James Ruppert: a reliable car is a great alternative to cheap airline tickets

Some emails I just love, such as this one: “James, I need to drive to the south of France, have transport for two weeks while there and then return. Not keen on flying. I wonder about buying a Volkswagen Passat Estate for decent ride, space for the kids and 60mpg for the 800-mile drive down. Will the sums add up? How old? Where to buy? What to watch for?” Lots of questions there from Nigel, so let’s have a go.

The used car story trope that is ‘a motor for the price of a train ticket’ is always a belter, and this time we have the added advantage of a sexy Riviera destination. Ultimately, though, this is a story about reliability and resaleability.

Personally, I would go for the great big Ford Mondeo, which can rack up colossal mileages. A 2008 2.0 TDCi in Titanium X spec with 134,000 miles and proof of a recent service is yours for £1999. Just check that the climate control works and the remote locking is doing its stuff.

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Admittedly, the Toyota Avensis is a bit of a bore, but it can be great value and shouldn’t break down. I was pleased to stumble across a revamped 2010 example that looks very contemporary, and I had picked a 1.6 V-matic T2 for ease of journey-making. It comes with a not inconsiderable 168,000 miles, but it will be fine. There were a lot of recalls for this generation, so best to make sure they have been ticked off. Otherwise, it’s just wear and tear.

A bit more fun to hustle on the journey across Europe would be a Mazda 6. These are also pretty damned bulletproof, but do be on the lookout for the usual Japanese maladies of recalls and leaky air-con. I went for the curse of the unloved diesel, as a 2010 2.2 TD TS2 with 179,000 miles for £1290 seems to be worth a risk. It has a history and lots of working extras and should be a perfectly comfortable way to travel.

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I agree that a Volkswagen Passat is a decent old bus for this sort of job. I’m a big fan of the diesels, so it’s easy to recommend a 2008 2.0 TDI Highline with a reasonable 120,000 miles. What a smart set of wheels they still are, and wonderfully practical, too. On a long run, it will do about 47mpg, and all it costs is £1495. I would be inclined to keep it after my hols, too. Proof of a recent cambelt change is essential and check the aircon hasn’t sprung a leak in the cabin.


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