Prius beaters for under a grand …

By: James Ruppert, MSN Cars
August 01 2008

You might think that you need the fragrantly green mobile (Toyota Prius) beloved of politicos and celebs to save the planet and most importantly your pocket.

Frugal cars can also be cheap and cheerful and you won’t have to look truly stupid like all those G-Whiz owners coasting to a halt as their battery runs flat. We reckon you can buy a frugal car for less than a tank of petrol, that’s under a grand in case you wondered.

Life’s a gas…
Liquid Petroleum Gas LPG, has become the fuel of choice for those who don’t want to give up their petrol engined car for something rather more diesely. At roughly half the cost of petrol it effectively doubles your mpg. Often it is owners of large engined luxury and four-wheel drive cars who have more than enough boot space to accommodate the tank who pay for the plumbing.

It is a simple enough system, which starts on petrol and then immediately switches over to gas. However it needs to have been fitted correctly or you can have all sorts of problems, so if you can get the car checked by an engineer or garage who know their way around the system even better.

What we found in the classifieds…
Not surprisingly the number of LPG cars on sale at the moment seemed to have plunged as owners keep them, rather than sell them. We did though find a left hand drive FSO Polonez still registered in Poland of course for just £500. Should do the equivalent of 60mpg.

The classic option
We have this notion that old cars were slow, smelly and not very mpg friendly at all. The truth is that small petrol engined cars from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s could actually be driven into the mid 40mpgs with a bit of care and attention.

It helped that the cars concerned didn’t have all the gismos and electrickery that piles on the pounds of the modern motor car. Some may say that classics aren’t safe, but if you are only going to use it on local journeys you should be fine and anyway driving an older car concentrates the mind wonderfully.

Yes a classic will make you a more careful and frugal driver, plus you will save on parts too, as complete exhaust systems are £20 rather than £600. Buy a small capacity four cylinder rather than a big V8 to get the full benefit though.

What we found in the classifieds
1985 Mini Ritz that is cute as a button and had done 50,000 miles for just £950. Should do 45mpg.

Diesel shopper
Technology has certainly moved on when it comes to diesel engines and common rail has boosted economy and performance. If you don’t mind taking your time though the old school wheezing diesels are great, especially if it small and perfectly formed like an old ’80s, or ’90s hatch.

More to the point it will also run on chip fat or supermarket cooking oil, or just about anything oily you could lob into the tank.

What we found in the classifieds
1995 Citroen AX Debut 1.5D in tidy condition for £400 which should manage at least 60mpg.

Parsimonious petrol power
Just because you have a petrol car it doesn’t mean that you are throwing money down the fuel tank. For a start diesel now costs more, so there is not much reason to feel smug about driving a diesel. No, a small petrol engine in a smallish car is now a brilliant combination. You will need to choose your car carefully and study the official mpg stats.

What we found in the classifieds
1996 Peugeot 106 1.1L Escapade level 3, for £420, with wheel trims missing and rough body, which has a five speed gearbox and means it should get to 49 mpg.

Diesel workhorse
If you need to shift stuff, or people for work or pleasure then a van with windows, aka the estate car is the way to go and usually it will come with a diesel engine. Even within our tiny budget an injected engine will be affordable though you will have to put up with very big mileages. It’s a good job then that these engines are very tough.

What we found in the classifieds
1996 Volkswagen Passat 1.9 TDi CL estate that has done 132,000 miles, £800. It looked very tidy in blue and not remotely scruffy will return 52.9 mpg.

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