It is common knowledge that new cars suffer from massive depreciation and buying a three to five-year-old car can often yield big financial savings. Reliability at that age is usually no issue, most cars need nothing more than regular servicing so unless you buy a lemon your running costs should remain reasonable too.
But what if you don’t have the cash to buy a nearly new car, is it worth buying something even older or is it a false economy that will cost you more in the end? We decided to see if we could find a selection of vehicles that could take on the rigours of the daily grind but cost no more than £5,000, were less than 7-years of age and had covered less than 60,000 miles
That is why you won’t be finding any rusty old V8 convertibles in our list, to qualify these cars must not only be economical and reliable but also be practical enough to cater for a variety of needs. Despite these limitations, you may be surprised by just how many good quality used vehicles there are out there, and all for less than half the price of a bare-bones city car. Let the saving begin.
The UK’s cheapest car starts at a very low £6,995, it is worth noting though that for that price you get the absolute bare basics.
Why not consider a nearly-new 2016 model which is £2,000 cheaper and can be had with the more powerful 75 bhp engine as well as some creature comforts?
The standard 1.2-litre models are fine although the 0.9-litre turbo cars offer more performance without much of a fuel penalty. If you prefer you could also look at the chunkier Stepway models too.
The Up! may be a bit pricy as a new buy but you can enjoy its charms for far less if you look at a five-year-old example instead.
You won’t be winning any traffic light Grand Prix’s thanks to the 59 bhp 1.0-litre motor, but an average 62.8 mpg is far more important for a city car anyway.
It is the perfect size for two but you may want to look at something a bit bigger if you have kids or need to pack the boot full from time to time.
The Fiat 500 may be tiny compared to most things on the road but if your commute is predominantly city-based and you would like a dash of style to go with it then this is the car for you.
The 1.2-litre 69 bhp engine is nippy at lower speeds and if you need a bit more power then the 85 bhp turbocharged twin-air variants are the ones to go for. It is worth noting that they are not particularly fuel-efficient though.
There are hundreds for sale at any one time and depending on spec you can find cars for under £5,000 ranging from five to seven years old, sometimes with very low mileages too.
The Yaris is one size up compared to the Fiat and VW but is still small enough to take advantage of tight parking spots and you also get a more powerful 99 bhp 1.3-litre engine which still gives a credible 52.3mpg average.
2012 models fall within our budget and most have well under 60,000 miles on their clocks too. You can also tell your friends that this is the car that formed the base of the misguided little Aston-Martin Cygnet.
Or perhaps not.
The previous-generation Fiesta earned itself a reputation for being a fun to drive hatchback, its nippy handling characteristics are not the only plus point though.
The interior is well made and if you pick one of the more powerful engines, like the 94 bhp 1.4-litre petrol variant, it is quite capable of longer trips and the five-door models add a touch of practicality too.
At our price point you may struggle to find one of the zippy turbocharged 99 bhp 1.0-litre models but keep an eye out for them as these are arguably the pick of the bunch.
The Volkswagen Polo regularly comes out on top in group comparisons thanks to its overall competence and ability to feel like a bigger car than it is.
At our £5,000 budget you will have to forego the more powerful models and stick to the entry-level 1.2-litre variants but aside from a lack of power they are still solid and reliable transport.
There are plenty to choose from and most are only six to seven-years -old.
The Jazz is a great alternative to the ubiquitous German offerings in this category, it is one of the few small cars that can comfortably seat 6-foot plus occupants up front and the engines are both frugal and punchy.
For our budget a 98 bhp 1.4-litre model is within reach, most have led relatively gentle lives and mileages tend to be low even on older cars.
The Skoda range is basically a budget version of existing VW models, aside from a slightly more low-rent interior and different body panels they have the same engines, suspension setups and transmissions too.
Any late-model Skoda can make for a great used buy but we have chosen the slightly quirky Roomster for its spacious interior and great value.
Look at 2012 and 2013 model years, there are always a handful for sale and most come with a decent amount of kit too.
Citroen C3 Picasso
The C3 Picasso offers a stylish mini-MPV design combined with a range of frugal engines that makes it a superb family car for those on a tight budget.
The 90 bhp turbodiesel engine is the most common engine and offers a superb 68.9 mpg overall. The Picasso’s replacement in the UK is the C3 Aircross, at £15,085 before any options you can clearly make a big saving by going the used route.
Six-year-old examples are now a third of that price and offer a very similar ownership experience.
French cars tend to fare poorly when it comes to resale value in the UK, that is good news for bargain hunters looking for a good deal.
The previous-generation Scenic is a great family car with tons of space and seven-year-old examples are now going for less than our £5,000 limit.
The 1.5-litre turbodiesel is torquey but we would stick with the more sedate 1.6-litre petrol variant as it is likely to cost you less to maintain once it gets older.
This little car may be more hatchback than SUV but it still looks the part and you can even get it with all-wheel-drive if you plan on heading off the beaten track.
Even if you aren’t, the increased ride-height and chunky looks give it a purposeful look and the 118 bhp 1.6-litre engine is capable enough for most tasks.
Look for 2013 model year cars as most will fall in under our budget.