Student Guide To The Best Used Cars Under £5,000

BMW 1 Series
BMW 1 Series - Photo credit: BMW UK

If you’re a student headed off to university for the first time – or perhaps returning for a second or third year – you may have decided to keep driving while you’re there.

Running a car is an expensive endeavour but it can be incredibly useful, whether you’re using it to get to campus and lectures or just for doing the weekly food shop for you and your housemates. But doing all of that in a brand new car is expensive.

Luckily for you, we’ve scoured second hand cars for sale and rounded up what we think are the best options. With an assumed budget of £5,000 – perhaps the Bank of Mum and Dad is helping out a little – we’ve looked at the best hatchbacks you can buy, which successfully combine practicality, comfort and style into a package that’s a little less tinny and insubstantial than a supermini.

Ford Focus
Ford Focus – Photo credit: Ford Motor Company

Ford Focus (2011-2018)
Used price: From £1,985

It’s hard to go wrong with a Ford Focus. One of the UK’s best-selling and most popular cars for a reason, it’s well-equipped, comfortable, capable and reliable. You can get into the Mk3 Focus for less than you might think, and our budget will easily stretch to a model with less than 100,000 miles on the clock.

Diesel engines were popular at the time but we’d recommend seeking out a well-maintained 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol, as these are perky and responsive engines that will also avoid potential future restrictions on diesel car use in city centres.

Volkswagen Golf (2013-2020)
Used price: From £3,950

For many, a Volkswagen Golf is the archetypal hatchback – and we think the Mk7 model, produced until 2020, is the archetypal Golf. This is a car that oozes thorough design and quiet classiness from every pore. It’s comfortable, well screwed-together and even quite handsome, with a practical interior and boot.

Volkswagen Golf
Volkswagen Golf – Photo credit: Volkswagen

Diesel models will have been subject to the heavily publicised ‘Dieselgate’ scandal and therefore require a fix under warranty – make sure this has been undertaken or opt for a petrol model instead. Our budget will likely include a lot of high-mileage heroes, but don’t be scared off – these cars wear their miles well.

Vauxhall Astra (2015-present)
Used price: From £4,495

Coming in closer to the top of our budget and so with less choice, an Astra is still a very sound option even if it’s not quite so much of a desirable one. More practical and better to drive than people give it credit for, many models will have been fleet cars – so you’re assured that they’ve been well maintained.

The 1.6-litre CDTi diesel you’ll find the most of in your search is well worth opting for. Vauxhall calls it a ‘Whisper’ diesel, and it really is very refined. It’s also efficient, though the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol model is a good alternative if you’re avoiding diesel. Our budget easily stretches to top-spec Elite Nav models, too.

Vauxhall Astra
Vauxhall Astra – Photo credit: Vauxhall

Honda Civic (2012-2017)
Used price: From £1,800

Honda has a strong reputation for reliability and efficiency and as a result its Civic hatchback is the ideal car for any student who’s on a tight maintenance budget – these cars quite often outlive their owners. The Civic is also immensely practical, with a huge boot and cleverly folding ‘Magic’ seats.

You’ll find some models powered by a 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel engine, but we’d recommend looking for those that use a 1.6-litre i-DTEC – it’s quieter and fantastically efficient. It’s just a shame the fire breathing Civic Type R hot hatchback isn’t within our budget…

BMW 1 Series
Used price: From £2,650

If you’re a particularly keen driver, or you just want a car with a premium badge, the BMW 1-Series makes a sound used buy. Even in its most basic 116i petrol or 116d diesel form, you’ll be treated to sharp steering, a slick gearbox and the inherent balance of a rear-wheel drive chassis.

Practicality is limited, and the posh badge means insurance costs will likely be higher than usual. You’ll also want to search for a model that’s been very well maintained, preferably by a BMW garage. Happily, every engine is excellent, so simply buy on condition and cost and opt for the most powerful engine you can afford.

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