Driving a sub-thousand pound car for a year

This is a guest article by Dan Rous of HouseOfRous.co.uk

Think the title of this piece sounds like a Top Gear challenge? Well in my case, it was a reality. In May 2009, my wife got a temporary job that meant we needed a car each. We already had our family car – a 52 plate Citroen Xsara Picasso, so weren’t looking for anything too big. However, thanks to a friend of a friend, we got a good deal on a 51 plate Nissan Primera – still quite a decent size car – with decent mileage and for less than £1000! But wait – it gets better! The Picasso soon reached 100,000 miles and rather than risk potential costly repair bills, we returned to our now friend of a friend of a friend car dealer to strike a deal. I traded our Picasso for an S reg (1998) Fiat Punto SX that was on the forecourt for £995, and walked away with a decent amount of cash in my hand too. This would be my car to go to and from work – 26 miles each way – and occasional child free outings. Having said that it was still a 5 door car and had room for the two car seats in the back – but not much else.

But why am I telling you all this? I mean, this is a geek/gadget/tech website and here am I telling you that I got hold of a 12 year old car for under a grand. Well this site has carried car reviews for those with modern tech and hybrid tendencies, and also recently looked at retro tech and asked what could be the classics of the future. Now, I’m not going to say the Punto is a classic car, but this model certainly had a bit of a mixed generational personality.

On-wheel controls... snazzy

On-wheel controls... snazzy

For starters, lets just get the basic blurb out the way. This was a 1998 Fiat Punto 1.2 SX 16v with around 67000 miles on the clock. It was a five door hatchback and for its age, was in good condition. So here’s where the car starts playing with your gadget head. Its old – we get it. You have to physically put the key in the door to unlock it. But it does have central locking. When you get in, you find electric front windows. You also find steering wheel mounted radio controls. Even the 51 plate Primera doesn’t have them! And then its back to reality with the manual tilt and slide sunroof and the radio that has one of those cassette player things.

For its performance, we’re back to messing with your head again. It had approximately a 50 litre (11 gallon) petrol tank and with a mix of driving, would give between 35 and 40 mpg. Not too shabby at all for a 12 year old car I think. To put some context on this, I did a journey from my home in Glenrothes to Milton Keynes and back – about 410 miles each way. Now on the way down I didn’t hang around and the return journey found me crawling in M1 and M6 traffic. But the car still let me do each journey on one tank of fuel – handy for avoiding those lovely service station prices. So old, but still economical.

Cassette... or "tape-based mp3 player" as the yoof of today call 'em

Cassette... or "tape-based mp3 player" as the yoof of today call 'em

In the course of the last year, the only thing I had to have done (apart from a standard service) was the exhaust tail pipe and one tyre after a puncture. Everything else was spot on and I didn’t breakdown once. Again, quite impressive for an old car and adding to the economical benefits of the car too. I have now just sold the car ahead of putting it through its MOT and think the rest of the exhaust was needing repairing but, although I don’t have a strong mechanical mind, I don’t think anything else would have been needed. So my sub £1000 car survived another year on the road. If this was a challenge I think I would have won because I still got a good price for a car that only had 5 days left on its Tax and MOT.

So I have sadly parted with the car. And yes, I am sad, but practicality has meant my wife now has a larger car for childminding purposes, and it does make sense to hang on to the larger of our two cars. I’m sad because my “little dodgem” (as a good friend dubbed it) was a nippy and fun car. It was my companion on my commute to work. We did about 14000 miles together. It was new but old. Techy and retro rolled into one. It was great value. Question is, would I undertake a similar challenge again? I think the answer would be yes. Especially if I found a deal on a car with a reach into different generations of technology. So, the Primera is MOT’d til May next year. Plenty of time to keep an eye out. Bring on the next challenge!

Have you had experience running an “older” vehicle? Would you recommend driving a brand new car, or do you always buy second hand? Tell us your story in the comments.

After that, why not check out some of our other car-related posts?

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  1. Hi Chris and thanks for using this post. Be interesting to see if anyone else has good experience of the more mature car. Just one minor thing. The link to my website doesn’t work. For some reason it won’t link unless it has the ‘www’ at the front of it! Strange but true – a bit like my old car! Thanks pal :)

    • Oops, sorry about that. I thought I’d done that (I noticed it didn’t work without the www). Anyway, sorted now.

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