I like Auto Trader. Some of my most cherished moments were spent with a red marker pen and a mug of tea, scouring the small ads for cheap cars. Forget text speak, my second language features the likes of ‘FSH’, ‘T&T’, ‘C/L’ and ‘S/R’.
But today, Auto Trader announced something that surprised me. The Mercedes-Benz A-Class is the best car for new drivers in 2020. Wait, what?
If we were talking about the original W168 A-Class I might understand it. The car may have had its faults, most notably some ‘elk and safety’ issues, but it’s a good car for new drivers.
Prices start from around £500, so it won’t break the bank. The high driving position means you won’t feel intimated by Nissan Jukes. It’s relatively safe, despite the elk incident. Buy a diesel and it will be no more expensive to run than an Oyster card.
But Auto Trader isn’t talking about the W168. These are new car awards. A car costing upwards of £24,000 is the best new car for new drivers. I know I’m getting old – and this is a website devoted to cheap (and often rubbish) cars – but that seems nuts.
People into new cars will point to the fact that the majority of new cars are financed by a PCP deal, so the list price is largely irrelevant. Fair enough, but are we really suggesting that new drivers should jump straight into a lengthy finance deal on a car they don’t even own?
My first car was a Daihatsu Charade. It had more holes than an election manifesto, would probably kill you in a crash, and appeared to be made of Bacofoil. But it cost £30, so it didn’t plunge me into debt or set me off on a lifetime of finance deals.
Cheap cars are so much better than they were 30 years ago. A budget of £1,000 is enough to secure a car with airbags, ABS, crumple zones and traction control. If you’re lucky you might even get a car with functioning air conditioning and a place to plug in your smartphone.
Because it’s yours, it doesn’t matter if you kerb a wheel or take a chunk out of the front bumper on your parents’ garden wall. Call it part of the new driver experience. Start at the bottom rung of the ladder. Progress to a new A-Class, if that’s what you want.
I don’t have anything against the new A-Class. I’m not having a go at Auto Trader or the 180,000 people who voted for the A-Class.
I just think that we need to break free of the disposable culture and the need to drive something new. The rate at which tech has advanced since the turn of the millennium, combined with the number of ex-PCP cars on the market, means that there’s never been a better time to buy a used car.
A budget of £1,000 will secure a reliable small car. Head to Auto Trader now. You’ll find around 67,000 cars for less than £5,000. Of those, 2,000 were registered within the last five years. Still want that A-Class for £300 a month?
You’ll almost certainly enjoy a car with foibles and idiosyncrasies. The excitement of not knowing if you’ll reach your destination without a breakdown truck. The daily bingo of guessing which piece of trim will fall off today. Constantly clicking refresh on the MOT website when the car is in for its annual examination.
I wouldn’t change my experience with the Charade for the world. I appreciated it because I bought it with my own money. The driving instructor may have taught me to drive, but the Charade gave me the experience of what it means to own a car. I learnt to live within my means.
Now if you don’t mind, I need to look at cheap W168s on Auto Trader…