THE BEST CARS FOR YOUNG DRIVERS
BACK in the bad old days of motoring — which actually weren’t that long ago — buying your first car was an exercise fraught with danger. On a tight budget, you had four options — unsafe cars, unreliable cars, really boring cars or a combination of all three in one precarious lemon.
But it has become easier to find a tidy, safe, cheap used car for several reasons.
First, used cars don’t hold their value like they once did. New cars have become cheaper in real terms and sales have boomed, so there are far more used cars on the market.
Cars are also much safer than they used to be. Government legislation and independent crash test programs such as NCAP, (which publicises the results of its tests, much to the annoyance of the industry) have forced carmakers to improve safety. A 2005 model, no matter what make it is, will be safer than a car made in 1995. At the bare minimum, you want two front airbags and antilock (ABS) brakes.
Unless it’s French or Italian, in which case a weekly dummy spit is part of the ownership experience, most cars from the past 10 years will be reasonably reliable, provided servicing has been done by the book.
We are talking about ordinary, everyday cars that haven’t been thrashed.
If you’re looking at some dude’s slammed, chipped Subaru WRX and the price seems too good to be true, chances are it will self-destruct before you make it home. You get what you pay for.
Immaculate, low-kilometre cars owned by little old ladies do exist, and they are gold. So is a complete service record, especially if it’s from the dealer who sold the car new.
Let’s see if we can find a few to recommend. The bottom dollar in our search is $5000.
It’s slim-pickings and not much joy at this money, but the last of the Mitsubishi Magnas, from 2004-2005, are great value and reasonably plentiful. Many will be ex-renters. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because servicing will have been done to schedule. The 3.5-litre V6-four speed auto ES has four airbags and ABS.
Another Mitsubishi, the Lancer, is the best small car we can find at this price.
Toyota Corollas also are an excellent choice, but they’re more expensive.
The Lancer’s as sexy as a can of baked beans and completely bulletproof. Pay about $7000-$8000 or so for a 2005 model. Find one with optional ABS and six airbags.
If you have about $10,000 to spend, you have much more choice.
In 2004, Mazda made six airbags and ABS available across its entire range, as options or standard, so any Mazda 2 or Mazda 3 from 2004 on will be worth checking out. Mazda does blue chip quality, and if you find a good one, with a service book, buy it. You’ll pick up a 2 for less than $10,000; a 3 will be $10,000-$12,000.
If you need something bigger, this sort of money will also get you into a 2004-2005 Subaru Liberty, another top car from Japan’s A-league. All-wheel-drive, excellent handling and Subaru’s class leading NCAP scores are pluses. The 2.0-litre four won’t rip your arms off, but it will do the job. Wagons cost a little more.
You may prefer a small SUV wagon instead. If so, look for a 2004-2005 Subaru Forester or Toyota RAV4 at $12,000-$15,000.
If you need a big car for a big country, the Aussie six is hard to go past. You’ll pay $10,000-$13,000 for the first of the VE Commodores from 2006. The 3.6-litre V6 sounds like 1000 leaf blowers on maximum thrust, however it’s durable enough. Holden got serious about safety with VE, so you get stability control as standard.
It may take a while to find the right car, but in the end it pays to be fussy. Second-hand doesn’t have to mean second best.
Raring to go: Jessica Williams, with her new Mazda 2, gets set for her driver’s licence. Picture: DARREN McNAMARA