I think that almost everyone has been there — searching for a cheap motor that’s going to serve you well. There are only a few people in this world who can just up & out and return with a Lamborghini. So, I’d say it’s something we’d take for granted, getting out and hunting for that used bargain. You can only start to truly appreciate it when you put a little bit of heart and soul into your search.

The time has come for me and my partner to return to our jobs in separate locations. Sharing a small family car has become quite a chore, and relying on public transport requires the gift of foresight. So here it is, my experiences in the art of used car bargain hunting.

There are a few things to bear in mind here, firstly, it needed to be cost-effective. A handful of cash that would pay for the car itself, along with (preferably) cheap insurance and the tax for the year, failing that, cheap-ish monthly tax. But me being me, I challenged myself with the following:

  • There had to be a maximum of 3 doors.
  • It had to get decent miles per gallon to commute back and forth from work.
  • It had to be “sporty“.
  • I should be able to easily make some modifications.
  • There also needed to be some regular service history.
  • I needed to spend no more than £1,000 on the car.

The task didn’t seem all that gruelling at first. In fact, it felt like it would be the opposite. It’s funny because before setting out on this project I had a car in mind — A Honda Civic Sport. But then I came across another car… Something that made this situation so much harder:

It started with a Celica

A Toyota Celica Mk 6 & Mk 7, images courtesy of Toyota Blog UK.

Celicas. Future classics. All of them.

I think you can see why my mind boggled at the thought of owning one — well known, reliable engines in both the 3S-FE and 1ZZ-FE engine layouts. And then of course, absolutely fun to drive.

The problem with liking this car is that it brought around a few other possibilities. Other cars that could fit the bill.

There were some amazing examples of both generations ranging between £750 & £1000. Some lesser examples could be picked up for less than £500 but would require some work and a fresh MOT.

Then came the Alfa Romeo GT

Image courtesy of RAC

Probably one of Bertone’s greatest pieces of automobile design history. It is absolutely one of the most recognisable, and distinguished Alfa Romeos from modern history.

Gorgeous it may be, it was also generously refined by Alfa Romeo, marking one of the milestones for improving quality and reliability within their motors.

Used diesel GTs are fetching for less than £1000 online. Some petrol GTs were also seen floating around, but better examples were around £1500.

The aforementioned Honda Civic

A Honda Civic Type R EP3. Image found on Pinterest.

The Honda Civic is such a great mixed bag. With VTEC being a solid and reliable name mixed with a high redline that keeps pushing; it’s no slouch.

Popular amongst the modding community for it’s cheap and plentiful parts alongside a machine that’s lightweight, great on mileage and can be easily worked on.

There are many editions of the 7th gen Civics that I had my eye on. Though, the most popular seemed to be the Civic Sport 1.6, coming between £750 and £1000.

Mazda MX-5 NA/NB

Photo by Wassim Chouak on Unsplash

If there’s anything that fits the bill perfectly for car bargain hunting, then it’s the MX-5, or as it’s better known overseas – the Miata.

A rear wheeled drive roadster with a great history. Again — it’s proven to be popular amongst the modding community for their low price and easy access.

There are so many examples of these motors ranging anywhere from £300 and up. Although, it comes at a hefty forfeit: they shed weight faster than it’s 0-60 time. Rust is so common that it’s rare to come across one that hasn’t had any welding done… and if it hasn’t had any welding, you can bet that it will need it eventually.

The quirky Citroen C4 VTR

Image courtesy of GoMotors.

Citroen is one of the few manufacturers out there known for quirky and somewhat innovative features. The VTR C4 is no exception. It’s a coupe that isn’t really a coupe… but it is. It’s not really a hot hatch either… but it is. It sits higher than it should. It’s so backwards that it’s loveable.

Prices on this vehicle are very varied. The standard coupe can be found around £500, the VTS/VTR models can be found around £800 and up.

And then I ended up with one

Okay, so it wasn’t exactly a VTR I went for. I wanted a car that would get good mileage considering I was travelling roughly 40 miles a day to and from work. I chose a C4 VTS… diesel.

Yes, it isn’t exactly what you would call a bargain. It was just shy of £1000 and had accumulated 106,000 miles. Those miles really showed through the complimentary scrape on the wheel arch.

When it comes to comparing the Citroen to the other cars on this list, does it feel like I’ve been successful in bargain hunting? No. Not necessarily anyway. Whereas it’s a great commuter and has a comfortable interior, it lacks character. It lacks what I set out for. You see, it’s just not sporty.

And so there lies the problem with diesels. This now marks the 3rd diesel I’ve owned — consecutively. The low-end torque is great, sure, but they’re just disasters waiting to happen. Modern diesels just aren’t as reliable as they should be. Thanks to multiple things like the EGR valve and dual-mass flywheels.

I hate what I bought.

And there lies the problem with bargain hunting. You can’t expect to pick up a car under £1000 without having to do some work. There’s just no denying that these cars are very much used an abused. I’d like to end this on a happy note, but I really can’t. I was thinking about how I could turn it into some kind of project… but it doesn’t even serve well as a basic commuter.

But maybe I can offer some advice. Save a little more, be prepared to undertake some kind of a hit. Do your research before buying… Don’t end up with a poor excuse of a car like I did.

But hey, at least you’ve got a “I sold my car and now I got this” article to follow. Trust me, this car is beyond scrapping.

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