Wednesday 19 December 2018

Searching for a used car on a mid-size budget: 'I was smitten with the BMW. And it was half the price of the Corolla'

Focus on: Buying

Alan O’Keeffe

My search for a good second-hand car turned into a quest.

You think it is going to be simple and hope for a bargain. But as the scouting began, the process started to feel like a succession of blind dates.

It involved getting up close and personal with Toyotas, Skodas, Volkswagens, Nissans, Fords, Renaults and others.

I had not ‘played the field’ in a long time. I was driving around in a 1997 Saab 900 for years. It had belonged to my father and then my brother and then me, and I kept it on the road until I grew tired of looking for parts and the electrics went bananas.

It was not suitable as a trade-in. Still, it was a bit of a wrench saying farewell. I had to get the grimly named Certificate of Destruction.

In the months that followed, my wife had enough patience to put up with me borrowing her car. I learned saying thank you with flowers was not nearly as romantic as a full tank of petrol. But I missed being able to take to the open road without having to check first with Herself.

The time came to regain my driving independence by finding my ideal car. A second-hand car was suitable because I am a low-mileage driver who uses the DART to go to work.

I heard petrol power was more suitable than diesel for low mileage. Reliability was more important to me than 0-60 performance. I was prepared to spend up to €12,000.

I looked all over the Bray area in an attempt to shop local. One trader had a number of alluring Polos and Ibizas and Micras only two or three years old. The vehicles were packed tighter than sardines in his yard and I felt guilty asking to test-drive cars in the back row. But like a Rubik’s Cube champion, he re-shuffled them in a jiffy.

I took several test drives. Most had significant mileage and it turned out they were ex-rentals. I was prejudiced against cars that had dozens of drivers, so no deal was done.

I liked the directness of one main dealer salesman who told me straight off he would knock a grand off the price of any used car in stock and three grand off the list price of any new car as I had no trade-in.

Another main dealer gent brought me on a test drive in a 2013 Nissan Juke, price €13,000. But the boot was tiny.

He produced an array of squeezy bottles as part of an car-seat upholstery cleaning and protection system which he proceeded to demonstrate. No amount of squeezing would make up for the tiny boot.

One veteran trader offered to take €1,200 or more off his €12,000 2014 Hyundai i20. It was zippy but pulled to the left a little.

I went to Greystones and loved a Yaris hybrid 2014. It appealed to my inner eco-warrior but €13,950 was too much for me.

I travelled to Deansgrange and checked out Volkswagen Polos, but by then I was used to being offered discounts up front and I was put off by a general reluctance to do so.

In Dun Laoghaire, I wrote several more candidates into my increasingly dog-eared car notebook.

I began to look further afield and travelled to Wicklow town to look at Skodas. I already had a bias in favour of Skoda models because I have sat beside taxi drivers over the years who told me about their love affairs with their Octavias.

I fell for a white 162 Fabia for €12,000 and even decided to overlook it was an ex-rental. But a friend re-kindled my anti-rental bias and I walked away.

By then, I was starting to wonder if I’d ever find the right car. I took to with a renewed determination.

I called up several private owners who told me about their wonderful cars. One guy emigrating to Australia tempted me with his automatic Saab estate.

In the end, I found details of a 2012 Toyota Corolla in Blessington with 39,000 miles or 63,000 kilometres for €11,75. I decided it must be the one for me and made an appointment to see it.

But then fate intervened. I happened to see a silver 2007 BMW 316i with only 33,000 miles, advertised by Hughes Motors in Palmerstown. Price €5,995. I would make a detour to their showrooms on my way to Blessington.

I confirmed the mileage of the Corolla and BMW with before setting off.

When I saw the BMW, it felt like love at first sight. I loved the sleek lines. It seemed to purr. I tried to appear unimpressed. The engine looked like new. The body was almost immaculate.

Mr Hughes opened the boot and I asked him where the spare wheel was. He said it did not have one. He explained a car with run-flat tyres did not need one. I did a test drive alone and loved its sure-footed feel on corners.

I kept my appointment later to see the Corolla but I was smitten with the BMW. And it was half the price of the Corolla. I felt an excitement thinking about it that I never felt for the Skodas and Volkswagens and Nissans.

I telephoned Mr Hughes and bought it. I paid an extra €350 to extend the three-month warranty to 15 months. I have been driving it with pleasure now for several weeks. It is running smoothly.

It just goes to show, if you are willing to search, there are good bargains out there.

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