When we bought our first car, we weren't quite sure what we wanted. We were looking for something spacious, big enough to fit two adults, a dog and children, it had to be fuel efficient and affordable. Initially we tested out a couple of VW Passats but a surprise call came from a friend of a friend who was selling off his car as first owner. We ended up buying it and it was a 1999 Ford Focus 1.6l petrol estate. We were told by a mechanically minded friend that for whatever reason, the petrol versions were actually more fuel efficient than the diesel and overall less trouble.
With heat up to 35 degrees celsius and cold temperatures down to -30 degrees celsius, cars have rather hard lives in Poland. I've only done 20,000km (12,000 miles) over 2 years, so apart from a couple of longer distance trips, it has not had that much use really but it had 219,000km (130,000 miles) on the clock when we bought it and it's 13 years old, so it's only natural that we've encountered some problems.
Things to look for:
Rust - our car is a bit of a rust bucket, the Polish roads are constantly gritted during winter and it's important to wash the salt off the car but it rarely gets warm enough to wash the car in the winter (immediately turns to ice), so it proves tricky. Our but and under carriage below the doors are very rusty, with even a hole below one of the doors, there's also a couple of bubbles on the door. This is one of, if not our biggest issue.
Acceleration - Perhaps due to its age, there's not a great deal of acceleration in the car. Once it's going it can hurtle along, although it's maximum speed is about 180kmh (112 mph), so we would still look like we're dawdling in Germany! Getting up to speed from the traffic lights on a dual-carriageway can be a bit embarassing.
Brakes - The brake pads have felt spongey at times, the hand brake cable needed tightening but is now so rusty that it could snap and need replacing.
Exhaust pipe - Until recently the whole exhaust pipe was the original, now that might sound good but it also meant things began going wrong. It's still in good overall shape, particularly considering its age but we did have to replace the catalytic convertor which is not exactly the cheapest part.
Back windscreen wiper - Isn't as effective as it could be, it only really cleans a small part of the back window, which tends to collect spray from the back wheels when raining.
Benefits - Parts are cheap and it's nice to drive, it's spacious and comfortable in a cheap way. I like the design as I find modern cars too bloated looking. It doesn't seem to be in demand buy thieves and it's not posh enough to incur the interest of police. It is fuel efficient and burns about 6 liters every 100km (60 miles), however when it comes to driving on fast roads there's a huge difference in the fuel efficiency between driving it at 120kmh (72 miles an hour) and 160kmh (100 miles an hour), so it doesn't really pay to drive faster. I've never had any problems starting it, which is great as I've occasionally not had the time to turn it over for a week or so, the winters have been known to kill off much newer cars batteries but mine has so far survived.