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The best second cars – good options runabouts or busy family cars

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

a red nissan leaf driving in a city

Do you need a runabout, something nippy but efficient, for the school run and local shopping trips? Many of us do.

With so many choices, the trick is to narrow down your priorities and find the car that fits in with them.

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 even go on holiday.

So, you might not 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 active 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 visiting their website.


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.

Think about things like:

  • How easy is it to park?

  • 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 boot space.

And talking of the boot, is it big enough to get a buggy or pram in? 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?

These are things you might want to think about.

Skoda Fabia

a red Škoda Fabia driving on a road

If you want a practical, reliable runabout, the Fabia 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.

It's essentially a Volkswagen Polo underneath, so you know what you're getting is tried and tested, plus will last for many miles.

Seat Arona

an orange SEAT Arona driving on a road

If you want a compact SUV, the SEAT Arona 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.

If you have a family, this SEAT is particularly appealing because of its well-sized boot and elevated driving position.

Nissan Leaf

a red Nissan Leaf

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

This all-electric hatchback offers silent driving which is ideal if you don't want to wake up your neighbours (or their loud dog).

In its top-spec guise, the Nissan Leaf comes with a 62kWh battery that offers up to 239 miles of range – perfect for most people's commutes.

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