/ Motoring, Shopping

How I mastered the art of getting cars for free

Toy car in box

Many years ago – as a cash-strapped student – I set myself the challenge of getting a car for free. You might be wondering what the hell I’m talking about, but trust me, it really is possible…

So how do you drive for free? By buying cars at the end of their modern lives (when they’ve depreciated as much as they’re going to) for very little cash, running and fixing them up for a few years, then selling them for a profit as they began to attain ‘classic’ status.

It was a game that I lost and won in equal measure – though one very special sports car did fund two year’s of college life.

Does it work with new cars?

It’s possible to do a similar thing with new cars too. Pick the right new car, and sell it on before it loses too much value and you should be able to keep your losses to a minimum.

One great new depreciation buster is the Audi A1 supermini – for the first year or two, it’s going to be so highly sought after on the used market that you won’t be left very out of pocket if you buy one and sell it a year later.

If you have more money to invest, you could go for a new Mercedes SLS AMG – it’s the modern equivalent of the legendary 1950s SL 300, and is certain to be a future classic.

Do you drive for free?

I have to admit that I completely lost sight of my own rules when I bought my first ever brand new car a couple of years ago. Even though I secured a hefty discount off the list price, the depreciation it’s suffered has proved eye-watering to say the least. At the ripe old age of three, it’s now worth less than half the amount I paid.

Have you mastered the art of motoring for free? Or have you, like me, also experienced a depreciation duffer? Tell us about your successes and failures on the forecourt below.


Top skillz!

My plan for many a year was to buy an old audi for about £800 and run it for 2 years then sell it. This was brought about by buying “nearly new” cars (with a loan) only to find that they often required work that required another loan. So sick of this endless money pit, I decided something drastic needed to happen. And it worked, for a time, until petrol became too expensive and the scrappage scheme forced many potential cars off the road to a premature death.

So, I had a 2L Audi 80 and 2 x Audi A4 1.8L, NONE of which required any work doing to them for the 2 years that I owned them. Considering they had to get through the MOT too, this was no small feat. Considering how badly I treated them and my lackadaisical attitude to servicing (whats the point, it’s old!) they performed miracles.

The 80 had frozen track rod ends – to fix = £700 – solution = buy remoulded tyres once yours have worn down unevenly!!
The 2nd A4 took me all the way to Germany and stayed there for 6 months doing a lap of the Nuerburgring Nordschleife in the process.

Now petrol is so expensive, I can no longer afford to run 2 uneconomical cars (my girlfriend has a saab 2L turbo) and so I sold my last A4 for £500 3 months ago.

So that’s my story, my next car will be a new one (probably a mini cooper) but I love driving old cars. There is always a massive story to tell with old cars and there are certain ways that it behaves that you have to build up a rapport with it. As in clutch, gearbox, brakes, accelerator, steering feel etc, they all give a car its own character which in my opinion, new cars are seriously lacking.

Incidentally I sold all the above cars for just £300 less than what I paid for them after 2 years of trouble free motoring. I can’t see that being possible again!

jack says:
26 January 2020

hi what car is it I will fix it your you

steve says:
20 May 2011

I am also into buying older cars. I have recently sold a Jaguar xk8 that had 2225000 miles on the clock. I owned it for two years after paying £5k for it. I sold it for £4k and spent no other money on it apart from the odd tyre. So for two nyears and Fiesta money i drove a fantastic sports convertable with full leather and wood trim with a top speed of 150mph. I recieves envious looks everywhere i went. Needless to say its been replaced with exactly the same model but 3 years newer.When I see what people pay for bog standard boring old hatcbacks I know for sure Iam doing it the right way.

judyowen says:
23 May 2011

Did it really have 2 million 225 thousand miles on the clock? how many times round the World is that?

jack says:
26 January 2020

how much

20 May 2011

The second part about new cars is a nonsense. It’s not quite the same to make money and to “keep losses to a minimum”!

Kevin says:
26 January 2020

Hi Natalia, I also found the advice about a new Audi A1 hard to believe. Just had a look one, new price £27,700 ROTR (ie you can drive it away, not admire it in their showroom), without add ons. The same model, registered Jun 2019 (but with some additional kit, so more expensive) and 7000 miles, £21,950. That’s £0.81 per mile just in depreciation.

Only way to not lose money on a car is to put lots of your own work in ‘free’ on a ‘classic’ and/or wait several decades for any rarity value to materialise (or not); at least with a painting, you can put it on a wall and not worry about rust etc.

Best approach is to simply buy a half decent used car at least 3 years old, maintain it well at a non-franchised garage (finding a good one is the hardest bit here) and keep it for the rest of it’s useful life, unless you’re a car enthusiast and enjoy unforseen and possibly very expensive mechanical or electrical problems which may strand you in the middle of nowhere with a steep bill to recover the vehicle.

John says:
21 May 2011

Nice article, thanks.

This might sound like one of Del Boy’s uncle Albert’s “Befowa the woa” stories because it was a while ago, but I bought a TR6 (2.5PI) at auction for £300. I ran it for 4 years / 70K miles, did nothing to it other than replacing the odd gasket, then sold it for just under £500.

Felt like a great deal at the time, but how I wish I could have afforded to keep it!!

That was all before auctions became popular with the general public, which has caused prices to rocket, but you can still get great bargains especially if you’re prepared to drive unpopular or outdated models. Citroen Picasos (with apologies to doting owners out there), for example, have been hammered out at rock bottom for years. My local auction was flooded with Toyotas after their first few recalls.

I know that some of you will be nervous about buying at auction. Don’t be. There’s a short cooling off period during which you can get a full refund. I use a trusted mechanic who can usually give my purchases the once-over at a couple of hours notice. I use that time to give the cars a good thrashing before they go on the ramps. Not been seriously disappointed yet, considering the cost.

(PS for younger readers: The TR6 was the last real sports car Triumph made. It was hot, with big wing mirrors so you could watch porches straining in your wake. Beware of anybody that claims the TR7 was a sports car – unless they’re hairdressers – in which case, just humour them.)

I remember a neighbour who, in the 1980’s bought a not very old but unpopular Talbot Solara at auction for £300. He sold it privately several years later for a profit..

My latest car, a Nissan Primera 2.2dCi T-Spec with all the extras you can imagine, 3 years old and 95000 miles cost me just £4200 private buy because it is an unpopular model, but basically it’s sound. It’s done 156000 now, does 50+ mpg for me and is worth about £1500. I don’t think 61000 miles for £2700 depreciation over 4.5 years is bad going for a modern car. The real savings will come if it keeps going for another three years or more without a major fault. I’m always happy if during the time I have a car it costs under £1000 a year in depreciation & unexpected bills. So far I have achieved that with, since 1984, a Talbot Horizon, Peugeot 309, Rover 420, Audi A4 and now the Nissan. Latterly I have bought 3 year old high mileage cars, but the Audi was 5 years old and I was surprised when it needed a gearbox rebuild at 140,000 miles.

I do This myself I bought an Audi A4 that had taken quite a nasty hit sold it in pieces (the engine and gearbox went back to Germany for a £300 profit over the price I paid for the car (£50)) in the end it was sold for £1500 and the body went to the scrap (when the prices were good £140 for he shell no doors or anything I stripped it to nothing) which then bought me a 1985 ford escort laser estate with an RS turbo conversion for £200 a 2.0 hdisx citroen xantia for £200 a mk2 transit recovery truck for £500 and a Kawasaki kx250 2 stroke 2005 model for £300
It can be done you just need to examine the cars before buying them to make sure you aren’t blowing your money on a trap

Any Orion? Any Orion? Any, any, any Orion? . . .

That’s awful, even by my standards… 🙂

How are you EVER doing it for free, buy car 1. at £30k and even if you get it discounted, say to £25k, unlikely but let’s assume, they would never ever sell at a price that could see it put up for sale the next day and make money even, so assume you hit the goldmine of cars and sell this one for £24k, you have lost a thousand, so in order to have done it for free, you need to get a car you can sell for more than you paid, the older it is, the more issues,more likely to break down, more odds and ends need replacing, and as for “drive it until it’s a classic” yeah, not gonna happen in todays tech driven,eco friendly world. What is classic about a gas guzzling project?

Because for example, take old style Toyota Rav 4, vs the new hybrid-no plug in,self generating energy hybrid that is, so the old one is going to be more expensive for tax and the older it is the more the fuel consumption, the longer you drive it the less of a classic it is, simply because a car has got to be special to begin with, iconic, something the average car or suv etc just isn’t going to be in 10,20 or 30 years, let alone 2-5.