All four tyres have plenty of tread left and there’s even an unused, full-sized spare in the boot.
Can a 22-year-old, £200 Nissan Micra complete a demanding 500-mile road trip – or will it be marooned on the hard shoulder by lunch?
Allow me to introduce you to P289 BUX. It’s a 1996 Nissan Micra and, as far as I can tell, it is the cheapest used car in Britain.
We wanted to know just how low you can go when buying a second-hand car; to find out if, for the price of a single monthly payment on a leased Renault Captur, you could buy, outright and with no debt whatsoever, a functioning and serviceable car.
Of course, there’s no way I can verify that claim, but I do think I can make a strong case for my flaky Micra being this country’s cheapest car. We set ourselves some rules, you see, and within those guidelines P289 BUX was by a clear margin the most affordable car I could find.
The first of those rules said the car must be drivable and in need of no immediate work to make it roadworthy. I had to be able to drive it away. That meant nothing listed as ‘spares or repair’, or anything that required attention beyond the very basics, such as air in the tyres and a splash of windscreen washer fluid.
Rule two ties into the first: the car must have at least three months’ MOT. It would be no good buying a cheap old snotter, have its test run the following week and be left with something that required costly remedial work to get it going again.
The third rule said the car in question must be relatively close to home. At this price point, all the way down on the seabed, where it’s murky and the only living creatures use bioluminescence to navigate their way through the mire, every conceivable cost becomes a significant one. If you insist on buying a coffee on the way to the transaction, for instance, you have effectively added a few percentage points to the overall cost of the car. This will not do. Similarly, it would be folly to pick out a car at £150, then spend half that again travelling across the country to collect it.
Finally, says our rulebook, the car must be legitimately for sale via a public forum. Buying your gran’s old Polo for £20 absolutely does not count.
In light of all of the above, then, this Micra – from where I’m sitting, at least – really is the cheapest used car in the country. I spotted the classified ad within an hour or so of it being posted (Gumtree is the place to look for really filthy old sheds) and – would you believe it? – the car was a mere four miles from home. It was listed at £250, which was far too rich for me. I sent a message to the vendor bidding £190, desperate to bag it for something beginning with a one. He simply would not budge below £200. Oh well. Within 12 hours, P289 BUX was mine.
Other costs? I paid £85.25 for six months’ tax and bought a few litres of coolant to top up the reservoir. Let’s call it £300 all in, with insurance on top. Allow me to give you a brief walk-around. Rust is bubbling away here and there, not least near the rear numberplate. There are many scuff and scrape marks on the bumpers. The sills are pretty rotten. The lacquer is coming away quite enthusiastically on each flank, like peeling sunburnt skin. P289 BUX is best viewed from a distance of 20 yards, from where you can’t really spot those flaws but instead appreciate the Micra’s adorable two-bubble shape.
The interior is in remarkable nick, thanks in part to the seats having been covered for the past few years. There’s plenty of dog hair, though, but the previous owner’s Jack Russell – as far as I can tell – must have been a mutt of notable hygiene because the cabin doesn’t smell at all bad. The car had covered precisely 136,000 miles when I collected it. The vendor had owned it for nine years, which was encouraging, and most remarkable of all, it came with 10 months’ MOT.
I could hardly believe my luck. What’s more, my mum used to have a K11 Nissan Micra, so I’d be buying a car very much like the one I was driven to school in. The K11 is an historically important hatchback too. A bit of a game-changer, in fact, and for a long time the darling of driving schools. Today, the K11 is popular with grass-track racers and grassroots rally drivers because it’s known to be tough.
So what to do with it? Clearly I would have to use the car to prove the £200 shed concept, or otherwise. I could either run around in it for a month, or take it on a monster road trip and cover, in a single day, the 500 miles it has averaged every month during its 22 years.
And so, one fine Tuesday morning, I set off from home in Bristol and pointed P289 BUX east along the M4, not at all convinced it would even make it to Heathrow. At Reading, it took £42 in unleaded and in a matter of moments the car’s value rocketed by 20%. Somewhere around Slough, I began to relax. I had started the journey nervous and apprehensive, driving the car with the care and patience a mucky old snotter would surely require. Soon enough, though, we were keeping up with the German saloons in the outside lane and I was treating the Micra no more gently than I would a brand-new car.
We joined the M25 and headed clockwise, eventually peeling off onto the M11. We were on our way to Swaffham in Norfolk, where we’d meet Mr Bangernomics himself, James Ruppert. …read more