Older Car Trends

Older Cars in a Greener Light

Start Date: 3/7/2007

For the average man in the street, the words ‘older car’ conjure up a picture of rusty bodywork and smoky exhausts. Public perception, which many would say is strongly reinforced by the media and the motor industry, is that sleek new cars are vastly more environmentally friendly than older models, and those who drive less attractive older cars should be ashamed of themselves for the pollution they cause in terms of both air quality and aesthetics.

Latest figures on CO2 emissions from the SMMT show that the average new car in the UK now emits 167.2 g/km of the greenhouse gas, compared to the 1999 average of 185 g/km. This is an admirable reduction, as is the huge improvement in environmental performance by car manufacturers in the UK, whose production lines now consume only half the energy, produce half the waste and emit half the CO2 they did four years ago.

Manufacturers may nowadays require less energy to build cars that use less energy, but the fact remains that making new cars still uses energy, and lots of it. For every vehicle produced in the UK in 2005, an average of 0.6 tonnes of CO2 was emitted and 2.3 MWh of electricity was used. Herein lies the older model’s primary environmental advantage over new models: it already exists, so consumes no new energy at all to manufacture.

Choosing not to increase consumerism is the first step towards reducing a carbon footprint, and running an older car rather than a shiny new one is a step in the right direction for fans of a carbon-neutral lifestyle who can’t get by without a car. For those worried about slightly higher emissions/fuel consumption on older cars, it may be possible to cut an unnecessary trip out every so often, which will go some way towards redressing the balance.

Those who view all older cars as rusty, unreliable wrecks should revise their preconceptions. There are many good condition, low-mileage vehicles available, and there is lots of life left in these vehicles. Cars have been growing increasingly reliable for years, and where spares are required, the Internet has given rise to a much wider availability of parts – eBay for example has a huge Car Parts section. Many marques and models now have dedicated online forums, where owners benefit greatly from the sharing of information regarding common problems and fixes, sourcing cheaper parts, decent insurance quotes and so on. Older superminis qualify for reduced road fund licence rates by cubic capacity, and older 4x4s bypass the elevated road tax rates for new SUVs. Combined with low purchase prices, all of these factors help make older cars easier and cheaper to run than ever before.

For example, looking through Autotrader.co.uk, we quickly find a 1997/R Toyota Corolla 1.6 GS five door in Pearlescent Blue with air con, power steering, sunroof, alloys, 6-speed gearbox etc. The car has had just one owner from new and has covered only 54,000 miles. It has full Toyota history, is like new throughout and is on sale by a well-regarded independent trader with a warranty for under £2,000 or nearest offer. Even paying the small premium to buy through the trade, this car still costs less than just the depreciation which would have been experienced by someone buying a new Corolla 1.6 T3 five door one year ago. Furthermore, the manufacturer expects the 1997 model to do 35.3 mpg on average, which is within 5 mpg of the newer car. Hardly the gas-guzzling dinosaur some might expect. How much fuel would one have to use gaining just 5 extra mpg, to compensate for the CO2 and other waste emitted in production of the newer car?

The same cost savings are true for many other older cars. A trade acquaintance bought a 1996/N Toyota 4Runner 3.0 TD 4x4 via eBay last year for about £2,000. To date it has cost another £350 in routine servicing and parts, and has been across Europe and all over the UK, returning an average of 32 to the gallon, which is more than many new SUVs. The costs of buying and owning it so far are a drop in the ocean when compared to the thousands of pounds of depreciation which would have been experienced on a new 4x4 bought at the same time last year, plus nothing has been added to the environment by way of manufacturing emissions and waste production.

Car manufacturers, glossy magazines and TV motoring shows will continue to claim that new cars are the only way forward when it comes to downsizing one’s carbon footprint, but this is not the full story. Buying and running a well-maintained and fuel-efficient older car might not just save a bundle of money against buying the equivalent new car, it could go some way towards saving the planet too.

Market Trend

Manufacturers have reacted to the fairly traditional summer slowdown with some very aggressive offers on new cars. Whilst late used sales have been affected by the discounting, the rise in new car sales has led to an increase in part exchanges at dealerships, and these have been feeding through to the auction halls since mid-March.

All older car part exchanges tell a story about their ownership history. Small and lower medium cars often come through in almost new condition, with very low miles and full main dealer history, which suggests careful stewardship by one meticulous owner. However, the best condition one-owner cars do not always fit with what the market is ideally looking for at this point in time, so prices can sometimes seem very cheap.

On the other hand, useful family cars, like MPVs and large estates often look to have led a fairly hard life, especially with some of the lesser grade plastics used by many manufacturers, but because supply might be short on such vehicles at times of strong demand, they can fetch higher than average prices. This has been the case lately with these family cars being quite sought after, and many buyers’ eyes are off the traditional medium-sized car.

Following a quiet couple of months for small cars, it is difficult to pick out individual models worth mentioning. Nicely presented small cars with power steering and 5 doors have generally met price expectations. Smaller cars with just three doors and no power steering were less popular, and even the normally strong VW Polo has struggled slightly.

In lower medium, VW Golf is still a very popular vehicle, with many Mark 3 Golfs still looking very tidy, almost ten years after the range was replaced. A spotless 1998 Golf CL TDi estate with relatively low mileage recently sold for a very high price at auction, higher than private sale, but perhaps no surprise when one considers the excellent value for money offered by this superb vehicle against a fast – depreciating new car or a well-used older MPV.

Solid colours have also been gaining in popularity, and there has definitely been something of an adjustment to the more normal market preference of metallic. Across the small and lower medium sectors, when cars have been presented in solid colours in good condition they have done very well. Pillar-box Red in particular is a colour that is again finding favour, but only when not affected by UV ageing.

Upper medium and large saloons have been on the back burner this month, with no great interest shown unless the car was very tidy. Estates have fared better, with both estate cars and MPVs in demand in the run up to the summer holidays. Best MPV sellers this last few months were Alhambra and Sharan diesels when at or about average miles. Many of these cars seem to have come through long-term private ownership, so arrive at auction in better condition than many of the other offerings.

4x4s have been no more than ticking over lately but, considering this is their quiet time of year, it is better than many traders were expecting. Turbodiesel is still the power of choice in larger 4x4s and petrol-engined Range Rovers have been hard work, even when offered with huge history files and lots of very attractive pictures on Ebay. One saving grace of the Range Rover, particularly the special edition vehicles, is that most were fitted with air conditioning from new, and many owners have fitted underfloor LPG kits, which cut fuel bills by almost half while taking no interior space away. These factors add some justification for buying them in the summer months with lengthy, hot-weather trips to the coast looming. This rationale may prove to be of little or no consolation when the repair bills come in.

Sports, convertible and classic cars are all into their season and seem to be holding up well, but other prospects for the coming months look steady at best. It remains to be seen what will happen when already-stretched household budgets extend to either a family summer holiday or a replacement vehicle, but not both. One gets the distinct impression that the holiday may come out on top, but the next few months will reveal all.

John Glynn
Car Editor
July 2007