let your young man find out the costly truth of running a sports car himself. More often than not it is just a phase.
Eddie: Aidan, fair dues, speaks wisely. For me, as the father of four daughters, all driving, I have to say the one thing I didn't have to worry about was their behaviour at the wheel because I drummed into them how dangerous other drivers could be.
In your son's case I would just sit down with him and tell him you are worried. Young people know when us old folks are speaking from the heart and not 'talking down' to them. Tell him you trust him; that you don't want your heart in your mouth every time he's out. He will listen. Trust him.
Why have some cars such heavy doors and big steering wheels? I'm a 'petite' woman in my early 30s and I'd like to buy something smart and trendy but a lot of the cars I've looked at are just too big and bulky in the driving area (seats, steering wheel, doors etc). Is it only me or is it a Big Man's World?
Aidan: Heavy doors are usually a sign of being structurally solid and can serve a safety purpose. Some manufacturers are beginning to use composite materials that reduce weight and retain solidity in a crash but these things cost money and so good old fashioned steel is still widely used.
Citroen's C4 Cactus has Airbumps (basically big bubble wrap) on the side and this reduces weight by a fair amount. As for steering wheels, well there is a lot going on with modern wheels.
First, you've got the airbag. Then there is all of the buttons to work the gizmos and gadgets that everybody wants in their car and so the wheels can sometimes get a bit big for the more diminutive drivers among us.
Just like with their doors, manufacturers have to build a one-size-fits-all steering wheel, in many cases for a global market; and so some people will inevitably find them to be too big.
Peugeot prides itself on having small and sporty steering wheels and indeed they are much smaller than other brands. A little 208 would be a super car and is now refreshed with more modern styling.
The new 1.2 petrol engine is highly regarded and the interior trim of middle and high specification models is generous. Kia also does a lovely steering wheel. Have you tried the Rio? It's a superb little car. Keep your eye out for the new Jazz. Honda is another brand that gets the sportiness of its steering wheels spot on.
Eddie: Lots of cars - too many in my opinion - have great big chunky wheels that even I find a bit cumbersome at times. I'm a huge fan of Peugeot's small one in the 208 but I notice a reduction in circumference in even some of the larger SUVs these days.
I know what you mean about heavy doors - especially on a wet and windy day - but chalk that down to build quality. I'm delighted you raised the matter of steering wheels, though, because it shows you are taking a close, realistic look at every element of the car. So many people live to regret rushing to buy because the car is so stylish, the price is right or - and this happens - they love the colour. Stick to your guns and check out the cars Aidan suggests. I think you'll agree with him.
I have a choice of buying a fairly new second-hand car - a Focus, Auris, Golf or something of that ilk. But a few people have told me I'd be better off buying something bigger because I have two young children and I will need the space. But I can't afford to spend much more than €14,000 so what would you advise?
Aidan: Family hatchbacks are ideal for families with two children. Heck, I carted about in a Toyota Starlet with three older sisters and we managed just fine. I bet your childhood family car wasn't a whole pile bigger. Stick to your budget, too.
Do you need diesel? If not, then look at the 1.33 litre petrol Toyota Auris. I frequently recommend it because it represents excellent value for money, has a frugal and solid engine and it is a great all-rounder. You will find loads of nice ones with your budget so shop around.
The Golf 1.2 TSi is arguably more rewarding to drive and has a more polished interior but it does not offer much more in terms of practicality.
The Focus 1.6 TDCi is a smart choice and your budget definitely puts you into a fresh 2012 model. Favour Zetec models over entry grade Edge versions but a low mileage and properly maintained Edge should not be overlooked. Look out for the SEAT Leon, too.
Your budget will buy you one of the first of the newer shape 1.2 TSi Style models. There is great value in them. To go bigger without breaking the bank, look at estate versions of family hatchbacks.
It could well be the perfect middle ground between a regular hatchback and a large SUV. The Kia cee'd SW, Hyundai i30 SW and Peugeot 308 SW will gobble buggies, bags and whatever else you can throw at them.
A properly maintained and low mileage Kia cee'd should still have some manufacturer warranty left on it. You will most likely only find the estates in diesel so if you cover really low mileage it could be overkill.
Would you consider a one year old Dacia Duster? It is not everyone's cup of tea but it is worth a look at the very least.
Eddie: Your other option is to go back the years a bit and buy a larger car such as the Ford Mondeo, Toyota Avensis, Hyundai i40, Opel Insignia, Volkswagen Passat, Skoda Superb, Mazda6 etc.
You are at an awkward stage in that maybe, just maybe (though I agree with Aidan's advice), in a couple of years those cars will not be big enough for you.
There is no doubt the ones I've mentioned will fit you better in the long run but they will be that bit older and you'll probably have to change again.
So my advice is stick with your current plan and upgrade to a larger family saloon in two or three years.
In other words let your car grow with your family - rather than ahead of them.