By on March 5, 2010

Autobraz writes:

Hi, The company I work for is transferring me to their headquarters in the UK. I wonder if you could help me by using the collective intelligence of the Best and Brightest for suggestions on which car should I buy once I get there. My knowledge of the UK auto world is limited to watching Top Gear episodes and an Aston Martin, Jaguar or Pagani Zonda do not fit my budget. What I am looking for: Space: enough for weekend trips with my wife and 3 year old son. I currently own a 1.6 Ford Focus (1st Gen, made in Argentina) and has been good enough. So I guess a hatchback is enough for me. Power: Economy is more important.

Again, my 1.6 gas (should I start saying petrol?) is enough for me. I am not sure which size of Diesel engine would compare or if it is worth to choose one instead of a gasoline powered engine. Status: couldn’t care less. Second hand options are welcomed but not being versed on the country and its people I would be worried to buy one. I feel comfortable enough buying second hand in Brazil, but I know the culture here and so I can avoid bad deals. Thank you very much for the help!

Steven replies:

While the Brazilian government has a love/hate relationship with car owners, the UK version is a bit more hate/hate. Your registration fees will likely be much higher. Gas will be about 30% higher… and the government’s ravenous hunger for revenues has resulted in a level of traffic surveillance that would make Syria and Iran proud.

If your neighborhood is in an area that is pedestrian friendly I wouldn’t bother. You would be far better off renting a car for the times you really need it, and relying on the well cultivated subsidies of public transport. There is a reason why Britain is no longer a global player in the auto industry. Their cars pretty much sucked almost as bad as their regulations.

But then again… if you’re willing to invest in the ownership experience (brave soul you are) I would stick to a simple plan. Look at what interests you, have it inspected by an independent mechanic’s shop, and do the numbers before you buy.  If you want more background on the car, just go to and the other UK car owner sites that can provide you with a real straight answer on good or bad cars.

Sajeev Answers:

In a previous life, I was a contract IT project manager for BP.  I lived in London for a month.  Which sucked, but not because of the location: much love to that pub that was a mere block from my hotel at Heathrow.  Here’s the point: I never missed owning a car, even when I saw some UK drag racing hoonage in the suburbs. So I agree with my esteemed colleague: you only need a pass for “The Tube” to go anywhere.

If you are living in a more rural/suburban environment, definitely go with a small hatchback with a stick. Even with disappearing subsidies, a used diesel mini is still easier on the wallet, especially if you leave the country before it needs servicing. But, for occasional use, I’d run a petrol motor to redline to make the most of my precious time on the road. If you like the Focus, by all means get another: they are everywhere in the UK and (from what little I’ve seen) command the brand loyalty common in Corolla/Civic owners in the US.

Not to go all Mike Brewer on you, but I’d buy a used Focus or Fiesta if you want to stick with Ford. I suspect they depreciate like crazy and you’ll have no problem finding one in good “nick” because of their popularity. If you want something sportier, perhaps a German Supermini fits the bill. But if you want basic transportation, stick with the used cheaper brands and enjoy the one fiscal pleasure of UK car ownership: depreciation.

Paul Niedermeyer jumps in too:

Autobraz specifically said he wanted something to drive on the weekends with his family. And he didn’t say he was necessarily going to London. From my experience in going back to Austria for extended visits, cars suck in the city proper, but if you you like getting into the countryside on the weekends, a car is the only way to go.

That’s the main reason most European city dwellers have cars: to get out of it! Oh, and Ikea and the hypermart on Saturday. The UK has an infinite number of beautiful places to drive and sights to see, so please take advantage of it, get a car and go see it!  The choice: Sajeev largely covered it, but if you like Fords, they’re certainly very popular there.

Since you’re anxious about buying used, avoid private party sellers, and stick to reputable dealers with some kind of warranty. I wouldn’t sweat the diesel vs. gas issue much if you’re just wanting something with which to get away on the weekend. Stick to popular engine/trim combinations in order to ensure a decent resale value when you’re done with it. Happy motoring!

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24 Comments on “New Or Used (Or Drive Vs. Tube)?: A Brazilian Goes To The UK...”

  • avatar

    First of all: thanks for taking my question! Happy to see a second post somewhat related to Brazil (first one was about the Fusca).

    Re-reading my question and your answers I see I could have given you more details. Niedermeyer Senior hit the nail on the head, though: I am not going to London! And after visiting it for a few days and driving for one day I am most definitely not taking my future UK car there. Tube FTW!

    The rental option sounds interesting, I had not considered it. It would be a strange new life to me. But I will stop here before giving more feedback. I want to check what the B&B have to say.

    Thanks again!

  • avatar

    Relatives in England just bought a new Kia Carens (Rondo). They like it a lot – very easy access, great space in the back. They drove it down to Spain and camped out of it. The small diesel has plenty of power, good economy, and is apparently very quiet.
    You mention that you don’t expect to need the car as a daily driver but for getting away on weekends or holidays it might be a good choice.

  • avatar

    Nick means to steal something. I agree that a used Ford Focus is a very good value for money auto.

    I’ve lived in the UK. These are my observations
    1) running costs are really high (fuel, license, tax, insurance as a foriegner)
    2) go diesel and small engine (they tax displacement)
    3) If you’re in greater london, forget about having a car it’s just nor worth it
    4) parking spots are small and hard to find, again a smaller car is better
    5) people have little qualms bashing your car about. The amount of damaged cars on the street is staggering

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    I’m an American and have lived in the UK twice, once for 7 years (tho it was almost 2 decades ago now), but I do get back for “holidays” to see the sister-in-laws, etc.

    As a car guy who has been there, done that (my first car in the UK 25 or so years ago was a very decrepid Citroen Dyane), I can tell you that if you are buying used, you might really wish to consider the British snob factor and work with that to save you some hard earned money.

    As Cammy of TTAC fame could easily confirm, Hyundai and Kia residuals are pretty low in the UK since most people are far more interested in that badge than they are engineering behind the badge.

    I had neighbours (Brit spelling) turn their nose up at my new cars which we bought cheap (Russian Ladas) because a) I was tired of used crap b) I had children and wife to house, clothe and feed – and the car was not an essential but a luxury/secondary consideration to the life we led. The thing to remember is that at least back then, fully 50% or more of the British car owning public had new cars provided to them by employers and so you saw small BMWs all over the place, for example…. and of course, Fords.

    Back to topic; if you are going to only put a few hundred to a few thousand miles per year on the car, going to and from the seaside or on “holidays” to see the fantastic sites, you might consider a C or D class “saloon” car by Hyundai or Kia, such as the Sonata, the Lantra (Elantra in the US) or similar Kia equivalents. Don’t be afraid to get diesel, as this will cost you quite a bit less to tax, annually.

    Another wild-card to consider very strongly, given that you are going to be doing the family schleping of kids, is the Hyundai Trajet MPV (minivan, to most of the rest of us), most of which were sold in diesel form. Plenty of room, not costly, etc.

    Here are a couple of websites to start studying what’s out there and what you can expect to pay:

    If you can plump for near-new, let me 2nd / recommend the Kia Carens. Just a tad smaller than the Trajet, it might make a great family hauler.

    But don’t forget the huge advantages of sedans (saloons) vs tall vehicles; motorway / highway MPG’s is better because of less frontal area. You want any advantage you can get. And avoid V6’s unless you carefully do the math/drive very little/can get the car dirt cheap, because the annual CO2 tax will murder ya….

    Did I mention that Brits vastly prefer hatchbacks, and so saloons (sedans) can be had for less money for equivalent cars, used?

    Here’s one example (and I have had marvelous experience with these cars – we’re on #3)

  • avatar

    fully 50% or more of the British car owning public had new cars provided to them by employers

    I’ve heard that because of that (and the snob factor)there is a vast oversupply of used 3-series, C-Class, A4s resulting in very low prices on the used market.

  • avatar

    Ther are lots of sights to see in the UK, but one a car guy should never pass up is a chance to visit the Aston Martin factory. When I went there, a few years ago, I was still working for Ford, and I had rented a Jaguar XK8. When I drove up to the AM engineering building (which is 1,000 years old), the badge let me simply walk in and have a good look around. Same with the “factory”. This was before AM went down-market and came out with “cheap” AMs.

    The museum of British cars at Gaydon is also worth a look.


  • avatar

    Just looked and a 2007 320d with 74k miles is £8,990.

  • avatar

    I rented a KIA Carens for two weeks in November last year. All I can say stay AWAY from that one. It was probably the worst modern car I have ever driven… Slow, not that great on the fuel, bad ergonimcs, ugly, cheesy plastic. The only thing that could improve that car would be a stick of dynamite.

    For a small family of 3 the Focus seem like a good idea. But as an Alfa Freak, I’d say check out the MiTo also, should be big enough and it has the fun factor!

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Re: the Escort, you’re right, Paul. But let’s not forget that families have a habit of growing over time…. and it’s cheaper to get something once than to trade and move upscale.

    But point taken and of course, even a Sonata is rather larger than he “needs” – but of course my points are still valid, I think.

    Bob also has a good point – there are plenty of ex-company cars for sale. I personally always avoided the daylights out of them, for the simple reason that they are treated about as “well” as rental cars anywhere else in the world. So I studiously AVOIDED these cars when buying used.

    Cars which are almost never seen in “fleet purchases” (i.e. Hyundai, Kia, Skoda) are much better value used because it’s almost certain that the buyer paid with their own money and treated the vehicle accordingly…. Just a word to the wise.

    And yes, a used Skoda would be far better than many other cars on the UK market today…. if you don’t mind VW type engines, etc.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Here’s an example of a low miles, one owner, saloon Skoda with low miles at an incredibly cheap price….

  • avatar

    My car ownership experience in England was in the previous century. I lived in a small village and bought a used Mini from the local garage, and traded my U.S. car for a Fiat owned by an American returning from his assignment to the UK. Neither car was available for sale in the U.S. at that time, so I enjoyed the opportunity to drive something different and both cars were more reliable than I expected. Do watch those registration / license / insurance costs as those affected my choice of wheels.

    I want to underscore Stephen’s point about traffic surveillance. England has thousands of miles of roads designed for the driving enthusiast, and it would seem that there are a dozen spy cameras per mile. I have not enjoyed driving in the UK in my recent visits the way I did in the 1970’s.

  • avatar

    Like you, I know most about the cars available in Europe through TV, magazines, and of course, TTAC. There was a recent episode on Top Gear where the hosts showed their favorite economy cars. Clarkson got a Skoda Roomster, which is probably too big for you. May got a Toyota IQ, which is probably too small for you. Hammond got an Alfa Romeo MiTo, which is probably just right. However, they mentioned that they forgot the Fiat 500.

  • avatar

    Werewolf 34 wrote “Nick means to steal something. I agree that a used Ford Focus is a very good value for money auto.”

    Actually in this case “in good nick” meant “in good condition”

  • avatar

    I lived a bit west of London in Hampton Court for a year. Drove a Ford Mondeo — a great car.


  • avatar

    Ok, I am getting more than I asked: very good tips on costs and UK things in general. I am glad I wrote to the right place!

    Let me summarize what I’ve conclude so far:
    – High costs, so getting the smallest, most economical car that fits my desires is a specially wise move if aiming to save some bucks on ownership costs.
    – Consider used Fords and Skodas, look out for company owned ones. I am yet to trust the Koreans, but maybe a test drive will change my view.
    – Temptations: getting a cheap used higher class car (BMW or the like); forgetting toughts of reliability and depreciation and getting an Alfa-Romeo – one uncle of mine would go crazy happy if I did that!!; forgetting the first conclusion and getting a Mondeo-like car instead of a Focus-like since used are so cheap (compared to Brazil at least!); only rent when traveling (only an option if I get to live close to work, not sure yet)
    – Whatever is the final choice: lots of places to see.

    As a side note, reaching back to Top Gear, if I ever need a supermini, I’d try the Fiat Panda. I remember May loving it.

  • avatar

    I disagree with Steven’s suggestion on renting when needed, as this is much more expensive in the UK than the US. For instance a typically days rental ranges from £30 to £100. Unfortunately unlike the US your credit card doesn’t provide insurance so you have to pay this also which means your really looking at £50 + per day.

    If you are based in a large city (and your wife doesn’t need / want a car on a daily basis) you could consider a car sharing program such as Zipcar (although I think they are only in London).

    As for what car to buy, don’t be afraid of used. Many cars are leased by companies for employees – typically for 3 years, which means there are loads of 3 year cars that hit the market – generally these have been serviced by dealerships with no expense spared. They are sent straight to auction and are brought by independent dealers. Typically these will be ~50% of the original price. Look at for listings. & for price guides. If you want a no hassle approach and a large selection go to a car supermarket such as Carcraft or Available Car (UK equivalent to Carmax) but you will pay more.

    I would agree that you should get something you can’t drive at home (especially if you’re in the UK for a limited time). How about a MG ZT-Touring?

    If you want to stick to what you know, buy another Focus, or consider the Vauxhall Astra, Mazda 3, VW Golf (Or better still Skoda Octavia). I’d strongly suggest that you get a hatchback or estate (wagon) rather than a salon (sedan) unless you’re looking at premium cars like the BMW 3 series – then I’d still go for a touring model (wagon).

    As for petrol or diesel – look at how much you drive, then look at how much more the diesel would cost over the petrol. Often you find you’d have to drive tens of thousands of miles to break even. A quick look on autotrader suggested ~£500 delta between petrol & diesel on a 3 year old 1.6 Focus, assuming mpg of 35 & 50 respectively and fuel price of £1 for petrol & £1.10 for diesel you’d need to drive 17000 miles before the diesel made sense.

  • avatar

    Having spent quite a large amount of time on both sides of the pond I’ll give you my two cents/pence worth.
    London – if you live there, buy an ‘Oyster Card’ or whatever its called and use public transport – it’s cheap, plentiful and relatively quick – but when you see rats running around in the Underground station just don’t get squeamish.
    Other than that, a small, well built, efficient and nice driving little car is the 1996-2009 Ford KA. Because Ford has moved up to the new model the older ones are now dirt cheap.

  • avatar

    if you’re buying new i’d add the skoda yeti to your list, it got a pretty glowing write up from evo magazine (the review isn’t on their website yet), the kia soul might also be worth a peek.

    secondhand you really can’t go far wrong with a 3 series of some sort but an alpha 159 would you’re right be a more interesting proposition.

  • avatar

    I have never lived in the UK, but have driven there a fair number of times over the last 20 years on visits. I’ve also lived for extended periods in Denmark. Based on that experience, I have three suggestions.

    First, a car is a great way to see the countryside. Rural England is lovely, and I look forward to seeing rural Scotland in a couple of years when I have a conference there. While renting a car for weekends might sound attractive, it’s a pain if you are living in country for more than a few months. You should buy or lease for sure.

    I lived in Aarhus, a fair sized city in Denmark, and while I could easily walk everywhere during the week, the ability to just hop in the car anytime I wanted to was great. Renting means you have to plan ahead, and that’s a pain. If you are used to having a car in Brazil, you should own one in England.

    Second, get the smallest car you can fit your family in. Yes, it will save you petrol but more importantly it will allow you to navigate English streets, lanes, and parking places. I have no idea how it compares to Brazil, but coming from the USA the clearances are mighty small on roads and parking lots, especially in cities and towns.

    Third, consider getting an automatic. I’ve found it makes driving on the other side of the road much easier. One less thing to distract you. You may pay a penalty in performance and milage, but at least you may not have an accident.

    One last thing – I remember reading that some new cars in the UK come with insurance for a few years provided by the manufacturer (Citroen comes to mind) to make the car easier to sell. You might want to look into if that kind of offer is still around.

  • avatar

    Now, I have never lived in te UK, but I have family there and watch a fair bit of britsh motoring tv. If you are looking to downsize and stil have some fun, I hear that suzuki swift is like a budget mini cooper.I believe it has 1.3 and 1.6 liter gas engines. There is also a VW Polo diesel. Going larger, I think a focus, mondeo, or 320d are good suggestions. If money is at a premium, older cars are great bagain over there as dealerships have to pay to recycle old cars. If you want more real car advice, you may want to check out fifth gear instead of top gear.

  • avatar

    You will need:

    – A car
    – Driving license
    – Insurance
    – VED (Tax disc)
    – MOT (Annual test required for all cars over three years old)

    My street has a ‘residents parking’ scheme which is not uncommon. Residents have to pay the local council £25pa to park on our own street with outside offenders being ticketed. When I last filled up yesterday petrol and diesel was the same price – £1.15 a litre which is US$6.60 for a USGallon.

  • avatar

    Lots of good advice here already but one detail that seems to have been overlooked: the “Golf class” segment is far and away the most popular here. If you don’t *need* a medium sized hatch, consider going for something larger or smaller (depending on your needs) as your money will go further.

    The Panda is certainly worth a look – they’re frugal flexible little cars and happily cope with long distance journeys. Alternatively depreciation on some of the unfashionable executive cars will net you a lot of car for a small initial outlay, just remember to factor in the insurance/tax etc.

    If the relocation is long term, then small and sensible would probably be the way to go, if you’re expecting to be here for less than a year I’d be tempted to pick up something fun but cheap with 12 months MOT and run it into the ground.

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