What Can You Buy For £500? Five Get Over Excited

In the first article in this series, What Can You Buy For £200? Chase The Ace, I looked at some of the do’s and dont’s when it comes to shopping in the basket below the bargain basement for your next car, questions to ask and things to look out for. The complete guide if you will. However, mentioned at the beginning of the piece was the promise that certain price points were to be focussed on, meaning that regular readers will be able to find the bargain car of their dreams, perhaps something modern, maybe a classic, perhaps even something surprising. Believe me, the range of cars available, even down here at £500 is really quite staggering, especially if you’re willing to put in the legwork. £500 would appear to be the price where the cars available become a little more varied, a little more interesting. 

Not making the list but certainly a great car for someone out there, a 127,000 mile 3.0 Jaguar S-Type, recently serviced, great bodywork and an MOT until August 2017? Or a 1998 Mercedes Benz C180 Elegance with an MOT until December 2017 and only 147,000 on the clock, barely run in with a Merc surely? And then we have one final highlight, a gamble but one, in my opinion, that could be worth a punt. Bet you didn’t think an Alfa Romeo could go this low, not without the phrase ‘spares or repair’ somewhere in the description anyway, but a fully working and loaded 147 1.6 T Spark Lusso with 97,000 miles and an MOT until August 2017? Unbelievable.

Don’t forget though, we’re still rummaging around in the cars discarded and ignored by many others and those which the trade which to dispose of quickly to clear space at the back of the lot. The same rules apply from part 1 regarding looking out for those vehicles that hold a current MOT and have hopefully had a recent service, if not, and as a general rule of thumb, pick up that Haynes manual and make sure you’ve a decent socket set in the garage. Don’t forget to check back on part 1 and remind yourself of those all important first questions to ask when contacting the seller for the first time and advice upon what to do when that potential bargain is waiting in front of you. Ready?

MotorMartin’s top 5 £500 bargains 

1. If it’s reliability combined with mile munching ability, supreme motorway manners and a decent amount of space, then you can’t really go wrong with an 2000-2001 Ford Mondeo, a car that was sold in the thousands to sales reps and if chosen carefully, will have been regularly serviced as a company car with any and all problems sorted out under the original company agreement. At £500 you’ll be looking at something with mostly decent bodywork apart from the usual bumps and scrapes on all four corners, 5+ months MOT and close to 100,000 miles but what you’re getting, if picked well, is a safe and well developed car that will transport you and your family pretty much anywhere. Common faults can be problems with inaccurate readings on the fuel gauge usually caused by a fault in the fuel pump module, a clicking noise coming from the front commonly caused by a clip on the boot which can either be missing or broken, causing water to leak into the CV joint and a knocking noise coming from the power steering. Not deal breakers but you’re better off finding one that doesn’t have these faults after all, there’s plenty out there to choose from.

2. Those looking for a touch of old school luxury should really look no further than the venerable Rover 75, a particular favourite of mine, even at this price point. £500 will get you a Club edition 2.o CDTi with around 140,000 on the clock or a 1.8T sporting 80,000 or more. It goes without saying that the 1.8T will definitely need the head gasket and water pump checking over although you may well strike it lucky and find one with the work already done. The diesel option is a good one as the engine is basically a lightly worked on BMW unit and as such will take many many miles before anything goes wrong. The Rover’s issues are more likely to involve rust and suspension. Check all the usual places, wheel arches, sills, bottom of the doors etc. And on the test drive, listen out for knocks from the suspension and a stiffness to the steering That suggests that the power steering is on the way out.

3. How about a car that if chosen well, should last for many, many more miles, is cheap to run, cheap to insure and has been owned by mostly careful drivers? Impossible at this price? I offer you the Nissan Micra. For £500 you have a selection of decent mileage Mark IIs as well as 80,000+ mile Mark IIIs. With the Micra being Japanese you have every right to expect 6 months or more MOT, buttons that do exactly what they were designed to do, suspension and steering that work as intended and body work only affected by the car’s history rather than bodywork that fades away after a few seasons driving through the winter. I would be looking for a 1.0 Litre Mark II with decent bodywork and a recent service then enjoy 6 months driving for no more than pennies. Room for four adults or a small family, a heater, stereo, small boot and plenty of space inside. What more do you need?

4. Wanting a bit of fun and don’t mind a search? Then how about the often forgotten Ford Puma, a 1.7 Litre mini sports car from around 2000 and as it’s based around the older Fiesta chassis you’re getting a car that loves the bends and will be able to surprise many a larger car on a country road. The Puma enjoyed an association with Steve McQueen who was seen driving the car throughout Ford’s groundbreaking advertising campaign, genius. Any model up to 1999 could have the problem of the heater not working on settings 1, 2 and 3 and also a smell of burning plastic coming from the heater. The smell of burning plastic is due to bad contact on the blower motor resistor multiplug which is in turn burning the plastic. Also worth checking out are engine problems due to a faulty TPS (Throttle Positioning Sensor) which often gives off the wrong signal and may well need replacing whilst Fords of this age are often needing to have various sills and floorpans welded. As always, let’s be careful out there.

5. Sticking with the smaller car, I’ve a lot of time for the Peugeot 206 and there are a lot of Peugeot 206 out there for £500. Try out a 1.4 LX, GLX or one of the many different editions that are out there. With decent bodywork, other than the odd scrape, a willing engine and decent interior space and equipment should see you enjoying many miles and with a decent MOT and that all important recent service, you’re getting a great runaround for a bargain price. If you have noticed that the carpets in the front footwells are wet from water leaking into the cabin, this is usually due to a blockage in the bulkhead drain as the drain can get blocked up with leaves or other debris, which will need to be removed and 40,000 mile or more cars can have problems with random stalling. The usual cause is a faulty potentiometer and faulty stepper motor. 

Be careful and keep your wits about you and you could be rewarded with a loyal companion that may well be worth putting through the next MOT with just the usual suspects to pay for. Not bad going for such a small initial outlay.

Where will you go?

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