Shoestring Motoring : Vauxhall Vectra `96 to 02

Say hello to Shoestring, our man on the ground sniffing out British made cars both new and used that offer budget motoring at the right price.



Hi folks, Shoestring here. When I’m not wandering the streets of Bristol in my flannel sports jacket, I like to keep my ear to the ground regarding reliable, cheap British cars both new and used. Some are rough diamonds and some are nothing more than a steel umbrella if you like. Reliable motoring doesn’t have to cost the Earth and I’m here to prove that, so lets start with a car that didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts… the Vectra

The Vauxhall Vectra – Model “B”


vectrasri front
Want a dirt cheap but reliable hack? Consider the Vectra – they aint never been cheaper.


Now now class… stop your chortling or its detention for the lot of you. The Vectra was Vauxhalls last UK built family saloon range that spanned from `96 through to 2002 and was possibly more famous for the Top Gear review than any talent the car itself actually had. Seen as dull, bland and boring the Vectra wasn’t the total failure the motoring pundits would have had you believe… not by a long shot.

The problem was the level of competition just sprinted ahead and the Griffin on the grille just couldn’t fly fast enough to catch up. Cars like the Mondeo, Passat and Peugeot 406 simply eclipsed anything that came out of Luton. The name and TV advertising didn’t help either as the car was almost heralded as something akin to the second coming of Christ. Had they have named it the all new Cavalier, I reckon continuity of popularity just might have spilled over from the cracking Mk3 Cav.

And yet it sold well into the fleet market and didn’t fare too badly in retail numbers, had a decent level of space inside, a cracking level of safety and security behind the metal. Thankfully, it did what every medium sized Vauxhall was known for… plodding on and getting on with the task in hand. Post 2000 models featured some handling and detail revisions as the earlier cars handling could at the very best be described as just about average.

vectra estate
Estate models look quite swish even today. You’ll possibly never find a cheaper holdall.

A huge range of engines that ranged from a petrol 1.6 through to a creamy smooth 2.5 v6 with more valves than your local plumbers merchant along with a sprinkling of turbo diesels in three body shapes catered for pretty much everyone. Saloons are very refined while the 5dr hatch offers a massive trunk and enough space for everyone else. Estates aren’t exactly Volvoesque in capacity but look pretty stylish even now while devouring most of the family clutter or rubbish you can throw at it.

Those with a cheap tool kit will find all of the 4 cylinder engines simple to service – even the cambelt is a fairly straightforward task to undertake. But BEWARE… these EcoTEC engines WILL NOT tolerate a forgotten timing belt and if they snap you’ll be phoning the breakers – that’s a dead cert. Keeping them on the road is blissfully easy thanks to ample aftermarket parts availability and plenty of them slumbering in the scrap yards.

All four cylinder ecotec engines perform well and can be frugal. Nice to work on too but beware of electrical gremlins, oil in the spark plug holes and be sure the cambelt / water pump are in good fettle – otherwise… its dead Jim.

They drive okay too. The 1.8 & 2.0 are surprisingly frugal on the petrol when cruising and to be 100% honest, this is what they excel at. Find the nearest never ending motorway, slip into 5th and just drive… and drive… and drive. Its reasonably comfy to just sit there and if the road surface is good the refinement is actually quite brilliant, the performance is punchy and by keeping an eye on preventative maintenance have all the staying power required to enjoy “drive & forget” reliability.

Okay so its not a cool car by any stretch of the imagination and the overall ownership experience is as exciting as Peterborough but as a distress purchase or something to keep you mobile for a while the Vectra is out there right now… and they are dirt cheap to pick to jump into and go.


Keep away from back street death row or lay by traders and sniff out the gems with private owners – there’s loads out there. Avoid the complicated 2.5V6 and stick with a decent 1.8 or 2.0 manual car to reap the rewards of cheap insurance, parts and servicing.

Post 2000 facelift models feature better level of kit and most will feature air-con (if you’re lucky enough to find it still working) Buying is simple…. grab the best one you can and go with your gut feeling. Nice private cars have nice owners… if you like the car and like the owner the chances are you’ve hit the jackpot

So What’s Good: All petrol units are swift and good on the juice – Easy to live with – Vast range to choose from – Estates still look quite chic – Parts availability is still impressive and plentiful – They drive much better than you think – Motorway pounding is effortless – Never been so forgotten means never been cheaper – Early cars are wonderfully DIY friendly to wield a spanner on.

And What’s Crud: Beware of the rear suspension rattling like trapped Pigeons in the loft – Timing belt condition is critical CHECK!!! – Be extra aware of crappy traders selling polished up rubbish – 2.5 V6 requires more than average DIY servicing competency – Watch out for corrosion, especially near the rear door inner arches – Cracked exhaust manifolds not uncommon but can be cheap to repair.

Pick of the litter: 1.8 or 2.0 manual LS or above trim from a nice private vendor. Post 2000 facelifted cars actually feel quite solid and sorted.

Runt of the bunch: Avoid “MAX POWER” wannabe GSi models that have been badly modified – Anything on a bomb site low rent dealers pitch… you’d gain less heartache by throwing your money down a deep dark hole.


  1. Ah I remember this conversation, the vectra was a fine machine in the same vain as a dyson DC02 cylinder vacuum cleaner, looks nothing special but does the job admirably and if looked after will last and last.
    The Vectra’s direct competitor the mk2 Mondeo, even though a much better drive they don’t seen to be as long lasting or refined now they are in there later years. Rust seems to be more of an issue on the Mondeo than the Vectra.
    The early Vectra’s have been decimated by the scrappage scheme and the few that are remaining seem to be well looked after by the retired fraternity, so do make a good buy when they come up for sale.

  2. A fair enough backwards look.

    I purchased eight of these for a truck dealer we once ran. Only one gave constant hassle and we traced that down to pilot error.

    . The 2.0LS I personally owned ran on to 300,000 miles before the bottom end melted. As the author states, keep an eye on the fluids and service schedule’s and they trundle on forever.

    We went for the Peugeot 407 after that what a massive error that was.

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