So what can you get for €6,000 or less?
When it comes to one of the biggest purchases you will ever make, there are real deals on wheels in the second-hand market, says Suzanne Keane
Buying a car is one of the most expensive purchases you will ever make, and getting the best deal is a challenge for even the most astute consumer. But it is not impossible. While there is plenty of demand on the second-hand market, good used cars are not nearly as plentiful as they were, so it takes a bit of effort to find the right one.
To save you some of the hard work, these are our top car recommendations for a budget of €6,000 or less.
If you are looking for a city car, a 2007 or 2008 Nissan Micra has excellent visibility and light steering which make it ideal for parking in a tight space, but the styling will not be to everyone's taste. It comes with a wide range of engines from a 1.0 petrol to a 1.5 diesel. The 1.2 petrol is the most popular, and at 78bhp gives a nice mix between city and motorway driving. The higher design means it is ideal for a taller driver, although headroom in the back is tight. The boot is not huge, but it will take 251 litres, so it is more than big enough for a supermarket trip.
If a Micra is not your thing, the Saxo's replacement, the Citroen C2, is an easy-to-drive hatchback which is also cheap to run and well-equipped but with an uninspiring interior and a light-build quality. The 2009 model's entry level 1.1 60bhp engine is perfect for city driving – it has light and accurate steering and a very tight turning circle – but will really lack power on the motorway. If you can find an 2008 model on the 1.1 spec, you will save yourself €50 a year on motor tax.
For green credentials, the 1.4 HDi can manage 65mpg and should be a little more comfortable outside of the city.
Though its safety rating is not up to that of its peers, the Kia Picanto is a small car that's big on value and interior space – five doors and a small turning circle make it ideal for city use. Post-2008 facelift models come with updated headlights and front bumper. The 1.0 model gives an economical 53mpg, and motor tax will cost you only €180.
Buyers of a larger hatchback with a premium feel may want to consider a 2004 or 2005 Audi A3. It is not as exciting to drive as some other hatches, but the Audi badge makes it more desirable. There is a wide range of engines available – for example, the entry level 1.6 and the 2.0TFSI (it's shared with the Golf GTi), and if you can afford the fuel and motor tax bills the 3.2 litre V6 is ideal for performance junkies.
The Diesel 1.9TDi is rated at 105bhp and with an average of 55mpg. Overall, the A3 is comfortable and reliable but far from exciting.
A 2003 or 2004 Mini Cooper S may be the one for you if you're seeking a super-charged driving experience. The "cute" Mini styling will fool most other road users, but the bonnet scoop is a giveaway for those in the know.
It gives an average of 33mpg, and the 163bhp does 0-100km/h in 7.2 seconds with excellent handling; and the 'Chili' spec level has Xenon lights, 17" Alloy wheels and air conditioning.
For practicality with style, the Suzuki Swift's stylish looks with a lower price tag make it stand out from the crowd, while its spacious and well-built cabin makes it a practical choice. The 2006 or 2007 model's entry level 1.3 90bhp engine does 0-100km/h in 10.6 secs and will give you 48mpg. One of the biggest selling points of the Swift is its sharp and responsive hand-ling, giving it a go-kart feel which is comfortable, even with four adults on board. Boot space is not huge, but the rest of the interior finish more than makes up for that.
As a family car, a 2005 BMW 3 Series saloon has a high-quality finish and is ideal for fans of rear-wheel drive. While a diesel may be hard to find in this price range, the 2.0 petrol engine has 127bhp and will do 38mpg. Excellent weight distribution means the handling is impressive, but the run-flat tyres can be expensive to replace. Luggage space is not huge, and not all models have folding rear seats, so that is something to check.
The 2005 improvements to the styling of the Mazda 6 gave it a sportier look, and the steering rack comes directly from the MX-5. However, the harsher ride quality might not be to everyone's taste. Luggage capacity is an impressive 500 litres, and the Mazda 6 is one of the roomiest cars in its class.
The 2006 Hyundai Santa Fe is not designed for real off-roading, but with permanent 4x4 it's a good all-round workhorse. The 2.0 diesel engine will not break records and the ride is a bit soft, but this is not a car designed for high speeds, and it will give an average of 37mpg . If you want more speed, there is a 2.7 V6 version, but at the cost of 24mpg.
A 2003 Mercedes S-Class is the one to consider for luxury on a budget – but running costs won't be cheap on the 10-year-old Merc. The six- cylinder 3.2 diesel engine provides relative economy and is an excellent cruiser on long trips; however, the annual motor tax bill could be frightening. The S-Class is ideal for high motorway mileage and interior space is huge, though the boot is smaller than you'd expect from a car of its size.
The BMW 3 Series saloon comes with a high-quality finish and is ideal for fans of rear-wheel drive
If low running costs and motor tax are not issues, a Jaguar XJ 4.2 V8 from 2000 to 2004 is ideal. The traditional styling gives the impression of a classic, while having impressive safety features such as CATS (Computer Active Technology Suspension) which adjusts the suspension to suit road conditions. Luggage space is smaller than the S-Class, but it'll comfortably seat five adults on a long journey – just don't forget your chauffeur's cap.
Finally, if you have €6,000 to spend on a second car, a classic with vintage tax (pre 1983) and insurance may be a winner. There are many classics to choose from, but as with any car, be sure to do a history check and look out for any signs of damage or rust, and be aware that parts for an older car may be hard, or impossible, to find.
Remember when buying a car for €6,000 that age will not be the most important factor – mileage, general condition and getting the right spec level will mean more in the long run than the registration plate.
Always do a history check, look out for any signs of rust or dodgy repair work and, as it is unlikely that the car will come with a warranty, it is worthwhile getting the car looked over by a professional.
Suzanne Keane writes The Garage column for wheelsforwomen.ie where she offers advice and tips on car maintenance