Entries in car blog (1)

Tuesday
Nov032015

Buying a car - Not because I needed to, but because I wanted to


I’ve bought a car. This may sound fairly mundane to many, but I live in London and owning a car in London is a commitment not to be taken lightly. Honestly, I’d put money on there being successful marriages which have required left effort than owning a car in London. I live near Wimbledon; a green bit with normal-sized roads and Tube stations above ground, and it’s still an expensive pain.

It’s not even as if I needed the car to travel anywhere. I use public transport for work and two of my three housemates already owned cars when I bought mine. The third has one now too, and compounding this further is my rather jammy job. I’m fortunate enough to get paid to review cars. It’s not every week, but roughly one weekend in every four or five can be spent using a free car, which gets me around and takes me 200 miles north to see mine and my girlfriend’s families.

But the thing is, I really like cars. I like everything about them and I have since I started crawling around as a toddler, chasing the Scalextric my dad used as a catalyst for what quickly became a lifelong passion. I watch car programmes, I read car magazines, I post on car forums, I listen to car podcasts and I write about the bloody things almost every day of the week.

So when I discovered how much cheaper supermarket loans are than those from my bank, I had to put the wheels in motion (ha ha). Credit checked (and Experian promptly cancelled a day before the free month ended), loan approved, bank account flushed with cash. Let’s go shopping.

My favourite hobby as a young teen was to flick through a copy of AutoTrader, back when you could still buy it in print, and fantasise over what I might be able to afford if, somehow, I landed a weekend job and saved every penny. The teenage car purchase never happened, but thankfully Mum saw pity and stuck me on the insurance of her Vauxhall Corsa. Anyway, the 2015 equivalent is to get online, set a budget, add 20% with some man-maths, get an insurance quote and away we go.

I’d set my heart on a RenaultSport Clio 182 - basically a tarted up Clio with a 2-litre engine - and specifically the Trophy version, limited to just 500 examples. I was - and still am - convinced that the Clio Trophy is an appreciating asset. They are a comfortable £2,000 to £3,000 more than the regular 182, thanks to their rareness and trick front suspension. But spending £5,000 on a near-decade-old Clio was just too much of a gamble for my first ever car purchase. One for another, no doubt more expensive, day.

Clio idea parked (sorry), I went looking for a Mini. I’d recently reviewed the newest John Cooper Works Mini, the hottest of the bunch. It was a riot, but with a face only a mother could love and a price tag, after options, of over 30 grand. But dig into the classifieds and the previous generation, the R56, can be had for a fraction of this. The Cooper S from this R56 generation (sold from 2006 to 2013) was in my budget. I found a few potentials on Pistonheads, but having no current car insurance meant test driving any for sale privately would be a palava.

After a week of searching I found a tidy looking 2007 model with the John Cooper Works body and a few other niceties like sat-nav, air conditioning and a panoramic sunroof. I dragged my girlfriend, Jess, 90 minutes across London on a sodden Sunday afternoon to view the car, which I bought there and then. A couple of quick phone calls to sort the tax and insurance, and away we went.

Thirty minutes later and the car pinged loudly, telling the tyre pressures were low and that I must drive slowly to a garage to top them up. This was joined by a strong vibration through the steering wheel, which was pulling to the left, and a noise which sounded like a flat tyre. I went against all my own advice in buying the first car I saw - and from a dealer at that. Would this by low tyre pressures from being sat for a while? An unfortunate puncture? Or something much worse?