If you’ve just passed your test and are looking for a second-hand car, here are our picks from £1000 to £10,000 – and the ones to avoid
Buying your first car can be both liberating and exciting, but fraught with potential pitfalls, too – especially if you’re buying used. You need to choose something that not only expresses your personality and suits your needs, but matches your buying and running budgets as well. Reliability and efficiency are key to the latter.
Our guide to buying the perfect second-hand starter car is sorted by budget, whether you have £1000, £2000, £5000 or £10,000 to spend. Read on to help you decide on the best buy for you.
Best used first cars for less than £1000
3. Nissan Micra
The Nissan Micra is as rounded as its looks, thanks to a robust build and easy driving style that’s enhanced by punchy and economical engines. The cabin is roomy, while rear legroom and boot space can be adjusted via the neat sliding bench. A superb reputation for reliability means the Micra should serve you well.
Top buy: 2004 1.2 16v SE, 72,000 miles, full service history, £1000
2. Renault Clio
Cheap to purchase and own, the Renault Clio is a perennial first-buy favourite in the UK. It’s easy to drive and its soft suspension makes it very comfortable, and there’s plenty of kit, too. Reliability is reasonable, but beware electrical niggles at this age.
Top buy: 2005 1.2 16v Dynamique, 62,000 miles, £995
1. Ford Ka
Ridiculously cheap to buy and run, and easy to fix if something goes wrong, the fun Ford Ka makes a perfect first car. It’s easy to drive, thanks to light controls and tiny dimensions, and has surprising comfort and refinement. The three-door model is tight on space for rear passengers and luggage, but it’s the ultimate cheap ’n’ cheerful used car.
Top buy: 2007 1.3 Style Climate, 49,000 miles, £999
Don’t touch it:
The Chevrolet Kalos is terrible to drive, not especially safe and suffers from cheap cabin plastics. They’re some of the reasons it’s so cheap to buy.
Best used first cars for less than £2000
3. Skoda Fabia
As one of the most sensible first cars you can buy, the Skoda Fabia majors on being robust, reliable, safe and spacious. It’s neither very cool nor particularly fun to drive, but it has a great ride and is easy to manoeuvre. It’s practical, too, with roomy rear seats and a good-sized boot.
Top buy: 2006 1.4 16v Elegance, 68,000 miles, full service history, £1995
2. Renault Clio
£2000 will get you the next-generation Renault Clio to the one in our £1000 budget section. This five-star Euro NCAP safety-rated car has an upmarket cabin with plenty of kit, light steering and a very comfortable ride. Low prices make it a great bargain. Again, watch for electrical niggles, but most repairs are generally cheap and easy.
Top buy: 2007 1.2 16v Expression, 55,000 miles, £1795
1. Vauxhall Corsa
There are plenty of used examples of this top-seller available on the used market. The Vauxhall Corsa is a cracker, with a spacious cabin and great ride. Heavy depreciation when new means its price now is unbeatable. It even won What Car?’s Car Of The Year award back in 2007.
Top buy: 2007 1.4i Design, 60,000 miles, full service history, £2000
Don’t touch it:
Cheap-feeling Proton Savvy belies its strong price. Steer clear of this slow, tacky, noisy and inefficient model.
Best used first cars for less than £5000
3. Volkswagen Polo
Latest version of this consistently upmarket model keeps its value, so you’ll get less bang for your buck at this budget, but even in lower specs the Volkswagen Polo brings a high-quality cabin, great build and comfortable, grown-up-feeling drive. Stick with a petrol, manual car for the fewest reliability issues.
Top buy: 2011 1.2 60 S, 60,000 miles, £4988
2. Vauxhall Corsa
The Vauxhall Corsa’s great value nets you a newer, better-specced car for your cash than with most competitors, and that high-quality cabin, comfortable ride and impressive room count as much here as they do in the price bracket below. A very solid all-rounder, even if it isn’t as much fun to drive or as high quality as some rivals.
Top buy: 2012 1.2 Excite, 12,000 miles, £5000
1. Ford Fiesta
We love the Ford Fiesta. It has a great drive thanks to its direct steering, responsive, well balanced chassis and comfortable long-distance ride. Engines are economical yet zesty, and buying and running costs impress. The Corsa and Polo beat it for cabin quality and kit, but this is the more enjoyable car to drive and own.
Top buy: 2011 1.25 Zetec, 32,000 miles, £4995
Don’t touch it:
Don’t be fooled by its good-value prices; the Fiat Punto has far better rivals. It has poor build and reliability, plus is uncomfortable and uninspiring from behind the wheel.
Best used first cars for less than £10,000
3. Hyundai i20
Peace of mind is the great-value Hyundai i20’s major draw. This budget will get you a nearly new example with the balance of a five-year manufacturer’s warranty. There’s plenty of equipment and it’s easy to drive. It’ll makes a smart-looking first car that’ll give years of hassle-free ownership.
Top buy: 2016 1.0 T-GDI SE, 100 miles, £9490
2. Ford Fiesta
The impressive and easily available 1.0-litre turbo is easily available and cheap to insure, making the Ford Fiesta even more appealing at this price. Even in 1.25-litre form it still boasts great handling and impressive comfort, as well as fantastic value plus low maintenance and running costs.
Top buy: 2016 1.0 EcoBoost Zetec, 10,000 miles, £10,000
1. Skoda Fabia
What Car?’s latest Small Car of the Year, the Skoda Fabia is one of the best all-rounders on the market, with plenty of room, great running costs and impressive infotainment. It even beats the Fiesta for motorway comfort, and has a smart cabin despite slightly cheap-feeling dash plastics. There may be cooler, more exciting rivals out there, but it’s among the best for sensible, practical, small-car motoring.
Top buy: 2016 1.2 TSI Colour Edition, 6000 miles, £9995
Don’t touch it:
Alfa Romeo Mito
Sharp looks belie the Alfa Romeo Mito’s costly purchase and running costs, uncomfortable, dull, noisy driving experience and cheap build.