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'.
I am looking for car-buying advice. I have a budget of €12,000 - €13,000 and have three children aged two to six years. I need a big boot and an option to take a niece/nephew on occasion. Obvious choices are Grand Scenic, C4 Picasso, S-MAX. I have also thought about an older Volvo XC90 but could be buying big bills.
Is there anything I am not looking at, or that you would recommend? I drive 16,000km to 18,000km a year. Most used versions seem to be diesels - are they worthwhile at that mileage?
Aidan: You are on the right track with MPVs. It is not that well-maintained premium SUVs are non-existent but the aim at this budget is to minimise your risk. Parts, labour and general running costs of a big-engine car like the XC90 can sting the wallet.
The choices you have listed are all worth exploring. I have long been an admirer of what the S-MAX offers; great styling, loads of space, a solid engine and excellent chassis.
They start life a bit dearer than the C4 Grand Picasso and they retain some but not all of this premium. That means that you will probably have to settle for a slightly older S-MAX. A 2008 or 2009 1.8 litre diesel Zetec model should come in on budget.
You could find that 2010 or even 2011 registered C4 Grand Picassos can be had for this money but make sure you place more emphasis on low mileage, a comprehensive service record, and a clean body and interior and don't be suckered into buying a newer car for the plate's sake.
The Grand Scenic can often get overlooked and Renault's reputation has not quite bounced back from the lows of a few years ago. However, there are frequent reports of very satisfied owners who have accumulated decent mileage from their Grand Scenics.
Find a good one, treat it well and it could prove to be a stable family car. It might be a tall order, but if you find a 2010 Peugeot 5008 SX model is affordable, then this should feature prominently on your shortlist. The 5008 is a fine MPV with bags of practicality and some lovely features like rear sliding doors.
A diesel MPV is probably advisable even though your annual mileage does not strictly fall into that of a typical diesel driver.
It really depends on how the car accumulates its mileage. If it is over short but frequent distances, then take a look at the Mazda 5. It has a 1.8 petrol engine and, just like the 5008, its rear doors slide open.
The petrol version of the Mazda 5 ran until 2010 and you will have lots of change out of your budget if you choose to buy one. The VW Touran is also worth a look and the SEAT Alhambra offers great value for money.
Eddie: I'm going to take a different tack but use Aidan's figures to justify doing so. I think with the sort of mileage you are doing no matter what you buy is going to be getting on for 100,000km in three years time (assuming 18,000km a year and you buy something with 40,000km to 50,000km on the clock).
On top of that your children are going to require more space and you're going to need more luggage room. So would you consider a Personal Contract Plan (PCP = lease) on a new car? You have a decent deposit and you'd get a fair deal on any of the ones Aidan has mentioned.
I'd add the Toyota Verso, KIA Carens, Opel Zafira to the list. I'm conscious of your budget and do not want you to extend yourself financially with a young family so check out the monthly repayments, but it might make more sense in the long run because your €13,000 is going to evaporate with a second-hand purchase too.
I have had a luxury car all my life and don't have brand loyalty as such. Now I am approaching 60 I am thinking of downsizing because there is just myself and my partner. Something around the €30,000 mark with a decent level of spec and a good boot for golf bags. Can you advise please?
Aidan: I could ramble on about the usual favourites; BMW 3 Series (great functionality and magnificent automatic transmission), Audi A4 (attractive deals as there is a new one on the way), Mercedes C-Class (luxurious interior design) but they are so well known already.
So, how about a bit of thinking outside the box instead? Start with an early registration 132 model Lexus IS300h. It has the luxury, style, and the space you require and it comes in on budget.
You get in, hit the start button and drive. So long as you aren't frequently heavy footed you should return decent fuel economy.
The Volvo S60 has got to be one of the best value compact executives going. Keep your eyes peeled for fresh but used SE Lux models. The interior is beautiful and quintessentially Swedish. And not Swedish in an IKEA way but rather in a "place for everything and everything in its place" kind of fashion.
The new Skoda Superb has just been launched. True, a properly kitted one will stretch your budget but my goodness it is every bit an executive car as some of the more premium brands. Don't scoff at the badge. The Superb deserves serious consideration.
If you don't mind shopping around for a two or three-year-old then the Audi A5 Sportback will tick a lot of boxes. If none of these alternatives tickle your fancy then home in on the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class. If you want to downsize further then look at the Mercedes CLA (the petrol one is great) and the Audi A3 saloon.
Eddie: You didn't leave me much, Aidan. You've covered virtually every base, I'd say. But what about a nice new Volkswagen Passat? I'm fond of it, yes, I admit. It has come a long way - there is a fine cabin and it is a refined automobile now. You mightn't get all the bells and whistles for €30,000 but you might do a lot better than you think.
I live in the midlands and need a car to get to part-time work I have just got in west Dublin. I have €8,000 max to spend and that is with my father helping out. What would you recommend?
As I am single I am not too bothered about the size of the car. I am mainly concerned about getting as much as I can from a tank of fuel because I am not being paid that much for now but need to hold down the job to show what I can do and get higher wages. I would truly value your advice.
Aidan: Congratulations on your new job. That sounds like a hefty commute so let's consider the old chestnut of "diesel vs petrol". With diesel, your fuel costs are vastly reduced; particularly so on long motorway spins.
Maintenance can, if remedial works are severe enough, negate all of the savings on fuel but it is a risk that you face at this budget.
If you can find a clean, sensible mileage Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi then this is an eminently sensible route. A Kia cee'd would make a lovely daily driver. Even though the manufacturer warranty will have likely expired on the cee'ds that you can afford, in order for the previous owners to retain the benefits of the warranty they will have had to ensure that the car was regularly serviced.
Time and again I recommend the Toyota Auris 1.4 petrol but only because it is such a great all-rounder.
Don't think that by buying a lower capacity engine you will save money. A 1.0 litre of anything is not particularly suited to your journey so get something a little bigger.
The SEAT Leon is a cracking car for the money. Regular readers might say, "there he goes again, recommending the SEAT", but it really does represent excellent value for money.
Eddie: I'd have no hesitation in urging you to look for a well-minded Honda Civic with a 1.4-litre petrol engine or a Mitsubishi Lancer.
You are right to be concerned about frugality but there is no point in getting 60mpg if it keeps giving you trouble in other areas.
Absolutely insist on a full service record. I am getting stories from people every week who a) didn't have the car checked out and b) never really checked the service history.