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Motorists more inclined to visit car dealers than ever before

More people visting car dealers

Reports of the death of the car dealer have been greatly exaggerated, according to a new study conducted by CitNOW

Its study revealed that are car buyers are more inclined to visit dealers than ever, with more than 55 percent of motorists entering a showroom as part of the buying journey.

This is despite the growth of online buying portals, with one in 10 (11 percent) of buyers taking the plunge without seeing the car. Modern consumers are more comfortable with buying valuable products online, happy to put their trust in respected brands.

The CitNOW study suggests that the car dealer has a future, with one in 10 buyers expecting to buy a car when they visit a retailer.

But while the over 55s are most likely to visit a dealer (69 percent), motorists aged 35-44 are the least likely, and many will need encouragement to visit a showroom.

Online videos, a large selection of photos and social media engagement could provide the motivation required to increase footfall.

The challenge for retailers

Renault new car dealer

Carol Fairchild, commercial director of CitNOW, said: “Motorists clearly still covet that face-to-face customer experience and want the buying journey to be a personal one with the dealership.

“The challenge for retailers is standing out; making sure that they are using technology like video, which offers a personal, face-to-face experience remotely, to build customer engagement before they even set foot in the dealership.

“In doing so, dealerships can make sure customers are visiting their forecourt, rather than the one next door.”

Manufacturers must balance the demands of the modern customer with the needs of its dealer network, with brands keen to show that traditional avenues can co-exist with the digital highway.

Last year, Ford launched a new online sales service called Ford Buy Online, saying that the internet purchase tool is in response to growing customer demand to buy cars online.

“We have the most extensive dealership network, which will remain to serve the many customers wanting to visit a dealer and for specialist retail, van and service assistance,” said Ford of Britain chairman and MD Andy Barratt.

Britons are more careful when buying cars

we're more carful when buying a car

The car buying habits of Britons have been analysed by InsureTheGap in an Opinium survey. Allegedly, we’re more careful than ever when buying a car, compared to the days when car buyers were more impulsive.

As many as 78 percent, almost four out of five, of the 2,000 UK motorists surveyed said they did careful research into what car to buy, before buying it. So are the days of seeing a car on a forecourt and buying it on a whim over?

Maybe. That number spans all age groups and both genders. We are all as careful as each other, regardless of our differences. Furthermore, as many as 71 percent (over seven in ten) said that factors as trivial as looks were overridden by more practical considerations like fuel economy, reliability, cheapness to run and ease of repair.

Nine percent of men use a car checking service by companies like the RAC and the AA, compared to just seven percent of women.

Subjective desires aren’t quite dead

Don’t worry, though. We’re not all braindead zombies just yet. The research also found that the ‘look and feel’ of a new car can be the decider for as many as 28 percent of buyers, even if the cost is significantly more.

we're more carful when buying a car

Almost a third of male respondents said that they’d gone over budget on a car purchase because they liked the way a car looked. While a lower figure, a fifth of women doing the same is still relatively strong.

Those of us from the North East are the most likely to make a heart-over-head purchase and spend more money on a car that looks good. Younger drivers, unsurprisingly, are the most partial (41 percent) to a car with agreeable aesthetics.

Some of us are keen on having a second car, too. As many as a sixth of buyers want a ‘fun’ sports or classic car to have in addition to their everyday car. Needless to say, men pipped women in this respect, with 17 percent and 10 percent registering respective interest in this.

Inside the multi-million-pound Porsche showroom

Last month, Porsche built its millionth 911. Then, just a fortnight later, a 1993 911 sold at auction for £1.7million. Think about that for a moment. One-point-seven million pounds. For a 911. Has the world gone mad?

Before you spill your PG Tips or take to Twitter, I should point out that, yes, the car in question was a rare 964 3.8 RSR. And yes, it was essentially new, with six miles on the clock. Nonetheless, we’re still talking about a 911: a car for which around 700,000 of that one-million production run remain on the road.

Thankfully, you won’t need £1.7million to buy a Porsche at JZM – one of the UK’s leading marque specialists, based at Kings Langley in Hertfordshire. But if you’re looking for an investment-grade Porsche it’s a good place to start; the showroom is packed wall-to-wall with classic 911s, including plenty of RS models. I went along to see what all the fuss is about.


More Porsche on Motoring Research


Inside the JZM Porsche showroomJZM Porsche

Since we’re talking telephone numbers, it seems fitting to start with the most expensive car on sale. The 997 GT3 RS 4.0 was a limited-run special that Autocar declared: “The finest Porsche ever to wear a number plate”. And, with 4,285 miles under its centre-lock wheels, this hardcore road-racer is advertised at £535,900. Quite incredible for a car that cost ‘just’ £128,466 in 2011.

Next-up in price order is an immaculate Midnight Blue 964 Turbo 3.6: a relative snip at £199,000. The 360hp 3.6 was only produced between 1993 and 1994 (most blown 964s used the 320hp 3.3-litre motor), making it a rare beast today. With wheelarches stretched over polished split-rims and that iconic ‘tea tray’ wing (take note, Porsche geeks: it’s not a ‘whale tail’), this is the brawniest-looking 911 of all.JZM Porsche

If anything can wrench my eyes from the visual sucker-punch of a 964 Turbo, it’s a Viper Green Carrera 2.7 RS. Except this isn’t a genuine RS, but a meticulously-built ‘tribute’ based on a 1972 911T. With a 2.7-litre MFI engine, period Recaro seats and chromed Fuchs alloys, it looks fabulous – and a price tag of £129,900 is less than a quarter what you’d pay for the real deal.

The evolution of an icon

Wandering around the JZM showroom, it’s fascinating to see how the 911 has evolved. Over five decades, it has swelled in size, sprouted spoilers and become hugely more luxurious, but that iconic silhouette has stayed the same. Perhaps this is key to the car’s long-lasting appeal; it’s constantly evolving yet curiously timeless. Present-day Porsche’s profits may come from SUVs, but the 911 remains the core of its range.JZM Porsche

Even so, it’s one of the oldest 911s here – a 1970 2.2E finished in Light Ivory – that really wins my heart. A ‘California car’ that has never been welded, it still wears all its original body panels, and the delicate chrome trim looks flawless. JZM says the car has ‘been fully prepared for the British climate’, but I’d still be loath to take this £104,900 classic on wet winter roads. One for sunny Sunday mornings (and evenings spent lovingly polishing in the garage), I suspect.

If in doubt, Flat clout

I’ve added the 2.2E to my lottery-win garage and am heading for the door when… whoah! Poking its sharkish snout out of the next-door workshop, I spy a 930 Flachbau. This special-order ‘flatnose’ version of the original 930 Turbo is fast, fearsome and – to a kid who grew up in the excess-all-areas 80s – probably the coolest 911 you can buy. Sadly, it isn’t for sale, or it would have bumped the 2.2E from the top spot on my personal (and, sadly, entirely theoretical) shopping list.JZM Porsche

So, if my numbers came up, would I buy a Porsche 911? As a daily-driver, probably not. A Cayman S is all the sports car you really need, especially on congested UK roads. But if I wanted somewhere to put my money, an appreciating asset that I could drive and enjoy, then absolutely yes. The 911 is a car that, like its rear-engined layout, defies logic. Yet if you can afford one, it’s probably the most sensible sports car you can buy.

Buying a used car tips

What to look for when buying a used car

Buying a used car tips

You’ve fallen in love with a used car, so all that’s left is for you to hand over your hard-earned cash and drive away into the sunset. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Sadly, before you get too carried away, there are a few important things to check. Take note of our advice and you could save yourself a few sleepless nights, not to mention a few difficult conversations with your bank manager.

Documents

V5C registration certificate

Even before you look at the car, it’s important to make sure all the supporting documents stack up. The V5C registration document registers the vehicle with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and contains all the essential information about the car.

You must ensure the V5C is genuine (check the ‘DVL’ watermark), whilst checking to see if it has been tampered with in any way. Make sure you view the car at the address listed as the registered keeper and that the engine and VIN numbers match those on the vehicle.

While you’re at it, check the most recent MOT certificate, as well as any service history that will not only verify the mileage, but also provide evidence that the car has been looked after.

The gov.uk website includes a handy tool that allows you to check basic information about the used car you are intending to buy. Go to the website, key in the vehicle’s registration number and make, and you’ll be presented with useful info, such as date of registration, MOT expiry date, colour, engine size, year of manufacture, CO2 emissions and current vehicle tax rate.

You can also find a brilliant MOT history tool, supplying details of all MOT tests stretching back to 2006. This is useful for identifying work that has been done, along with any advisories from the most recent MOT.

If in doubt, walk away. Unless you’re viewing something super-rare, like a Sao Penza or SEAT Malaga, there are plenty more used cars to choose from. Don’t make an expensive mistake.

Visual check

Examining_a_car_park-scratch

Assuming the car has passed its pre-flight checks, it’s now time for a visual inspection. Ensure you view the car in daylight and start with the basics: scratches, dents, mismatched colours and uneven panel gaps are things to look out for.

It’s not essential to walk away from a car with light scratches or dents, especially if it has a few miles on the clock. Either use them as bargaining tools, or ask the seller to put them right before you agree a deal.

Uneven panel gaps and mismatched colours are more concerning. Ask the seller why the car has been painted and when. A front wing may have been replaced following a low-speed run-in with a shopping trolley, but it might be evidence of a serious accident.

Also, be on your guard if the car looks too good to be true. A vehicle with 80,000 miles on the clock and no stone chips on the front is unlikely, so find out if the car has been resprayed.

A few stone chips and signs of light use are nothing to be afraid of – they actually deliver some reassurance of the car’s authenticity. Similarly, original dealer number plates, window stickers and glass are signs that the car hasn’t been involved in an accident.

Finally, while you’re circling the outside of the car, check for signs of rust. Today’s cars offer far greater protection against corrosion than vehicles of old, but even a relatively new car might be suffering from tin worm. Do your homework: research the car’s known trouble spots.

More thorough checks

Tyre inspection

Having given the car a cosmetic check, it’s now time to dig a little a deeper. Start with the tyres – do they have sufficient tread? If not, you’ll need to factor in the cost of replacement. Alternatively, use the tyres as a bargaining tool.

Ensure the wear is even right across the width of the tyre. If it’s not, it could be a tell-tale sign of problems with the suspension, or worse, historical accident damage. Note: a set of premium-brand tyres could suggest the car has been cherished by its current owner.

While you’re outside, make sure all the lights work. Changing a bulb might seem trivial, but a short list of issues can soon turn into something quite lengthy. Oh, and look under the car for signs of leaks, which could be costly to repair.

On the inside

Car interior inspection

Moving to the inside, the first thing to check is that the condition of the cabin tallies with the mileage. You wouldn’t expect to find a worn-out seat bolster, smooth steering wheel and tired pedal rubbers on a low-mileage car.

In the past, a ‘clocked’ car was relatively easy to spot, thanks to a misaligned milometer, but today’s digital displays can be changed using a laptop. Check the service history and pay for an HPI check to ensure the mileage is genuine. This will also alert you to any outstanding finance and previous accident damage.

While you’re inside, check everything works. Do the seats recline as they should? Does the air conditioning blow hot and cold? Does the radio work? Do the electric windows wind down and up again? All simple checks that could save you time and money in the long run.

Be on the lookout for nasty stains, which might be difficult to remove. Similarly, the smells of cigarettes and wet dogs are notoriously hard to remove, so factor unpleasant whiffs into your cabin check.

Under the bonnet

Ford Mustang under bonnet

Before you start the engine, open the bonnet for a visual inspection. Is the oil level correct? Too low is a sign of neglect, whilst too much could be a sign that the engine is using lots of oil, with the seller over-compensating to allow for the issue.

Remove the oil filler cap and inspect the underside. A mayonnaise-type sludge could indicate a lack of use or a series of short trips. Worse, it could suggest the head gasket is on the way out. That’s a big concern.

The coolant should be the colour of antifreeze – if it’s rust-coloured, that’s a sure sign of neglect.

Starting the engine

Exhaust

Before you drive away, there are some visual checks to do when starting the engine. Turn the key to illuminate the dashboard lights. The warning lights should come on before you start the engine, before going out once the engine is ticking over. If they don’t, you could have a problem.

Have somebody with you to check for smoke from the exhaust. Some white vapour is perfectly normal when the engine is cold, but blue smoke could mean the engine is burning oil.

A diesel car will emit a puff of faint blue smoke on start up, but black smoke generally means there’s a serious fault with the engine. If in doubt, walk away. Also listen out for unwelcome noises or rattles that could indicate a costly repair job.

The test drive

Test driving

Only now, after the car has passed all the previous examinations, should you take it for a test drive. Give yourself plenty of time on a mixture of different roads, making sure you use every gear, including reverse.

Does the car accelerate smoothly? Does it pull to one side under braking? Is the clutch biting point too high? Does the handbrake work? Does the car steer in the correct manner?

If nothing else, you could be living with the car for many years to come, so make sure you enjoy the experience. Faults are one thing, but ensuring you actually like the car is another consideration.

Other checks

Buying a used car

There are also a number of specific checks that will vary depending on the car. Find out when a cambelt needs to be changed, as this is an expensive job. Similarly, ask a dealer about service schedules – if the car is due a major service, it could be on the brink of a costly bill.

Other considerations, especially if you’re looking at an older car, include: diesel particulate filters (DPF) – bank on upwards of £1,000 if you need to replace one; catalytic converters – check the most recent emissions test; and ABS – does the light go out once the engine has been started?

You should also ask for the spare set of keys, as replacements can be expensive. In short, you should draw up a shortlist of everything that’s required if you decide to take the plunge.

Add up the total cost and then decide whether or not it’s worth proceeding with the purchase. There are plenty more cars in the classifieds.

Lots-of-cars

It’s often said that you ‘buy the seller’, as much as you buy the car. In other words: if you get a good feeling about the seller, that’s a positive start. Are they keen to answer questions? Do they speak with knowledge and enthusiasm when describing the car? Go with your gut feeling.

Also, beware of a car that’s been over-prepared for sale. Don’t be swayed by a layer of tyre polish, bumper black and some interior air-freshener. It’s always better to view car warts-and-all. Finally, remember, if the deal seems too good to be true, it most probably is.

The 5-minute guide to car tyres

The 5-minute guide to car tyres

The 5-minute guide to car tyres

Which component contributes most to car safety? Airbags? Side-impact bars? Electronic stability control? We spoke to a chassis engineer with more than 40 years of experience, and his answer was unequivocal: tyres.

Think about it. Those four rings of rubber are the only thing between your car and the road surface. Every acceleration, braking and steering force passes through them. And the contact patch is smaller than you think – about the size of your computer keyboard across all four tyres.

So, there’s a reason all racing drivers are obsessed with tyres – and they’re just as important for road driving, too. Read our 5-minute guide to to make sure you choose the right tyres and stay safe.

Are your car tyres safe?

The 5-minute guide to car tyres

The law says you must replace a tyre once the tread-depth drops below 1.6mm across three quarters of its surface. An easy test is to place a 20p piece in the groove of the tyre. If the outer band of the coin is hidden, your tyre is legal.

However, bear in mind that a new tyre has a tread-depth of around 8mm, so grip will be reduced – particularly in the wet – well before it reaches the legal limit. Consumer group Which? recommends replacing your tyres when depth reaches 2-3mm.

You should also check tyre pressures regularly. Over-inflated rubber could increase your risk of skidding or having a blowout, while too little pressure will increase fuel consumption and have a detrimental effect on handling.

The correct tyre pressures for your car will be listed in the handbook. Alternatively, use the Tyre Pressure Checker tool on the TyreSafe website.

Understand tyre sizes

The 5-minute guide to car tyres

Tyres come in a wide range of different sizes. Check your car handbook, or read the markings on the outer sidewall to see what size your replacement tyre should be.

For example, a typical tyre size is 195/50 R15H. Breaking this down gives you:

  • 195 – tyre width in mm
  • 50 – tyre sidewall profile, as a percentage of tyre width
  • R – stands for ‘Radial’. All modern tyres are radial-ply
  • 15 – diameter of the wheel rim in inches
  • H – speed rating (see below)

Regardless of the national speed limit being 70mph, you must fit tyres rated for the maximum speed of your car. Speed ratings are marked with letters and range from N (88mph) to ZR (over 149mph). You’ll find a full list of speed ratings on the TyreSafe website.

What about the tyre energy label?

The 5-minute guide to car tyres

Every tyre sold since 2012 comes with an energy label – much like you’ll find on fridges and other white goods. This allows you to compare tyre performance at a glance, with simple graphics showing how that product stacks up for fuel economy, wet-road grip and noise.

Fuel economy

This is based on the tyre’s rolling resistance – i.e. how much friction it generates with the road. Measurements are taken on a calibrated test rig; the lower the rolling resistance, the better the fuel economy. The most efficient tyres earn an ‘A’, while the least efficient are rated ‘G’.

Wet-road grip

Good grip is most important when the roads are wet, so this rating is based on wet-braking performance in a straight line. Experts say an A-rated tyre can stop in 30% less distance than a G-rated one. That’s potentially the difference between a near-miss and a dangerous crash.

Noise

Anyone who regularly drives the concrete section of the M25 will know just how noisy tyres can be. This final infographic puts the the tyre into one of three categories, based on the noise it emits in decibels – measured from outside the car – when cruising at a steady speed. One black bar means a quiet tyre, while three bars is noisier – albeit still within legal limits.

Run-flats, winter tyres and part-worn tyres

The 5-minute guide to car tyres

So, you’ve checked the size and checked the label. Now think about the type of tyre you need to buy. Apart from standard ‘summer’ tyres, you might also think about run-flats, winter tyres or part-worn tyres.

Run-flat tyres

These are fitted as standard to some new cars, particularly BMWs. Their reinforced structure means you can carry on driving even with a puncture, although only for around 50 miles at speeds up to 50mph. ‘RFT’ or ‘RunFL’ markings on the sidewall indicate your tyre is a run-flat.

The downsides of run-flat tyres are cost and comfort; they are more expensive to buy and their stiffer sidewalls mean a firmer ride. Also, Tyresafe advises that they should not be used on cars without a pressure-monitoring system, or you may be unaware the tyre has deflated.

Winter tyres

These can be recognised by a snowflake symbol on the sidewall. They offer much-improved grip on snow and ice – and indeed on dry roads if the temperature is below 7deg C.

Winter tyres are mandatory during the colder months in some European countries, and many people keep them on a second set of ‘winter wheels’ (often steel rims, to preserve their shiny alloys for summer). However, unless you live in a remote part of Wales or the Scottish Highlands, they’re not essential in the UK.

Part-worn tyres

It isn’t illegal for garages to sell part-worn tyres, although they must be properly marked and in good condition. Even so, we’d suggest this money-saving measure is a false economy that could affect your safety.

How to save money on tyres

The 5-minute guide to car tyres

The first thing to say here is that you shouldn’t look to economise on tyres. They are arguably the most safety-critical part of your car, so buy the best you can – preferably the original equipment (OE) items fitted to your car when it was new.

If OE tyres aren’t available, we recommend choosing one of the ‘premium’ brands: Bridgestone, Continental, Dunlop, Goodyear or Pirelli. These consistently come out near the top in tyre tests.

If you need a tyre at short notice, the cheapest option will probably be an independent tyre fitter, rather than a franchised car dealer. Make a few phone calls to compare prices and ensure the fee you are quoted includes new valves, fitting and balancing. Remember, you can haggle.

If you have more time, buying online will almost certainly prove cheaper – and you may be able to have the tyres fitted at your home or office. Again, it pays to shop around as there are plenty of retailers competing for your business. Popular websites include Asda Tyres, Black Circles, MyTyres and Tyre Shopper.

Sinclair C5

Sinclair C5: Retro Road Test

Sinclair C5Richard Gooding, acting editor of GreenFleet magazine, recalls the story of one of the most recognisable electric cars ever. Sadly, it was also one of the least successful, but was the Sinclair C5 simply too innovative, too early?

While electric cars are now a more common sight on our roads, back in 1985 they were the stuff of automotive dreams. Yes, there had been electric vehicles since the very first cars at the turn of the 1900s, but most people’s experience with one was of the milk float that delivered their early morning pint.

In 1980, the British government abolished road tax for electric vehicles, and in 1983 it introduced legislation for ‘electrically-assisted pedal cycles’. British technology pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair – yes, he of Sinclair Executive pocket calculator and ZX81 home computer fame – had an idea that he thought would revolutionise commuter transport.

His £12m project was the Sinclair C5, a three-wheeled electric ‘tricycle’ aimed at those who travelled alone, either in cars, on their bicycles or on public transport. Sir Clive had dabbled in electric vehicle research since the early 1970s, but the 1983 legislation fitted in perfectly with the C5’s technical make-up. And so it was that, two years later, arguably the UK’s most recognised electric vehicle was born.

What are its rivals?

Mini

The launch price of the Sinclair C5 was £399, plus £29 delivery. The only way of buying one was by mail order – the C5 arrived in a cardboard box, delivered to your door, an option which wasn’t available to other small ‘cars’. The most conventional four-wheeled rival was the 998cc Austin Mini City E, which was almost ten times the price – at £3,298.

Other contemporary competition included the also-three-wheeled 850cc, 73.3mpg Robin Rialto 2. The larger three-wheeler promised ‘A Car You Can Afford To Get Excited About’, according to the press ads. And buyers obviously believed them, as it had a 12-month waiting list when new. However, if we’re talking innovative disasters, the Sinclair C5 is joined by the equally cult-ish DeLorean DMC-12 as one of the biggest transport failures of the 1980s.

What motor does it use?

Sinclair C5

Due to the legislation it was designed for, the C5 was limited in both performance and weight. Motor output was stifled, too: a 250-watt ceiling was applied to vehicles in the ‘electrically-assisted pedal cycle’ category. Sinclair’s engineers took a 12V DC, 250W, 29A, 3,300rpm permanent magnet motor supplied by Italian company Polymotor to provide power for the C5.

One of the long-held myths about the motor found in the C5 was that it was also used in washing machines – this was emphatically not the case. However, Hoover engineers were trained to service the C5 as Sir Clive’s mobility project for the masses was also built in the company’s factory in Merthyr Tydfil, south Wales.

The little white wedge easily slotted into the category of vehicle it was designed for. With a 45kg weight with battery, it undercut the imposed restrictions by 15kg. The battery was a ‘deep discharge’ unit, which meant it could be charged hundreds of times with no noticeable loss of performance. Or that was the theory anyway. The C5 is rear-wheel drive, too – just like all the best driver’s cars! – with the left-hand rear wheel powered by the electric motor.

What’s it like to drive?

Sinclair C5

Andrew Brady used the word ‘intimidating’ when describing the driving experience of a 1990 Vauxhall Nova 1.2 Merit during a previous MR Retro Road Test, but the Sinclair C5 takes that to a whole new level. Maybe two of the right words to describe the C5 driving experience are ‘terrifying’ and ‘fun’. Sitting above the handlebars on the thinly-padded seat, your arms reach down past your bent legs – which can, and will have to, pedal at some point – while your feet rest on the pushbike-like Sinclair-branded and grooved pedals. So far, so familiar, should you use conventional two-wheeled forms of transport.

In a similarity (which, don’t worry, is largely the only one) to four-wheeled vehicles, you then insert the ignition key into the master security switch and turn on the power. Motor load and battery condition are shown by two LED graph displays under the aerodynamic front cowling. Push the left-hand handlebar starter/accelerator button and you’re away. Ignore the twisted ‘mirror’ logic, which makes you think you want to steer the way you don’t want to go, and instead relish the ‘acceleration’ offered by that 250W motor. Be careful, though: one slightly clumsy over-operation of said button and you shoot off unsteadily into the path of the nearest bus or HGV.

If you’ve not been scared witless by that point and are still firmly ensconced behind that front cowling, braking is controlled either by un-pressing the handlebar accelerator button or by squeezing the bike-like triggers. Unbelievably, the C5 has front calliper and rear drum brakes, so comes to a stop quickly and safely, if not the most elegantly. With a top speed of 15mph, Sir Clive Sinclair’s baby doesn’t sound fast, but believe us, it feels it. As a driver, you’re so exposed to both the elements and the passing traffic that bowling along at speeds of up to half of the legal urban limit feels anything but pedestrian. Which, incidentally, is another type of road user you have to watch out for.

Sinclair claimed that the C5 had the ‘same seat height’ as a family car. That was true if that car was originally from 1959 and was called a Mini. And despite Lotus being involved with the project, and Sinclair’s claims of ‘extraordinary manoeuvrability’ when it was new, the C5 certainly doesn’t handle like a sports car. It does share a low centre of gravity with the legendary cars from Hethel, but that’s where any similarities end.

As the C5 is an ‘electrically assisted pedal cycle’, no helmet, driving licence or road tax is required to drive one, so the Sinclair marketing machine included 14-year-old children in its target market. Health and safety? This was 1985: they were different times.

Reliability and running costs

Sinclair C5

Many C5 owners reported unit burn-outs as the permanent magnet motor struggled to cope with any form of gradient; pedal assistance was very often required. Also, C5s suffered the indignity of running aground over speed bumps, even small ones. The single gear was also a cause of complaint.Plus, there was no reverse gear, so every backwards turn turned into a multi-point negotiating nightmare.

Sinclair claimed that the C5 could be driven for five miles on one penny’s worth of electricity, or 1,000 miles for the contemporary price of a gallon of fuel. The official range on a single charge was stated to be 20 miles, but most owners reported half that in cold conditions. The 15kg battery could be charged to full capacity from flat in eight hours – much longer than today’s all-electric cars. Some enterprising modern-day owners of C5s swap the old lead acid battery for lightweight Lithium-ion replacements for increased range and better reliability. One owner reports 45 miles of range from his 60Ah lithium-ion battery, which weighs half as much as the original.

Could I drive it every day?

Sinclair C5

You could, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Unless weaving in and out of much larger traffic like a large white and yellow plastic ant floats your boat. There is virtually no crash protection with a C5. We’ve driven the super-rare Volkswagen XL1, and that felt small, but the C5 feels tiny among car-sized traffic flows. Drivers also find themselves at the same level of most vehicles’ exhaust fumes. On the plus side, the C5’s turning circle was two-thirds of the original Mini’s.

It’s not quite all the smiley, zero-emission. free spirit, wind-in-the-hair motoring the Sinclair publicity video of 1985 would have you believe. ‘Driving’ a C5 in the UK is mostly a cold and draughty experience. And we’d dispute the ‘extremely safe’ claims, too. We certainly wouldn’t want to have an accident in one, however minor. Best not obscure the rear reflector. Also, its limited range would make it only suitable for short trips. Like the pure-electric range of most hybrid cars of today, in fact…

Watch the original TV ad for the Sinclair C5

How much should I pay?

Sinclair C5

How long is a piece of string? We’ve seen C5s on well-known auction sites for around £500. ‘Project’ C5s can start at £75, while at the opposite end of the scale, fully working and ‘restored’ C5s can be had for £695. Used Robin Rialtos start at around £250, while a working more modern electric G-Wiz can be bought from £1,000. Three year-old Renault Twizys, meanwhile, start at around £3,200.

What should I look out for?

Sinclair C5

Spare parts could be an issue. Used handlebars are priced at around £20 online, and a complete set of wing mirrors can fetch £80. Replacement used motors can start at £55. There’s a burgeoning market in the 3D printing of Sinclair C5 parts, though, with at least a dozen individual components now available as part of a testing programme.

Should I buy one?

Sinclair C5

If you’re a culture junkie and the idea of owning a piece of motoring history appeals, then yes, undoubtedly. Even if it will never go very far. The C5 is such a recognisable and symbolic piece of motoring folklore, due to both its promise and failure, that it will always be a talking point. If you’re lucky, you might even find one with all the period accessories, such as a booster cushion for those short of leg, a ‘High-Vis Mast’ (basically a metal pole with a reflective flag atop it), a second battery, side screens for increased weather protection, and a tonneau cover.

If you really want to fit in, try also to find the period ‘designer’ clothing (very stylish 1980s drama Howards’ Way), the ‘weather cheater’ poncho, and the car-like C5-branded mud flaps, turning indicator kit, and wing mirrors. And by the time you’ve whiled away many wine-fuelled nights on online auction sites, and spent vast sums of money on genuine ‘bargains’, you could have gone and bought that tidy Mini E – a car that doesn’t look like a cut-price Tron prop.

The C5 was never designed for long distances, and its limitations show when its comes to practicality. The aforementioned weather protection (or lack of) is just one issue. Another is luggage space. The promotional videos of the time boast of a ‘large capacity boot’, but if you have more than 28 litres of luggage, then the flip-out ‘boot’ on the back of the driver’s seat will be of little use. It’s perfect for your poncho or Pac-A-Mac, though.

Pub facts

Sinclair C5

The Sinclair C5 was launched at Alexandra Palace on 10 January 1985, and the assembled throng of journalists included friend of MR and ex-Top Gear presenter, Sue Baker. With a suggested 9,000-17,000 C5s finding homes in 1985, Sir Clive Sinclair claimed that his plastic fantastic dream was the UK’s best-selling electric car until the more modern and four-wheeled Nissan Leaf overtook it in 2011 with sales of 20,000.

Sinclair was in the mood for more electric vehicle creation in 1992, when the Zike electric bike was released. Like the C5, production lasted just six months – and around 2,000 were sold. Nineteen years later Sir Clive was at it again with the X-1, an electric ‘sit-down’ cycle, which was to be sold for £595. However, it never reached production and the cash he needed to develop his four-seat electric car vision never was generated.

Thanks to enthusiast Alex Goodwill for allowing us to drive his Sinclair C5.