Top Three... Family cars for under £3K

For those of you with a family, the car has long ceased to be a driving machine and is now simply a vessel to ferry your offspring around from ballet lessons to the rugby club. Here we list the three best ways of spending £3000 to make sure your chosen steed lives up to it’s job.

With all three of these cars, there is some general advice. The reason you are looking to buy one will likely be the same reason that the person who's selling it bought it, to transport little people around. As such, check the interior carefully, particularly the rearward seats. Although small and innocent, nothing has the ability to ruin a car's internals quite like a child. Another area to always check is on the bodywork around the rear doors. Look for white hand prints on the paintwork. These are caused by suntan lotion smeared digits and can actually eat into the paint if left.

3rd: Ford Mondeo Estate.

Favoured among travelling salesman across the country, the large Ford can represent a real bargain family car. Obviously the estate will have the same issues as the saloon but the extra boot space will be a welcome addition if you spend your weekends dragging buggies and bicycles around. The budget will give you somewhat of a dilemma. Within your reach at £3K will be a lot of the older models, (2001-2006), and the first of the newer shape, (2007-onwards). The advice for this is always go for the best car. Don’t be swayed by one being a more modern shape. You’re better off buying the very best example of an older car than the worst of a newer one. Offered in both petrol and diesel, manual or auto, there will be something to suit your needs. Things to watch out for are checking that the timing belt has been changed when it was due, (normally 100K miles or eight years), and making sure the engine doesn’t blow blue smoke out the exhaust under acceleration. Another thing to be wary of is the car’s former life. Don’t be put off by a higher mileage, as mentioned above, many were used as company cars so will have racked up the miles over the UK motorway network. However, these cars were also popular for the minicab market. One thing you don’t want is a car that spent many of it’s years doing airport runs and picking up kebab eating drunkards from night clubs. Obvious signs will be holes drilled in the dashboard for a radio and if the car is London based, check the inside corners of the windscreen for any residue of a saucer sized circular sticker. This will be the PCO compliance logo that minicabs have to display. Clutches can be horribly expensive to replace on these cars so make sure it’s OK and that the gear stick doesn’t vibrate in your hand when the engine is running and the car is stationary, (that’ll be the dual mass flywheel ruined if it does). Some of the later, higher spec cars suffer from stop-start problems but that shouldn’t trouble the models at £3K. Likewise later cars had metal TPMS valves fitted onto the wheels. These have a tendency to corrode and snap. If you are going for the new model, pay some attention to the rubber seal around the boot opening. These have a habit of leaking resulting in a nice glut of rain water covering the contents of your boot as soon as you open it on a wet day.

2nd: Vauxhall Zafira.

Based on Vauxhall’s hardy Astra platform, the Zafira brings a lot to the table. Nice spacious interiors with the option of a further two seats in the boot should the need arise, (although you’d struggle to fit two fully grown adults in them for any length of time). There aren’t that many common faults with these cars to be wary of. ECU’s can pack up which can be expensive but if the car you’re looking at has that problem, it’ll be easy to spot as it won’t run! The spare wheel is another trouble spot for the little Vauxhall. The earlier models came from the factory with a full size spare wheel and tyre. The trouble was that they we’re very easy to pinch so a lot of them were. Most cars now have an extra security measure to stop theft and the later ones didn’t have a spare wheel at all, (favouring inflation foam), but it’s worth having a look to make sure it’s there if it’s supposed to be. If you’re going for an oil burner, try to pick up the later 1.3 version. The earlier 1.7, although a good work horse can be a little on the thirsty side and is about as refined as a stag do in Bognor Regis. EGR valves can also be a problem to both the petrol and diesel models so make sure the engine light illuminates and then goes off shortly after the engine fires up. There should be a lot of choice in the market and £3K should net you a clean and tidy 06/07 model with a fine selection of goodies.

1st: Honda CRV.

Topping our list is Honda’s mighty CRV. It has an unbeatable combination of bomb proof Japanese mechanicals and acres of room inside. The boot is of particular note being considerably larger than that of most of it’s rivals. To further press home the family car credentials, the boot floor even lifts out and converts into a picnic table! £3000 will be the right amount to pick up a clean and tidy 2004/2005 car. If the budget can stretch a little further, then the latest of the Mk2’s, (2007) can be had for around the £4K mark. The Mk2 version is by far and away the best model to go for. There is very little in the way of downsides to CRV ownership. They aren’t famed for their fuel consumption and it’s better to go for the 2.0L petrol V-TEC engine rather than the slightly flaky diesel. The car came in both manual and automatic transmission, either is fine. In terms of mechanical problems, they are few and far between. Listen out for any knocks from the front end whilst driving, this could be a sign of broken or worn anti-roll bar links. Front tyre wear can be a little heavy also so look at those treads. The only other problem we’ve encountered is a ‘rubbing’ noise from the rear differential (this is between the two rear wheels), when slowly turning on full lock. This can be a sign of problems but more often that not, all it requires in a full fluid change to rectify this.

One to avoid: Fiat Multipla

In theory, Fiat's quirky people mover has a lot going for it. Off beat styling that appeals to those who want something a little different, decent interior space, even having the boon of a sixth seat, (it has two rows of three). However, a combination of lack luster performance, shoddy dynamics and build quality equal to that of a chocolate bar on a summers day, this really isn't the wisest place in which to sink your hard earned money.

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