The best used cars for young drivers on a budget

Buying a car as a young driver can be tough, especially if you’re doing it on a tight budget. You want something that won’t cost the earth to buy or run, but ideally it ought to also be practical, reliable, and even fun to own.

Luckily even with less than £1,000 to spend you can still find all of these things if you’re prepared to hunt around and possibly accept something that may be less than perfect – perhaps it’s lived a hard life, or is in an undesirable colour and trim combination.

Your first port of call should be one of many websites that sells used cars in the UK. Cheap cars often hide themselves well, so you might need to hunt around a bit.

Our experts have done some of the hunting for you, and rounded up a few used cars you’ll be able to find for less than £1,000 that tick quite a few boxes for any young driver.

Mazda MX-5 Mk1 and Mk2
Used price: From £995

The perfect budget roadster. Why bother with a boring hatchback when instead you can enjoy a lively engine, sharp handling, and a convertible roof?

The MX-5 is definitely a modern classic so prices are rising, but you can still find a good example for less than £1,000.

Keep an eye out for rust – MX-5s are notorious for it and it may not always be obvious. If you can, find one with a recently changed cambelt and as with any used purchase, study the MoT history online and consult an expert if needed.

Ford Puma (1997-2002)
Used price: From £995

Capitalising on a boom in small coupes in the 1990s, the Ford Puma (the original, not the contemporary SUV) is a true gem of a used car purchase. Based on the mechanical components of the Ford Fiesta but sporting a great engine, cracking handling and a slinky coupe body, it truly is the best of both worlds.

Practicality isn’t a strong point and rust can be a bugbear but find one that’s been looked after and you’ll have a truly enjoyable car to drive. We’d aim for one with the responsive 1.7-litre engine.

MINI Cooper (2001-2006)
Used price: From £400

The reborn MINI became an instant hit when it was launched in 2001, not just for its style but for its exciting drive whether you’re going slow or fast. 

It’s both the perfect city car with its dinky dimensions and light controls as well as the ideal B-road blaster thanks to near-perfect handling and a torquey engine.

Buy on overall condition and don’t fret about the specification too much – MINIs of the time could be customised almost totally and so you may never see two the same during your search. We’d aim for the 115hp Cooper, not the supercharged 163hp Cooper S.

Ford Focus (1998-2004)
Used price: From £495

History suggests you can’t go too far wrong with a Ford and the Mk1 Focus makes an excellent choice if you need a little more space than a supermini or city car can provide. 

It’s almost the perfect small family car – efficient, fantastic to drive, spacious and practical, with a wide range of engines that’ll suit just about everybody. The sweet-revving 1.6-litre petrol ought to suffice for most, but if you can find an ST170 model you’ll have a brilliant hot hatchback that may even appreciate in value.

Fiat Panda (2004-2011)
Used price: From £500

The cheeky little Panda is a low-cost and compact way to get around towns and cities. Its small footprint is great for tight roads and teeny parking spaces, but its upright silhouette makes for a surprisingly spacious interior in which you’ll genuinely fit four adults (if not all of their luggage).

Our budget brings high-spec models into play, which means you’ll be able to get essentials such as air-conditioning and electric windows. And regardless of engine, the Panda’s great fun to drive, with a slick gearbox and entertaining chassis.

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