Welcome to our new Q&A series How to Car – From those ‘In the Know’, I am James Batchelor and I am here to answer your questions on ‘Finding the right car for you’.
– Need some help finding a car that fits your exact needs and lifestyle?
– A car that covers everything on your ‘must have’ list?
– Don’t know where to start and some help is what you need?
You might think this is a question that lots of people are asking at the moment for all the obvious reasons, but in fact this is a dilemma that has faced car buyers for years. In purely emissions terms, a new car will always cough out less carbon dioxide than an older car.
In fact, since 1999, the European car industry has slashed new car CO2 by nearly 30 per cent. The average emissions of a new car sold in the EU, Iceland, Norway and the UK in 2019 were 122.3g/km – below the 2015-2019 target of 130g/km, but way above the 2020-2024 target of 95g/km.
If you study the numbers even more closely, average CO2 emissions for new cars rose 2.7 per cent in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. And the reason is people’s love for SUVs. Along with the obvious bans on the sale of new petrols and diesels in the UK coming in 2030, it’s for this reason car makers are pushing electric cars so much – the 95g/km average CO2 target is proving to be very hard to achieve. While CO2 emissions on average are rising, new cars still push out much less CO2 than older cars.
So, in answer to your question, the emissions of an older car are worse than a new one. Now, whether it’s better for the environment to drive an older car that’s already been built, than buy a brand new one and contribute to the enormous carbon footprint involved with building a new car, is a whole different question. Where you stand on this is something I can’t comment on.
Cars with a petrol or a diesel engine or a hybrid (which combines either petrol or diesel engine with an electric motor) produce carbon dioxide, or CO2, from a car’s exhaust pipes.
When you’re looking at a car’s technical data, that’s what’s listed as a car’s emissions – it’ll be a figure followed by the ‘g’, forward slash ‘km’, which means that’s the amount of grams of CO2 that are emitted every kilometre driven.
Broadly speaking, the smaller the car and the smaller the engine, the less carbon dioxide is emitted. And, conversely, and generally speaking, the larger the car and the larger the engine, the more CO2 is produced.
As already discussed in the previous question, CO2 figures have come down dramatically in the past 20 years, but some cars, even like-for-like models, are better than others. Of course, the amount of CO2 that a car produces directly corresponds to the amount of VED or road tax a driver pays. So, for pure electric cars that produce zero CO2 emissions because they don’t have an exhaust pipe, you pay zero VED. Between 1 and 50g/km it’s between £10 and £25, right the way up to cars emitting over 225g/km where you’ll be paying £2,245 a year – but that figure is for the very highest polluting cars such as super luxury and super performance cars.
You’re not alone here, many people aren’t ready to go out and buy a pure-electric car for a whole number of reasons, whether it’s due to cost or charging concerns, and it’s for this reason plug-in hybrids make a lot of sense.
Some people say plug-in hybrids (or PHEVs) are only suitable for company car drivers because PHEVs attract low taxation, but that’s not strictly true as for many people they can be a good stepping stone to going fully electric in the future. Petrol hybrids and petrol plug-in hybrids are way more popular than diesel versions, mostly because there aren’t many diesel hybrids on sale.
Around a decade ago Volvo and Peugeot offered this technology, but it’s now only Mercedes-Benz that offers brand new diesel plug-in hybrids. Whether you go for a petrol or a diesel hybrid purely comes down to your lifestyle. Petrol hybrids and PHEVs are perfect if you do mostly short commutes and town driving because you’ll be maximising the electric range and won’t be using the petrol engine. Once that electric range is depleted, you’ll be using petrol power, and because hybrids are heavier cars thanks to their batteries and electric motors, petrol consumption can be higher.
So, if your lifestyle involves driving high miles or motorways for instance, a diesel plug-in hybrid would be the best option for you, because these combine electric driving around town and then once the electricity is depleted, you’ve got a more efficient diesel engine to rely on. A word of note though, hybrids, particularly PHEVs and especially diesel PHEVs can be quite costly to buy.
Q: I’m looking for a family car no older than from 2014, and if it’s a petrol not more than a 1.4-litre, if a diesel not more than 1.6-litre. It must be five doors and have one owner from new with no more than 40k miles. My budget is £5-6k. Maybe you have something to recommend?
It’s great that you’ve narrowed your search down to a set of specific requirements. But in this case I fear you’re not being that realistic. For this kind of money, engine size and mileage, you’re going to be looking at something like a supermini rather than a family car. The classified websites like Motors.co.uk are chock full of Vauxhall Corsas. For instance, around £5,500, you could get yourself a Corsa Excite 1.4 petrol with around 30,000 miles on the clock. If this appeals then find one with air conditioning and hold out for one in good condition (they do exist!). Find one and it’ll be a perfectly decent car for you.
I have spotted a couple of larger family hatchbacks that meet your criteria, though. My choice would be the previous generation Vauxhall Astra; I spotted a 2014 car in mid-range, SRi spec, and that was priced at £5,700.
Family cars such as these are few and far between, though, with your criteria – a budget around £7,500 is more realistic I’m afraid. Hopefully that has helped and has not disappointed you too much.
Q: Hi, I am looking to buy a van to convert into a camper, are there any make/models you would suggest?
I doubt you are alone in thinking this, especially with holidays abroad being next to impossible at the moment, and staying in the UK can be a lot of fun especially if you’re in a camper van. Converting a van into a camper isn’t for everyone, but if you’re got the DIY skills or just the vision, it can be a very clever way of saving some cash.
Why? Well, van conversions can cost anything from £500 all the way to around £15,000 if you want a specialist firm to do it for you. When you bear in mind a brand new Volkswagen California starts at £55,000 you can see how you can save a lot of cash. Also, you are the designer and can style the interior just how you want it to be.
So, which vans are good for conversion? Well, a simple rule is look at the vans that are camper vans already, or are vans that are used as a base for motorhomes. Getting hold of a used van at the moment is pretty hard as they’re all being snapped up for the home delivery market, but one good van which is worth considering is the Volkswagen Transporter, which starts at around £4,000. They’re hardy, reliable and because a lot of people want a VW camper van, when you come to sell you shouldn’t have a problem finding a buyer. Prices start at around £4,000 for a 2000 Transporter T4, but prices are all over the place at the moment so widen your search. Two other good vans are the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and of course the Ford Transit.
Q: I am interested in the Nissan Juke for a little car for everyday use – nursery drop offs, food shopping, seeing the in-laws and travelling to work. I don’t really know much about the car, I am simply drawn to the style of it. Is there anything I should be aware of or is it the perfect fit?
Okay, it doesn’t surprise me you are drawn to the styling because that’s what the Juke has always been about – it’s a style statement. There is more to the Juke than just the styling, however, as it was one of the first small crossovers, so it’s got a slightly raised driving position in a car that’s supermini-sized – it could be the perfect car for your lifestyle.
In terms of things to look for on the first-generation Juke, built between 2010 and 2019, pay close attention to the seats, because they can wear quite badly. The parcel shelf is also very fragile so check for splits. Another thing to be aware of is the air conditioning – some cars suffer from air conditioning that doesn’t blow out cold air. It’s due to a faulty pipe which can cost around £500 to fix, so, when you’re looking at a Juke, make sure the air conditioning is working. If it isn’t, be wary when the seller says the air conditioning just needs a re-gas – it might be more serious than that.
Lastly, the Juke did have a number of recalls so make sure it’s had all of those completed. You can find out if a car has had its recalls done by checking the paperwork or speaking with a Nissan dealer.
Q: Hi, I have a 2016 BMW i3 that’s done 43,000 miles, but I need a car with a longer range. I love the car and the brand. I only get 50 miles on a charge in winter. Should I go for another REx or choose the full electric version?
That long life-cycle has meant BMW has frequently updated the i3 with larger batteries, which can be good news for people like you who need a longer range but don’t want to change into another EV from another brand.
The REx was on sale from 2013 and featured a tiny 650cc two-cylinder petrol engine that kicked in and charged up the battery when it was depleted. It was a good option for those who needed a slightly longer range than the pure-electric i3 (known as the 60Ah), which then only had a 22.6kWh battery pack giving an 80-odd-mile range.
In 2016, BMW upgraded the pure-electric i3’s battery to a 33kWh pack (now called 94Ah) which pushed up the range from around 80 to about 120 miles. Then, in 2018, the REx was axed and the 94Ah became the 120Ah with a much larger 42.2kWh battery giving around 182 miles of range. A sportier-looking and slightly quicker i3S also arrived with a 150-mile range.
Whether you go for a REx or another pure-electric i3 simply comes down to your budget. The REx models are looking temptingly cheap with prices starting at around £10,000, but you will encounter the same problems of a poor electric range in the winter even if you go for a later model.
For that reason, I would look at a 94Ah pure-electric i3 and these start at around £13,000. The later, bigger battery 120Ah models start at around £19,000. The 94Ah cars give the best blend of a decent range for not too much cash.
Q: Can an EV be used to tow? Many have the weight and power required, but what about real-world range when towing?
For those who want to tow a caravan, many would still be best suited to diesel or petrol power. Electric car sales are certainly enjoying a sharp rise in popularity, but you could say the technology isn’t quite there when it comes to pulling large loads for the majority of caravan drivers.
In many instances, electric cars are too heavy to tow. An electric Volvo XC40 for instance weighs 2,188kgs and once you’ve hitched up a decently-sized caravan you could be looking at a combined three tonnes. Not only does this put an enormous strain on consumables like brakes but, as you quite rightly point out, the car’s range.
There haven’t been many studies into this yet but one rather interesting test was carried out by Audi North America. They took an Audi e-tron hitched up to a 1,800kg trailer on a 500-mile road trip from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Austin, Texas. Normally, without a trailer, the car would have a claimed 241-mile range but on this occasion, it managed 100 miles between top-ups. That shows you what the extra weight and drag of the caravan can do to an electric car’s range.
Actually, finding an electric car that can tow is quite a dilemma too. Most haven’t been approved to tow, while the rare few that have include the aforementioned Audi e-tron and Mercedes EQC (which can pull a braked/unbraked trailer of up to 1,800kg/750kg), the Hyundai Ioniq 5 (1,600kg braked) and the Polestar 2 (1,500kg/750kg).
Q: My job consists of a lot of motorway driving and I’m beginning to think about the impact that holds on the environment. So, for my next car I would like to go full electric, but I would also need a comfortable ride for those long drives and a hefty range. Can you help? Also this would be a company car if that changes anything?
Going electric does not only have an environmental benefit but it can help your wallet too. Often electric cars are cheaper to run than a petrol or a diesel car but also they’re cheaper to tax, especially if you’re a company car driver. That’s because they attract one per cent benefit in kind in the 2021/2022 tax year and two per cent in the 2022/2023 tax year.
There are a number of new electric cars which can give around 300 miles of range, which is probably the level you’d need for stress-free long motorway commutes. However, for used buyers, the Tesla Model S still offers the best blend of affordability and ease of use for two very good reasons. The Model S was the first electric car to give a realistic 200-300 miles of range and as they’ve been on sale in the UK since 2014, there are plenty on the used market. And secondly, even though the motorway charging network is improving all of the time, the Tesla Supercharger network is still the best with in terms of cost and reliability.
The Model S is also a very comfortable car to drive, spacious and there are some real bargains on the second hand market. There are various versions of the Model S to choose from with the number in its name denoting the size of the battery. For the best blend of comfort and range for those long motorway journeys, I’d go for a Tesla Model S 75 or 85 and those start from around £36,000.
Q: Hi, I’m looking for a used car ideally in good condition and with no more than 80,000 miles on the clock and for less than £1,400. I’d like it to be economical on fuel and have cheap road tax, too. What would you recommend?
This end of the market is always popular and that’s especially been the case for the past 12 months during the height of the pandemic. Cheap used cars have been hard to come by and this is only set to continue for the rest of the year.
For this kind of money and with your requirements, you might be surprised at how few cars are available. But three cars crop up more than anything else – the 2005-2014 Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 and the Toyota Aygo, and they easily fall into this budget and mileage bracket.
The good news is all three cars can make excellent buys, and apart from some different headlamps, grilles and badges, they’re identical. The C1, 107 and Aygo were built (and continue to be built but the 107 is now known as the 108) as a joint venture between the three firms, and represent good value for money on the used market.
Despite the three cars being sisters, I’d go for the Aygo. Because of the Toyota badge, quite often Aygo was bought by older, more mature buyers and consequently they can be better looked after compared to the Citroen and Peugeot. These two versions were loved by students and newly-qualified drivers so they can show their age a little more. This is a pretty accurate generalisation, but a generalisation anyway; it’s a good idea to give a used car a good check-over before you part with your cash, and these three cars are no exception.
The 2005-2014 Aygo came with a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine available in two outputs. Both fall into the group 1 insurance bracket and both will return in the 60s mpg-wise. Servicing is pretty cheap too compared to other city cars and they cost no more than £20 a year in VED.
This is a very popular question and it’s not surprising considering we’re racing towards an electric and hybrid future. In recent years, a number of hybrids have been launched called ‘mild hybrid’, ‘full hybrid’ and ‘plug-in hybrid’.
Let’s focus on the most common hybrid, a full-hybrid (or sometimes called a self-charging hybrid) and this is what the Honda Jazz Hybrid is classed as. The biggest advantage with a hybrid is in normal driving you will get better fuel economy compared to a regular petrol engine. That’s because the car will be using a blend of petrol and electric power, and in most cases prioritising electric running – therefore you won’t be using any petrol. Hybrids can also be cheaper to tax because they, according to official tests, emit less carbon dioxide.
The disadvantages are hybrids can be more expensive to buy, and depending on which type of hybrid you buy, they can be slower to accelerate. And if you’re a fan of driving a car with a manual gearbox, almost all full-hybrids and plug-in hybrids come with an automatic gearbox or a CVT gearbox.
Q: I am thinking of replacing my Jaguar X-Type Estate with a car that is of equal length. I need a car that can carry grandfather clocks which can be up to 2.3m long. Unfortunately, I haven’t the money to get another second-hand Jaguar and so, I have been looking at the following cars instead.
Which of the four options above is better for my purposes and any downsides with the models?
I like in-depth questions! Well, the first thing to say is it’s great you’re considering estate cars and MPVs and not SUVs. More often than not, an SUV looks bigger but is in fact smaller inside than an estate or an MPV.
Let’s start off with the three estates that you’ve chosen. The Mazda 6 is a good car but, as its name suggests, it’s a Tourer and not a very spacious estate car. It has a low roofline which makes the car very good looking, but doesn’t help with space inside. With a 522-litre boot before you’ve folded down the rear seats, it’s the smallest of the estate cars you’re considering. The Mazda is the best of the three to drive though.
It’s much the same story with the Toyota as it’s not the most spacious with a 529-litre boot. It’s dependable, reliable and, as it’s a Toyota, it’ll give you years of service – but it’s not that exciting to drive.
The Volvo V60 has a very small boot at 430 litres for the 2011-2018 model, or if you go for the current model, you get a much better 529 litres, but I would overlook both for the larger V70. It’s the winner here for boot space as it has a 575-litre boot even before you’ve folded down the rear seats, and the front passenger seat can also be folded. It’s safe, dependable and still a classy choice, so the V70 would be the car I’d go for.
Q: When searching for my next car should mileage play a big part in my search? I understand the higher the mileage the more wear and tear there will be, but is it really a red flag? Could some cars thrive by going the distance?
You are right – the higher the mileage, the more wear the car will have. That is natural, but you shouldn’t worry.
A car with high mileage means the car has been used, which is good news. It means the engine oil has got up to temperature and is lubricated, and items like brake pads, brake discs are even the air conditioning system are being used. A car is meant to be driven after all.
In your search, you will inevitably come across adverts that say low mileage is a good thing. It certainly can be, but on the other hand, it also means the car has been sitting around for long periods of time – which is bad for a car. So, if a car is being used it’s good news.
But there is one big caveat here, though. Yes, while it’s good a car has been used – as shown by the high mileage – it needs to have been maintained properly during that time. So, check for service history, invoices, bills and a fully stamped service history book – proof that the previous owner has lovingly looked after it. If you come across a car with a high mileage and little proof of maintenance, you’d be better off going with a car with lower, more average mileage. A well looked after vehicle is what you’re after, not a car with galactic mileage that’s been unloved by several owners.
Lastly, high mileage is fine for the vast majority of cars, especially ones with bigger engines – 1.6-litres and above, for example. The larger the engine, the less stressed it’ll likely have been during its life. Small, city cars with tiny engines and high mileages could mean that the engine has spent a life being strained beyond its purpose, which could cause you problems.
Q: I’m looking for a second car so our budget isn’t exactly big (say £6-8k). We would like a small automatic, five-door that will be good for short everyday use. I say small but a good boot size is needed.
The Volkswagen Polo has long been a great little supermini and it could be the perfect second car for you. For this budget, the previous generation Polo would be in your grasp (2009-2017) – it’s comfortable, well made and still looks pretty classy too and hasn’t dated that much. The reason why I’d go for the Polo is it has a DSG automatic gearbox.
Volkswagen likes these gearboxes as they tend to give a smoother drive than conventional automatic gearboxes, and the DSG is a perfect fit with the Polo’s relaxed character. The DSG gearbox doesn’t like to be neglected however, so when buying make sure the car has been looked after. The DSG gearbox needs to have been properly maintained with oil and microfilter changes every three years – service history and invoices will be able to back this up.
This is nothing to worry about and if you’re buying a Polo from a dealer a good warranty should cover you if anything goes wrong – something you could say about most cars, and the Polo is no exception. Another reason why I’d recommend the Polo as a good second car is that because of its strong reputation and classy image you shouldn’t have any problem selling it in the future – there’s always a buyer for a used Polo.
The Polo has a good-sized boot for a supermini, but if it’s still a little too small I’d recommend a Ford Focus with a Powershift automatic gearbox. Again, this will be the previous model to the car that’s currently on sale, but it’s a still a great, fun driving car, with plenty of space and a nice smooth-shifting gearbox.
Q: I haven’t got anything specific in mind, colour/make don’t bother me, but I do have some specific requirements due to my lifestyle/work! I need…
An enormous boot (I have 70kg of dogs to cart around!)
Large back seats (I use a very large ‘block’ for work and it often doesn’t fit in the back of a lot of cars)
Low boot access if possible (one of the dogs only has three legs!)
Good on frequent short journeys
A car which immediately springs to mind is the Skoda Superb Estate as it’s perfect for those who care less about image but are more interested in the important things like practicality. It has some of the biggest back seats of any car on sale with plenty of legroom and tons of headroom.
If you do short journeys rather than long ones, go for petrol rather than diesel. The 1.4 TSI petrol will be efficient on fuel and is ideal for short journeys; if you need a bit of extra punch there are 1.8 and 2.0-litre TSI petrols, too.
The best thing about the Superb though is its boot. It has a rear bumper with hardly any lip so it’ll be easy to load heavy items or for your dogs to jump into the boot. The boot itself is enormous and one of the largest of any estate car on sale, and a number of dogs will easily fit in the back. There’s reason why the police like to use Superb Estates as dog units after all.
If you need more space, the Ford S-Max is even larger. Its rearmost seats cleverly fold flat into the floor, and because it’s a tall car with a low bumper, it means loading awkwardly shaped items is very easy. While it is a larger car than the Superb, the Ford is actually more fun to drive and comes with a range of efficient petrol engines, too.
Q: I have a small family (and therefore 2 car seats), a long commute to work and a hobby which might mean a bit of off roading. Could you recommend a car for such a lifestyle? I don’t want a big car and it has to be economical, but one with plenty of space for children and sports.
A: A small to mid-sized SUV would be my choice purely on account of flexibility. Not all SUVs have four-wheel drive – or all-wheel drive as it’s sometimes called – so in this case look for an SUV that has it and a decent ride height. If your hobbies regularly take you off-road, then I’d recommend fitting a set of all-season tyres as no matter how good a car’s four-wheel drive system is it’ll be useless in slippery, difficult terrain with the wrong tyres.
The Volkswagen Tiguan is a solid choice as it has strong, dependable engines and a roomy interior finished in quality materials. The four-wheel drive models are badged ‘4Motion’ and there’s even an Allspace model if you need more… errr… space. If you want to make your commute a little more thrilling then the Mazda CX-5 is a good choice as it’s great fun to drive. Factor in a well-made interior, good looks and reliable engines (that can come with all-wheel drive), the CX-5 is a great option.
My recommendation, however, would be the Volvo XC40. It’s a brilliant all-rounder as it’s comfortable, easy to drive and has plenty of useful tech on board. The XC40 also comes with a wide range of engines; some with all-wheel drive, and there’s even a plug-in hybrid model should you want one. There’s plenty of room for two child seats, and the boxy dimensions means there’s plenty of space inside. The boot is large, too, and most models get a clever boot divider which is pretty handy. Lastly, it’s a great looking SUV so you shouldn’t have any problems when the time come to sell it as it’s a desirable used car.
Q: I am looking for a ‘family’ car which will be great for loading the children and everything in for holidays in the UK, with lots of space. I am thinking of either an SUV or an Estate. What is the real difference between the two and what would you recommend?
A: An estate car is essentially a saloon car with a squarer, taller rear-end so you can fit lots of stuff in the boot. An SUV is quite often just a large hatchback but with a higher ride height and sometimes four-wheel drive. Don’t discount estate cars thinking they’re smaller than SUVs as can have just as much space inside as an SUV, and sometimes they’re even bigger.
A good example is the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate. It has a massive boot that’s perfect for carrying prams and holiday paraphernalia, and it’s really comfortable making it perfect for long family holidays. A wide engine range (from fuel-sipping diesels, powerful petrols and efficient plug-in hybrids) and classy looks make it an ideal family estate car.
If you want practicality and comfort but in a higher riding package then the Volvo XC60 is a good choice. Smart looks and a well-made interior that’s brimming with technology make it a very desirable family SUV.
However, if your budget can’t quite stretch to the super cool Swede, I’d recommend going for the Skoda Kodiaq. It very much combines all the good aspects of an estate car (long roof and big boot) with a mid-sized SUV (good ride height) in a great, value-for-money package. The Kodiaq comes with the choice of five or seven seats, it’s very spacious inside, easy and comfortable to drive and that higher ride height makes loading children that little bit easier.
Q: We are looking for an eco-friendly family car which has room for children but also for commuting. Can you recommend an electric vehicle that would fit the bill? It needs to have a decent range so that UK family holidays aren’t a challenge when it comes to charging!
A: The electric car market is rapidly changing and it won’t be too long until charging and range problems become a thing of the past. But, for now, these can be obstacles for many families.
They don’t have to be, though. The Nissan Leaf was the first mass-market electric car and it’s been the benchmark for the last 10 years – in fact, the Leaf is a perfect example of how far electric cars have come in the last decade.
The current model is a solid choice for families wanting to embrace electric motoring. It’s comfortable, roomy and if you go for the big battery 64kWh model, you get up to 239 miles on a full charge. Even in cold weather you should get at least 200 miles, meaning it’s good as a long-distance car.
The Leaf is starting to feel a little old, though, and that’s why I’d recommend the Kia e-Niro. This car was so popular when Kia launched it in 2019, Kia sold out of them in a matter of weeks and has only recently managed to get enough supply.
The e-Niro a great electric family car with a very realistic 230-mile range if you go for the 64kWh battery model. It has a well-made and practical interior, it’s comfortable and very easy to drive and has a seven-year warranty – no wonder why it’s been a sell-out star. That warranty is important too because even the oldest e-Niro will still have three years of cover should anything go wrong, which is unlikely as Kias are some of the most reliable cars on the road. And, when you come to sell, you should have no problems getting rid of it because the Kia e-Niro is just as popular with used car buyers.
James has been a motoring journalist for over 10 years and cut his teeth on the motor trade title Car Dealer Magazine, rising from tea boy to Editor. Since then he had a long spell at Britain’s best-selling weekly car magazine, Auto Express, and its sister title Carbuyer, first as News Editor and latterly as Editor-at-Large and Head of Motoring Video. During this time, he was also the face of Carbuyer on its hugely popular YouTube channel and regularly appeared on television and radio as a motoring expert. He’s now freelance and writes for a number of leading automotive titles, including Motors.co.uk, and produces low-rent videos on his YouTube channel. When not writing or driving, he’s scouring the classifieds for cars he doesn’t need.
September 9, 2021