You Don’t Need to Spend a Fortune to Enjoy Cars

At the time of writing, the UK government are going to announce a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. That’s less than a decade away. It’s scary to think that something that has been part of our lives for well over one hundred years, is beginning its final chapter. With this in mind and the clock ticking on dinosaur juice being used to power our modes of transport, now is the time for those of us who’ve dreamed of owning an exciting car or even been on the fence, to take the plunge and enjoy the freedom of the open road while we still have the chance.

Pick Your Poison

The great thing about cars, is that there’s something for everyone, quite often at budgets that are surprisingly affordable too. In this blog, I’m going to take you through a selection of different avenues you can go down, if you’re thinking of having fun on four wheels.

Road Trips

I’m a huge fan of the Great British road trip. We are so incredibly lucky here in the UK to have some beautiful scenery right on our doorstep and are equally lucky to have a decent, if not perfect road network, allowing us to access these beauty spots. Whether you live at the top of Scotland or the south coast of England, a quick google search will come up with a plethora of fantastic routes to suit everyone.

The big question is, what car should I take? Technically you can take absolutely anything. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a beat-up little Fiesta, over the course of a few days at the wheel, taking in the sights and sounds of quaint villages and spectacular mountain roads, you’ll grow to love that little car for what it is, your ticket to freedom.

If you’re after the wind in your hair and the fresh smell of country air then you have plenty of affordable options. My personal choice would be a trusty Mazda MX5. Solid examples of the second generation (NB) can still be had for under £2000 and are the most affordable out of the four generations. They’re reliable, cheap to maintain with a plentiful parts supply and put a smile on your face every time you get behind the wheel. These fantastic little sports cars are built from the ground up to provide a fun driving experience whereas other options are adapted from plain old commuter cars. If you have more motorway miles to cover on your journey take a look at folding hardtop cars like the Mercedes SLK or if you really want to relax, there’s a lot of Saab convertibles out there for not a lot of money.

Maybe you want a car that does it all, if that’s the case the hot hatch is for you. Enough space for two or more plus luggage and exciting enough to attack the roads when they get twisty. Again, with a budget of £2000 or less, you can slip into a Renault Sport Clio 172/182, Fiesta ST150, Suzuki Swift Sport, Mini Cooper etc. you really are spoiled for choice. These types of cars are just as happy doing the mundane Monday morning trip to work as they are scrambling for traction on a sunny Welsh B road.

Maybe that’s too fast-paced. Maybe the actual act of driving isn’t what you want out of a road trip. You want to set your route on the sat nav and cruise to your points of interest in comfort and luxury. You may need to stretch your budget to beyond £2000 here but there’s still bargains to be had. The Volvo S60, Jaguar S Type and a host of big BMW’s, Audi’s and Mercedes are available. Word of warning though, choose your particular car carefully and if you’re not sure what to look out for, take someone that does. These cars have depreciated heavily from their original selling price but unfortunately, the maintenance costs haven’t deprecated as well.

Track Days

Many people have asked me, what are track days? Are they expensive? Do you need a certain type of car? Well, in short, a track day is where you pay to drive your own car around one of the many race circuits up and down the UK. It’s a non-race, non-competitive environment, meaning you don’t need a special license, just a full UK car license. Prices range from £60 for an evening to £1000s for exclusive events at Grand Prix tracks. If you budget £110 to £170 you can have a full day, 9 am to 4/5 pm with a one hour break around midday. 

The types of track days to pick are “open pit lane” this means as long as the track is open you can drive on and off as you please. Other types are “sessions” where you are only allowed out when your allocated group gets the go-ahead. As for the car, pretty much anything goes as long as it passes the mandatory noise check! I’ve seen wacky contraptions that have been built in someone’s shed, £500 bangers on completely standard tyres and £100,000 plus track-only monsters.

As a beginner, I’d recommend just taking the car you have and seeing if you enjoy it first instead of committing and buying something specific. Obviously, if your daily driver is a 4X4 or a tall high sided vehicle I wouldn’t recommend you take that on track but any hatchback, coupe, convertible, saloon or even estate will do. There are plenty of guides online that will teach you about how to set up your car and what you need to bring but in essence, pay your fee, get your wrist band at the signing on building and have fun!

Classic Cars

The automobile has been around longer than anyone currently alive, meaning there are decades upon decades of history to choose from. Buying a classic car should be a very personal choice. It could be the car you dreamed of as a child, the car your grandparents once owned or one you’ve seen in a film. Quite often there is no logical reason why you want it but it’s the unique designs and how they make you feel that pulls at your heartstrings.

Classic car ownership is often more affordable than you think. Classic insurance is usually cheaper than on modern cars and if over 40 years old, they are tax and MOT exempt. Depending what car takes your fancy, many have gone through depreciation and are a fraction of the price they were when new, so as long as you’re not after a Ferrari 250 GTO or something else seriously exclusive, then the purchase price is usually reasonable. Certain brands or specific cars do command a premium but the best way to look at it is, there’s no depreciation to factor in for your car so as long as you look after it, you can usually sell it for what you paid for it. If you’re lucky even make a profit!

A few words of caution before you jump into classic car ownership, most old cars require more care and attention than newer cars so set some funds aside each month for surprise repair bills but buy wise and this will lessen the likelihood of any trips to the mechanic. Also don’t buy cars as an investment. Firstly the market is unpredictable and you can easily lose money, meaning that dream car on the driveway will be a constant source of resentment. Finally and in my eyes most importantly, cars are made to be driven. Manufacturers pour huge resources into making the best product they can and for them to be locked away gathering dust, is a sad way for many special machines to spend their lives. To have owned a car is one thing, to experience one is something different.

Choosing a More Interesting Daily Driver

The daily driver, commuter car or family bus, is the car that has to do it all. Most people buy new, or should I say finance a new car. This has its advantages, smaller monthly payments spread the cost out into more manageable chunks and there’s the comfort of a warranty in case anything with the car goes wrong and some people just prefer the new car experience. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, however, I believe the second-hand market has a lot to offer too.

If saving up a few thousand pounds is going to be difficult, why not see what sort of a loan you could get for the same amount the finance deal was offering? The advantage here being — you own the car outright once it’s paid off, rather than being trapped in the grasp of the dealership and letting the cycle of monthly payments continue after the current deal ends. Having some poor sod take the depreciation hit for you opens up cars we could never afford new. Higher-end cars often include more toys and technology and some even feature more expensive construction methods.

My own Audi A2 TDI, for example, is made of aluminium rather than steel, meaning rust isn’t a problem and it’s super light, enabling the car to average mid 50s mpg around town and nearly 70mpg on a run. Financing a new car that seats 5, room for the dog, £30 a year road tax and as economical as it is, a few monthly payments would take me over the £1150 I paid for it. Not only am I saving money, I have an asset that I can sell should my circumstances change rather than being tied into a contract, I’m also in a car that has a story. No car in its price point had ever been made from aluminium and neither has anything had the wind tunnel testing and aerodynamic shape of the A2, it was years ahead of its time. All that R&D, all that pioneering construction and all that money Audi put into the car can be yours secondhand for so little cash.

To find your perfect daily, write a list of what you need out of a car, how many people do you need to seat? How many miles do you travel? How much are you looking to spend on purchase and running costs? Autotrader, eBay, Pistonheads etc are all great places to look with filter tools to help pick out what is right for you.

When buying any used car I’d recommend searching the internet for a buyers guide. These often have checklists of known problem areas that you can print out and take with you when you go to view the car. Doing an MOT check is vital. You will learn a lot about the history of the car, what problems it’s had and could still have and you can tally up the mileage with what is on the clocks to make sure it’s all above board. https://www.gov.uk/check-mot-history is your place to look. If you’re really not comfortable with doing any of that yourself, ask a reputable mechanic to take a look at the car for you. They will charge a small fee but it could be worth it in the long run if they spot trouble.

Get out there and have fun!

Many of us spend a lot of our lives behind the wheel of a car and to make that a dull, joyless experience is doing a disservice to yourself and your happiness. There’s a car out there for everyone and there are always friendly, likeminded people willing to offer help and advice for whatever wacky motor takes your fancy. Cars are a great way to meet new people and to start conversations, they evoke memories and passion like nothing else. So get out there and create some memories for yourself!

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