Dear readers,

It has come to my attention through my column for The Winchester Scribbler newspaper that I know nothing about what I am writing. Month after month I condemn cars like the Volkswagen Fox because they have no soul, no passion and possess no appealing features that make you think ‘mmm…I want to own one of those’. But, the majority of students aren’t interested in the fact that the Fox has a weedy 54bhp engine, looks like a puss-filled boil, and is built by disadvantaged Brazilians. To them the Fox is reliable and modern, and it represents something that they can’t own whilst at University.

Scribbler readers have cried out in the past for me to do a piece on the cheapest, most cheerful and reliable car to buy on a student budget. Being a thoughtful and considerate writer, and furnished with a recommendation of the mark 1 Nissan Micra from a friend, I urged readers to rush out and buy one, only to discover that my friend’s Micra has recently suffered life-threatening engine problems and the windows fall out whenever she touches them. I’m sorry…I did my best.

However, can you blame me? I’m sorry but ‘cheap’ and ‘cheerful’ are two words that definitely don’t sit pleasantly together, and reliability on a small budget most certainly doesn’t exist.  When was the last time you thought ‘yes, I got a well-made, quality pair of underpants for only two and a half pence’? You can’t can you? Unfortunately in this hard and cruel world, you really do get what you pay for.

‘Aaarrrggghhh…’ you’re wailing, ‘it’s very easy for you to be so condescending of cheap, old cars, when you have such a modern car.’ You’re right – it is, yes, however, be under no allusions that I don’t realise how lucky I am. Do not think that I am arrogant, and neither entertain the thought that I do not know what it is like to drive around in a vehicle in which the stereo is worth more than the car.

On a recent trip to Sainsbury’s for instance, I was in the passenger seat of my friend Katie’s 1991 Ford Fiesta ‘Sunray’, and I was nursing a mental breakdown. Not only was I paranoid that a wheel might fall off at any minute and conscious of other road users laughing at us, but I was distinctly aware at how vulnerable we were in a car with no power assisted steering, no airbags, or ABS for that matter. I now know how awful it is buying and owning a cheap car, and I am in sympathy.

Most students’ car budgets range between 25p and £1000, and many students find themselves in that depressing situation where they have to sell Guitar Hero and their right kidney, and sign up to become an Avon Lady in order to afford a rotten 1994 Volvo 440 that is in such bad condition that pigeons would be embarrassed to be seen defecating on it.

Seriously though, the Government’s car scrappage scheme, which ended this week, has been the reason why so many perfectly decent cars have ended up being turned into shiny new baked bean cans. According to a Government report, 400,000 new cars have been bought under the scheme which has kick-started the economy and secured jobs in the motor industry. This is all very well and good, but 90% of all cars scrapped were between 10 and 16 years old – cars that would be perfect for you and your Guitar Hero.

What we are left with now, however, is a desperate situation for students; a situation that can be found if one takes a trawl on Setting my budget to £500*, I found plenty of big-engined BMWs, high-mileage Saabs and that mummy’s favourite – the Renault Scenic. What I did not find was insurance group-friendly Peugeot 106s or Ford Fiestas, or anything remotely suitable for a student. I even found a 1984 Triumph Acclaim – but this statement really only works if you are aware of how bad an Acclaim really was.

So, dear reader, what can I suggest if you are in this position, eh? Well, it is not all bad news as there are small, cheap cars out there if you look hard. You must, however, not be in a rush to buy the first car you see as you really will end up with a dog of a vehicle. And bear in mind that on a student’s budget, you are not going to get the most reliable car in the world.

But, the most important thing to come to terms with, is that your car is not going to be cheap and cheerful. However, don’t worry – that driver in the Volkswagen Fox behind you is driving a car that is neither cheap nor cheerful.

Reader, I’m off now.

*I must add that this is what I found on one particular day, and within a 30 mile radius of my postcode.

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