June owns a very tired and well-travelled 1992 Daihatsu Charade which has suffered a major engine failure, and could initially cost her $1600 in repairs.
She was told by her local garage the engine seized due to loss of water and repairs were going to be more than the car's total value.
Options she has been given are to fit a second-hand engine plus reconditioning of the entire cooling system - or to scrap the vehicle for a few hundred dollars and buy something else.
June is financially stretched to come up with the estimated costs of repairs. "This has come at the worst possible time for me and I am at a loss to know what to do," says June. Should she spend the money on an old car or look to borrow more money and update to a later model, she asks Driven. The Budget: $5000
Well June, old vehicles can provide basic A to B transport until the day they start to give major trouble. You have to keep a close eye on levels such as oil and water to extend an engine's life.
If levels do start to drop sharply, a visit to the local garage is recommended.
I think the local garage is spot on with their assessment of costs and options in this case. I'm sure they have also highlighted the additional risks associated with sourcing and fitting any second-hand power unit.
So what are the other options on a limited budget?
Well, any half-decent vehicle upgrades are going to involve spending upwards of your budget, and even then you could be inheriting future problems.
If you live close to reliable public transport one option is to try to do without your own vehicle while you recover financially. Savings would include not having to pay registration, insurance, warrant of fitness, fuel, service and any unexpected repair costs.
If that's not an option, then here's a list of what not to look for in a replacement vehicle. Avoid anything with a turbo-charged engine, modified, travelled over 200,000 kilometres, a vague service history and more than four cylinders.
So, keep it simple, with older Japanese brands the obvious choice.
Honda Civic sedan (1997)
Honda Civic sedan
As basic as they come but very reliable if some sort of past servicing has been attempted. NZ new models are a local build which is not a bad option as the LXi was the base model with no frills. Used imports of a similar age are more likely to have a higher specification level which can potentially mean more things to go wrong.
Toyota Platz sedan (2002)
This used import would never win a beauty competition but when buying on a low budget it's once again not a bad option as it helps keep prices down. It's also a big step up in age from the Charade and has that Toyota tag of reliability. A couple of airbags and ABS brakes also provide some basic safety comforts.
Nissan Micra/March hatch (2004)
Micra is NZ new while the March is a used import. When sold new in NZ the Micra came standard with multiple airbags and was considered a very safe car in comparison to similar sized vehicles. It's another vehicle with a quirky body shape but a heap of fun to drive. Pushes the budget, but definitely worth a look.
Driven recommends Ignore the odd dent or bruise, it's reliability you're looking for. And get that trusty local garage to check out any vehicle before you commit to buy.