Car buyer's guide: Broke surfer catches a ride

By Phil Hanson

Ford Falcon EL. Photo / Supplied
Ford Falcon EL. Photo / Supplied

The dilemma
Meet Sam the broke surfer, Sam the impoverished student, Sam the guy who's gotta get around some way besides hitching or sponging rides from friends.

So far, Sam's life has been that of a chaser: chasing the perfect wave here, in Australia and Asia; chasing a zoology degree in a slightly haphazard fashion; and chasing whatever part-time work opportunities come along.

That last pursuit means he has a grand total of just over $2000 to put into an all-purpose car, one to carry his surfin' stuff, to sleep in as necessary, to carry his mates and for whatever else active 24-year-olds do on wheels.

A van would be good, but he doesn't want one; he's been off them since a mate was paralysed in a smash so he's thinking wagon, one that's cheap to fix, cheap to run and easy to flog off.

Thing is, there are dozens of possibilities, and what you get for $2000 varies enormously.

This trio of wagons is just a surface scratcher, but Carbuyer reckons they point Sam in the right direction.

The budget:
$2000 max

The shortlist
Mitsubishi Legnum

Really popular as a used import, this wagon version of the Galant is quite stylish, roomy for its size, easy to fix ... and fairly boring. But hey, when two grand is your limit ... There are lots of versions, but we're thinking of the good old 1.8-litre, manual or auto, and in the 1997-1999 age group, where mileages are typically in the 160,0000-220,000km range and two grand is plenty.
Around $2000

Ford Falcon EL
Biggest of the group and without doubt the thirstiest due to its big straight-six engine, the EL was the last of the "old" Falcons before the arrival of the AU in 1998, and some reckon that's a good thing. Lots of choices, from the luxury of the Fairmont to bare-bones fleet models. An EL with around 160,000-200,000km is easily found in the $2000 range. You'll also find some AUs around the $2000 mark.
Around $2000

Hyundai Lantra
Fleet buyers just loved the Lantra and some wept openly when production stopped. Nowadays, a reasonable number are on the market and we recently spotted a couple of sound GLS models with over 200,000km for around $1500. Make no mistake, this was a good wagon in its day and enough were sold to ensure that there's a reasonable used parts infrastructure.
Around $2000

Driven recommends
When you're looking at vehicles this old, you're mad not to get a pre-
purchase inspection unless you stumble across the one that really was just driven to church by a little old lady. It might be running fine now, but a huge repair bill could be just across the next intersection.

Whatever an inspection costs, it's peanuts compared with what it could save, but if it's financially a checklist too far, a fresh warrant of fitness inspection should ferret out items in need of imminent repair, including the rust that dogs many vehicles this old.

Any of the three will do, but if Sam's thinking of using his wagon to sleep in from time to time, plus carry all his surf stuff and his mates, our choice is the EL Falcon. His mates can chip in for the petrol.

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