Pensioner power

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Not that long ago I tried buying a cheap car, and found the experience pretty dispiriting. Most of the cars I saw were clapped out, had driven a long way and were far from cheap.

As a motoring writer I can sometimes live vicariously, driving shiny new things, so am perfectly happy to rough it the rest of the time. Actually, for me this is most of the time, but when you choose to slum it, the car you slum it in will be coming to the end of its life, so when the otherwise reliable T-reg Toyota Avensis which has been my companion for the last year appeared to have developed an expensive suspension fault, I began searching for a replacement, but couldn’t find anything I liked.

Thanks in part to the scrappage scheme, which saw thousands of older but still healthy cars sent to the crusher, and cheap finance deals that got a lot of people into new vehicles for the first time, the supply of good, older cars has been partially throttled, with some pundits predicting that it would eventually be chocked off completely.

Rampant demand for steel, particularly from China, has also meant that bangers have a price on their heads. Some otherwise perfectly decent oldies with lapsed MOTs have gone to the crusher because owners know they can trouser £100 plus and not have the hassle of selling the car.

Value my car

For those of us who need something cheap and dependable to get to the station, take muddy dogs for walks, or who simply don’t want to tie up a lot of capital in a car, this was bad news, but according to Glass’s, the vehicle valuation guide, reports of the death of the old banger are premature.

We are seeing something interesting going on,” said Rupert Pontin, head of valuations at Glass’s. “Since the start of 2013, the number of cars over 10.5 years old being sold at auction has increased by around 50%. We believe this is because large numbers of buyers are selling their bangers and signing up to low-cost new and used car PCP deals to get behind the wheel of a newer model.

Which means that there ought to be a bigger selection of cheapies available for people like me. However, Mr. Pontin has a caveat.

Instead of this flood of bangers entering the market leading to a collapse in values, they have actually increased quite substantially. The average auction price for a 10.5 year-plus car in January 2013 was £725 but in June of this year, it was £875. Enough new buyers are entering the market to soak up the extra volume and the banger market is actually in excellent health,” reckoned Mr. P.

I’m trying very hard to resist the temptation to write the words ‘a case of either Glass’s half full or half empty, depending on whether you’re buying or selling a car’ (apologies for not succeeding), but this does seem to imply that there will be more rather than less choice at the bottom of the market, and values, for the moment at least, are holding up.

This doesn’t mean that anyone looking for cheap wheels won’t have to sift through an awful lot of dross first, but that’s always been the case.

If you’re buying a car whose next owner is likely to be a scrap dealer, you’ll see vehicles that have got to that point already, being sold by chancers or people who don’t realise that their former pride and joy has simply worn out.

When you’re spending less than a grand to keep mobile the thing you drive will have the odd niggle and stretch mark, but the parameters you’d use for buying a younger secondhand car still apply.

Does the car have some service history? Is the interior clean, the panels and bumpers straight? Do all the electrical bits work as they should, and the warning lights go out when it’s started? Something with a bit of service history, that has been owned for a reasonable length of time by people who haven’t skipped on servicing and maintenance is also desirable.

Don’t be fobbed off with ‘what do you expect for the money?’ excuses, be polite and be patient, and you will eventually find something that’s old and vigorous rather than old and ailing, just like my Avensis, a one family owned job that ultimately proved repairable without breaking the bank, has just got through its second MOT, and after fourteen months and 16,000 miles is still going strong. So for the moment at least, I won’t be testing out the newly revived, cheap used car market.

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