In a world of finance deals and high petrol prices, it’s tempting to trade in your old car for something newer and more efficient.
Over 2 million new cars were registered in the UK last year – the highest figure since 2007. But a government adviser has said we need to end this throw-away culture, and run our cars until they’re beyond economical repair.
But what we would we at MR buy if we needed a used car that would last us a lifetime? We’ve set no strict criteria, just that we have to be fairly sensible. Here’s 10 cars we’ve found in the classifieds:
Loved by taxi drivers, and for good reason. The Octavia is a great value car that’s comfortable and, particularly with a diesel engine, should run for hundreds of thousands of miles. We’d go for the 1.9 TDI – it’s a little less refined than the 2.0-litre and only has 105hp, but it’ll go on forever. And it’s from a time when diesel particulate filters (DPFs) weren’t fitted – so that’ll reduce the likelihood of expensive bills on the horizon.
The key is to find a well-cared-for example that’s not been used as a taxi. This one looks like a tidy car with one owner, full service history (FSH) and a cambelt change under its belt. Being the mid-range Ambiente model, you get luxuries such as a CD player and alloy wheels.
Just as the Skoda Octavia is a taxi driver’s favourite, the Volvo V70 is loved by police forces across the UK. As long as you’re willing to supply them with regular front tyres (they’re a bit nose-heavy), they should cover huge mileages with ease. And, as a bonus, if you go for a V70 over an S60, you’ll get a huge boot that might come in handy if you’re keeping it for a long time.
None of the V70’s engines are bad, but we’d opt for the diesel D5 for the best combination of performance and economy. These are exactly the sort of car that suit an automatic gearbox (big, comfy cruiser), but they’re a bit fragile on the V70s. In the hope of running a car that won’t generate big bills, we’d opt for a manual like this one. It may be the base ‘S’ spec, but it’s got some nice extras like leather seats. Crucially, it’s got FSH and has only covered 64,000 miles. It’s a cliché, but one of these at those kind of miles really is just run.
Land Rover Defender
Ah, you thought we were being a bit too sensible, didn’t you? Land Rovers aren’t the last word when it comes to reliability, but an older Defender should be pretty bulletproof if you’re willing to spend a bit of time and money maintaining it. With production of the Defender as we know it ending next year, a strong enthusiast following means Defender prices are very strong.
The key is to buy on condition, not age or mileage. Defenders are so easy to work on and modify that it’s pretty much impossible to find an original example. An older model that’s been lovingly looked after by an enthusiast is going to be a much safer bet than a newer one that’s been used as a utilities or farm vehicle. It’s easier to spot an enthusiast-owned vehicle when buying privately, as this gives you a chance to talk to the previous owner. Although there are lots of specialist dealers out there, these tend to be very good at covering up any issues and charging high prices. This one looks like a tidy example – it’s powered by the simple 200TDI engine, the one to go for if you’re after reliability (although the later 300TDI engine is also a decent, more refined, unit). Take a screwdriver with you to poke the chassis for rust.
Are you a bit of a badge-snob who wouldn’t even consider the Skoda featured above? Well, fortunately for you, there are plenty of Volkswagen Group cars out there with the ultra-reliable 1.9-litre TDI engine. In the second-generation Audi A4 it’s available with a choice of 110hp or 130hp… we’d go for the more powerful one.
There are loads out there if you don’t mind one that’s done high miles, so you can afford to be picky. A4s are popular with fleet drivers so the chances are you’ll find one that’s had an easy life sat on the motorway. Just check the service history. This one looks like a tidy example, with full MOT and service history.
While we’re considering Audis, how about an older Audi 80? Obviously not as refined or modern as the newer A4, but simpler so less likely to go wrong. The B4 (from 1991) was Audi’s first serious rival to the likes of the BMW 3 Series, and although a tad on the boring side, they’re a cheap, retro buy today. There’s little that goes wrong with them – they’re even galvanised so rust (a big killer of cars from this era) won’t creep through.
You can buy one for less than £500 but in the interests of lasting forever, this one is an exceptionally tidy example. The 2.0-litre engine won’t be as exciting as the more powerful V6 engines, but it’s not quite as frustrating as the woefully underpowered 90hp 2.0-litre that also came in the Audi 80.
Although taxi drivers in the UK favour Skodas, German cabbies swear by the Mercedes C-Class. The diesel engines a tad unrefined – look out for the petrol C180K with the later supercharged 1.8-litre engine, it’ll be both refined and good on fuel.
This one looks to be in great condition, and the mileage, full MOT and part leather interior all appeals. It even comes in a rather fetching shade of gold.
Many would argue that the 190 was built to a higher standard than the C Class that replaced it. It’s not a modern car, but they relish long journeys and could comfortably used as an everyday vehicle. They are getting rare so it’s worth paying more for a tidy, original example that’s been looked after. Avoid particularly cheap examples, they’re likely to be rust buckets.
While it’s tempting to plump for this fabulous beige example, the short MOT and thirsty 2.6-litre engine puts us off. We’d splash out and invest in this lovely 2.0-litre example. At that price, the seller would hopefully stick an MOT on it, and it looks like it’s been looked after more than the beige one. Just check for rust…
BMW 3 Series
With all the mid-size executive German saloons we’ve featured, it’d be rude not to feature a 3 Series. Although an early E30 is tempting, the E36 (1991 – 1998) is the best combination of modern luxuries and lack of complexity.
We’d opt for a petrol-powered 318i for simplicity’s sake – the difficulty is finding a tidy example that hasn’t been abused or modified on a budget. This Touring estate version looks to be fantastic condition.
Bear with us on this one. The Rover 75 is a used car bargain, thanks to its popularity. Or rather, lack of it. But see past the image and it’s like a stately home on wheels, with an interior that makes anything German look bland. It’ll be reliable, too, if you plump for one of the later CDTi diesel engines (a BMW unit, no less).
We’d seek out the Contemporary SE specification as this gets you a host of nice extras (such as leather) and, crucially, replaces the nasty cream steering wheel with a black one. This one looks bang on, and it’s auto – bonus! With regular servicing there’s no reason why it shouldn’t last you as long as a German rival.
You could do a lot worse than invest in a big, Japanese barge to own for a decade or two. The Legend was never a big seller as buyers of executive cars wanted a premium badge. However, there are a few about, and investing in a 3.5-litre V6 Legend would be a, er, legendary decision.
With less than 90,000 miles on the clock, we reckon this one would be good for at least another 200,000 miles.
So there we have it – 10 cars that could last you a lifetime. Which would you choose? Have we missed something obvious? Or is government adviser David MacKay wrong, and we’d all be better driving brand new cars on finance, than some of the gems featured here? Do let us know.