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Best second cars: our picks

Need a second car in your household? Here are some top buying tips - and great candidates

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Do you need a runabout, something nippy but efficient, for the school run and local shopping trips? Many of us do. With so much choice, the trick is to narrow down your priorities and find the car that fits in with them. We suggest what to look for in a second car – and offer a few options for your shortlist.

What will you use it for?

Second cars are useful for busy families, especially if the main car is used for commuting. 

That main car is also likely to be the car you use for long trips – to go and visit family and friends, or on holiday even – so you don’t necessarily need a second car that is particularly spacious, has a big boot or a fuel tank that will take it hundreds and hundreds of miles without stopping to be refilled.

What you're looking for is likely to be relatively compact in size, but big enough to carry the kids safely. Luckily there are lots of cars that can do that – and even more so now that there are so many compact SUVs now on sale that also feel sturdy and have a raised ride height.

Petrol, diesel – or even electric?

Diesel cars have only ever been worth buying if you cover somewhere in the region of 10,000 to 12,000 miles every year. If you’re using a car almost solely as a runabout, diesel just won’t be economical. The other thing to bear in mind is that diesel cars take a few miles to warm up and, if you only make short trips and the car doesn’t have enough time to do this, you could be storing up expensive mechanical problems for later.

If this is the case, then petrol is what you should go for. Even better, consider a hybrid or electric car – anything that will run without any tailpipe emissions. You can rest easy, knowing that you’re contributing to cleaner air in your neighbourhood and, if you go for an electric car, you don’t have to worry about ‘range anxiety’, which is a concern about running out of battery. Again, the number of cars that fit this description is increasing year on year, so you should find something suitable. 

Safety first

If you’re using your second car for ferrying the kids around town, or perhaps for the school run, you’ll want to ensure that your car is as safe as it's possible to be. 

There are two factors to consider here: active safety and passive safety. Active safety is features that prevent a collision, such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB), which is also called by names like ‘front assist’ by manufacturers. Passive safety is crash protection features such as airbags, side impact protection, etc.

What you want to look for is a car’s Euro NCAP rating. This is the Europe-wide body that independently tests the safety of new models, so you can check how safe a car is by going to www.euroncap.comand entering the make and model where it says ‘How safe is your car?’.

Practicality

Your second car is there because you need something useful and usable on a daily basis, so you need to check out a number of its features.

How easy is it to park, for example? Is there good visibility out of the windows and mirrors? Are there parking sensors or even a parking camera to help you squeeze into tight spaces?

If you have young children in car seats, you’ll need rear doors that open widely, Isofix anchors for the child seat, even a rear bench that slides back and forth to adjust the rear legroom and bootspace.

And talking of the boot, is it big enough to get a buggy or pramin? And shopping as well? And is the lip of the boot low enough so you don’t have to hoick anything too high to get it in?

Our top three second cars
1. Škoda Fabia

Škoda Fabia

If you want a practical, reliable runabout, the FabiaFabia is a good pick. Škoda is very good at ‘packaging’ – making the most of the available space in a car – and this is true of the spacious-feeling Fabia, which also has a reputation for reliability.

2. Seat Arona

SEAT Arona

If you want a compact SUV, the AronaArona is a good bet. Stylish, well equipped and with a slightly elevated driving position, this is a useful and good-looking car that fits in well with the urban environment.

3. Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf

If the idea of cleaner, greener driving is your thing, the LeafLeaf will tick that box – and also give you a boot big enough to carry all you need for trips around town.