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Bangers on a budget: the best cars for under £500

Features | Published:

Looking for a budget motor? Here are some of the best cheap picks out there…

New cars can be very expensive to buy, and for those looking to simply get from A to B, the prospect of forking out thousands of pounds for a box on wheels can seem like a daunting prospect.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Dive into the low end of the used market and, despite numerous scrappage schemes in recent years cutting numbers down, there’s plenty of usable motors to be had on a complete bargain budget. We take a look at what’s in the classifieds for under £500…

Ford Fiesta

(Ford)

The Ford Fiesta has long dominated the UK’s top-selling car charts — and the result of that is there’s an absolute boatload of them on the used market.

A £500 budget will nab a well-used Mk V example of the hatchback at best. At this price, expect some bodywork dings and other aesthetic issues but there’s a good chance everything will be fairly mechanically sound. Rust is becoming an issue though, so check for any that may compromise its structure if you plan to hang on to the car for more than a few months.

Vauxhall Corsa

(Vauxhall)

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Much like the Fiesta, the Vauxhall Corsa has been a favourite amongst the nation’s drivers — be that those looking for a reliable runaround or a first car to modify with budget items.

Again, this means there are loads of to pick from and plenty are cheap. A Corsa ‘B’ or ‘C’ can be had here, albeit expect very high mileage and patchy service histories. There are a few mechanical issues to be wary of — most importantly cambelt issues which could easily destroy an engine if not fixed.

Ford Focus

(Ford)

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As far as ‘normal’ car icons go, the Ford Focus is about as good as they come. Released back in 1998 as a replacement for the Escort, it was hailed for its impressive driving experience and spaciousness.

With many on the roads, there are plenty of examples to be had on a budget. £500 will secure a high-mileage early example, and fairly-well looked after cars should be mechanically sound, even at this price point. Some potentially car-destroying alternator issues are known though, and automatic versions are known to have software problems that can lead to the car cutting out — so it’s worth checking these.

Nissan Micra

(Nissan)

First-generation Nissan Micras might well be the face of incredibly cheap motoring — and it’s not hard to see why. Though its looks may be questionable and it’s hardly going to help your street cred, these little Japanese machines are known to be reliable and very affordable to run.

This budget can easily grab a well-kept ‘K11’ Micra though, as with any Japanese-designed car from the ‘90s (though built in Sunderland), it’s worth checking for any rust that could compromise its structure and become very costly if you’re looking at keeping the car in the long run.

Renault Clio

(Renault)

Ok, so early 2000s French cars don’t have the best reputation for reliability in the UK, but the Renault Clio has proven serviceable enough to be a very affordable runabout.

We’d argue a facelift second-generation model would make this the best looking car on our list, and there’s plenty of high-mileage examples to be had in the price range. The list of potential issues isn’t short, though, with brake servo problems, faulty suspension, leaking sunroofs and a plethora of electrical issues all common.

Toyota Yaris

(Toyota)

The second of three Japanese superminis on this list — and the traits are the same. The first-generation Toyota Yaris is far from a cool car (with the exception of T-Sport variants), but it is near-enough bulletproof mechanically as well as ferociously cheap to run.

It’s not entirely without problems though. The gearbox is known to have synchromesh issues but these are very cheap to replace, while rear wheel bearings failing are common though again is this a low-cost fix.

Honda Jazz

(Honda)

Rounding out the Far East trio is the incredibly dependable Honda Jazz. It’s the same story too — not a headturner, but incredibly dependable. It’s not hard to find cars that have done more than 150,000 miles still look in exceptional shape.

Even at this price point, there’s very little to worry about — it might be the ultimate budget banger. Electric windows being slow to respond is a known issue and there may be some clunky CVT gearboxes out there, but otherwise a car that’s had any kind of care will be a sweet runner.

MG ZS

(MG)

So the MG ZS may now be just another crossover, but it was once a hot hatch. This beefed-up Rover 45 sports a fruity 2.5-litre engine it its most potent guise — though 1.8 cars are more common at this price — and there’s genuine fun to be had behind the wheel.

Ok, so it’s not without issues — at this budget you are looking at a shed that’s going to need a lot of work in the long run. But if you’re looking for a fun car to fix up on the cheap, it’s a real bargain — and one that’s quickly only getting rarer. Future classic? You heard it here first…

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