Best used car buys for 2020

Motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan looks at some of the best used cars that are value for money in Ireland in 2020.

The speedy decision by the public sector to close the Irish economy two months ago to fight the spread of Covid-19 has left the private sector aghast. The unemployment seasonally adjusted average of 5.4pc skyrocketed to 28.2pc by April. It’s a bitter pill when start-ups and fledging businesses are facing ruin. The ill will is made worse when the tax revenue from private sector funds the public sector in the first place.

Only the lucky few families remain unaffected. Moratoriums on mortgages and strict household budgets are being totted up on kitchen tables around the country. For financially stressed families the one elephant in the room is the expensive car that has sat outside the front door for weeks on end. It is a tremendous financial drain and may be the first on the list to be crossed off.

“Remember, the best car you can ever own is the one you own outright”

Having to hand back your dream car or give up the company vehicle is an emotional decision. Most of us like our cars and the perceived embarrassment of trading down is tinged with a degree of personal failure.

Take heart and cheer up. It doesn’t have to be like that at all. I’ve picked a few used cars that are classy, very practical, safe and reliable. Each car here can do the big miles without nasty surprises as long as you buy carefully.

They will be more affordable as you will either buy it outright or own it a lot sooner than your current car. Remember, the best car you can ever own is the one you own outright. My recommendation is to buy from an approved SIMI dealer and ask about a warranty. Ensure you get your own Cartell report and only part with money when you are satisfied with the deal, the car and the seller.

Volkswagen Golf – 2008 onwards

Silver Volkswagen Golf.

Do you know, we’d probably hug Volkswagen if it wasn’t allowed? The Volkswagen Golf is the perfect way to cleverly blend in when trading down as the styling changes with every generation are glacial. Therefore it’s hard to tell a Mark 6 from a Mark 7. The Golf is ubiquitous but nobody has ever looked foolish when buying or owning one. The Golf from the Mark 5 upwards makes a great used car choice. For a second family car they are unbeatable.

All the Volkswagen highlights are there – anonymous looks, solid build quality, ability to hit 100,000 miles while still looking fresh are a given. Volkswagen has been deadly serious about the Golf and for decades has produced every Golf to feel refined and surefooted. Take a trawl through the classifieds. The number of high mileage Golf from 2009 are to be found. I spotted a tasty 2009 MK6 Volkswagen Golf 1.4 petrol with 102,000 km automatic looking remarkably fresh with €390 road tax and fresh NCT. The price? At €8,950 it’s a steal.

Known problems: DSG autos can lose power and will need a software fix. Listen out for suspension squeaks – it may be dried out suspension bushes. Rev the engine – any blue smoke walk away. Check for rust. Always search for main dealer service stamps in the service book.

Audi A6 Saloon – 2011 onwards

Silver Audi A6.

Why confound the neighbours when you can absolutely blind side them? Step forward the fourth-generation Audi A6. Built between 2011 and 2018 the A6 exudes just the right amount of class to turn a motoring step downwards, sideways.

I would have picked the A6 Avant with the added practicability of an estate. Unfortunately for us, dealers also know how desirable the A6 Avant is and prices are on the fruity side of €17,000. We can do better and I came across a 2013 A6 2.0 litre TDi with 144,430km auto in black for just €14,950. This one was a minter and nicely straddles the A4 compromised passenger and luggage capacity on one side with the bluff enormity of the A8 limo.

The A6 is not a direct rival for the BMW 5 series in the handling stakes and ploughs its own road with a relaxed demeanour that will prove satisfying if you’re facing large annual miles. Indeed, many of the A6s advertised are holding high mileage so they’re well up to the task. The Audi A6 is a brilliant choice for the exec that is forced to hand back the company car.

The 2.0 litre TDI engine is a star and offers brisk performance while achieving 5.7 L/100 km (50mpg). It is a safe car achieving a maximum 5 Stars by the Euro NCAP car tests. Safety equipment includes six airbags, tyre pressure monitors and ESP. The fourth-generation Audi A6 is a sleeping star lurking in the classifieds. Not an Audi fan? Then look for a BMW 5 Series Touring and you won’t be disappointed.

Known problems: Gearbox. Suspension knocks. Check navigation screen rises and falls. Check the service book for regular service stamps and oil changes.

Toyota Landcruiser – 2006 onwards

Toyota landcruiser on a hill.

If you want to drive deep into the sand dunes, beyond the oasis and far into the rugged gorge hundreds of miles from civilisation you take a Land Rover. If you fancy making it back again in one go it’s best to bag a Toyota Landcruiser.

Such is the reliability of Toyota that the brand’s toughest vehicle fills an impossible challenge: replacing the premium family SUV with a budget SUV with bulletproof reliability and a lofty driving position offering enough room for the family. There are a few commercial Landcruisers (two seats only) for sale now for as low as €9,000 with 5 seats. No need to reach for the moon here; this particular one has nearly driven all the way there with 372,000km up on the clock.

Prices get more ridiculous with a 2006 Landcruiser Commercial asking a shade under €8,000. It might be just the ticket for the small business owner determined to buy a load-lugger that will replace a company’s leased van. Every Landcruiser comes with Toyota’s promise of clocking the big miles without breaking sweat. One last word of advice: if swiping through the classifieds never be tempted by a well-used Land Rover Discovery. They are enormously capable off-road but have precarious reliability and can cost a fortune to fix.

Known problems: Get it up on a ramp and check for off road damage. Corroded coolant pipes. Sticky brake callipers. Worn suspensions. Corroded inner sills are a problem. Check copper injectors. Always see the previous service items completed in the documents.

Hyundai Tucson – 2015 onwards

sand-coloured Hyundai tucson.

The Tucson has been a greatest hit for the South Korean manufacturer. A permanent fixture in the top five Irish new car sales it is a recommended used crossover SUV for the family on a restricted budget.

Prices start from €15,000 for a third-generation example. If you’re jumping from a BMW X5 or an Audi Q5 you will be disappointed by the grey interior but all controls are logically laid out and robust. A rival for the evergreen Nissan Qashqai it sets it’s sights on reliable family transport that will hold its value well when you move on.

A Tucson is a not a premium vehicle and every third gen Tuscon fidgets on the road and is firmly damped. Rear seats fold in a 60/40 split and drives with a degree of enthusiasm rather than outright vigour.

Where the Tucson excels is managing the daily family chores without a grumble. Objectively there’s not a lot that will excite when running any Tucson. Critically, for families struggling to make ends meet the Tucson will throw up few major service surprises either.

Known problems: Check for excessive clutch wear on the flywheel and slippage. A few electrical glitches.

Mercedes E-Class W124 – 1986 to 1995

Mercedes Estate.

The motor trade isn’t exactly populated with sentimental folk. They may get misty-eyed when you mention a Mercedes W124 (E-Class) in saloon and especially in estate form. They know that the old W124 was a hardy old slugger that scoffed at enormous miles and invented the term over-engineered.

Every engine and button is built with a solidity that does not exist in any new car today. I briefly owned a 1996 E-Class W124 and an SL R129 and no car before them or since then has been cheaper to run or as reliable to own.

One thing is unequivocal – I should have kept the E-Class longer and never have sold the SL. As for the NCT test they always sailed through it. If the family or personal budget has taken a battering in the past two months and there’s little left in the pot for a car a well cared for E-Class from the golden era is a consideration.

Find a pampered car with over 100,000 miles and it will easily do that again without any major repairs. I found a 1995 E-Class 200TE Estate for €2,350 which is ridiculously cheap. Stretch the budget to around €10,000 and source one through an independent dealer and you’ll have transport that will see the children through their teenage year and possibly far beyond.

Every good W124 should ride well, have firm supportive seats and have paintwork without rust. A respectable independent specialist should advise you of the car’s history and if they know the car themselves and vouch for its servicing strike a deal that works for everyone. A sorted Mercedes W124 is like an old armchair and will slowly win you over as the years roll on.

Known problems: Rust – front wings and above bumper. Get every W124 up on a ramp and look for oil leaks. Always buy an auto and check for slippage. Worn ARB bushes, front ball joints, water pumps are also weak points.

Written by Mark Gallivan

Published: 19 May, 2020