TRIED & TESTED / Suck it and see: Can anything cope with a filthy car interior? Our panel tests five compact vacuum cleaners

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The Independent Culture
IN THE fantasy world portrayed in car advertisements, nobody ever needs to vacuum-clean their car. It's scarcely imaginable, when Nicole flaunts her latest lover in front of Papa, that underneath the seats of her shiny Renault Clio lurk cracked ballpoint pens, scrunched-up petrol receipts and an unsavoury matt of fluff and hair. Nicole, no doubt, as part of the personal grooming that we witness in the current series of ads, has her car whisked away for a regular valet service.

Back in the real world, however, a car vacuum cleaner can be useful for keeping the detritus at bay. As well as being small enough to manoeuvre easily around the car interior, these hand-held vacuum cleaners do not need to be plugged into the mains.

We asked a panel of motorists to try five of these hand-held cleaners, ranging in price from around pounds 20 to pounds 50. They used them to scour crevices, burrow under seats and creep around fiddly corners to see which was most effective in devouring the dirt.

Four of the cleaners, which run on batteries that need to be charged for several hours beforehand, can be used around the house as well as in the car. The fifth, the Dirt Devil, runs off the car cigar lighter - less versatile, but it will run for longer.

THE PANEL

John Fordham, motoring correspondent of the Independent on Sunday; Katie Stanhope, researcher; Daniel Gray, chauffeur; Robin Blake, scriptwriter.

THE TEST

Panellists gave the cleaners marks for effectiveness at picking up the dirt, how convenient they were to operate, how good they were at getting to inaccessible bits in the car, and value for money. These marks were then converted into a best-buy rating.

**GOBLIN DASH

pounds 22.99

This was the cheapest device of all, and the best value for money - but its performance did not quite match that of our two favourites. One feature our panellists really liked is a display showing how much life is left in the battery before it has to be recharged. This model also has an extension for getting into nooks and crannies, and an upholstery brush. Two panellists criticised the Goblin Dash's weight: 'Very heavy and awkward - no good for a family car,' said Daniel Grey, who didn't find it effective at picking up dog hairs. 'Dash is probably not the right name for this machine - it's too cumbersome,' said Katie Stanhope.

**HOOVER DUBL DUTY

pounds 29.99

This cleaner has the advantage of picking up liquids as well as dirt, so it is particularly useful for people with children, who are likely to spill soft drinks in the car. It can be used in the kitchen as well. The Hoover is lightweight, but it has one annoying feature: 'The 'on' switch will not stay on by itself so the thumb can get tired holding it down,' said Robin Blake.

It also has no attachments to reach hard-to-get-at corners. 'This is a big disadvantage,' said Katie Stanhope, who had not cleaned her car interior since buying it four years ago. 'Without the attachments these cleaners are very blunt instruments when it comes to attacking the awkward bits.' John Fordham commented: 'This one has a shorter battery life than some of the others, so it is not such good value.'

**DIRT DEVIL

pounds 39.99

This cleaner, which faintly resembles a set of black-and-white checked bagpipes, was very effective at picking up dirt. Daniel Grey said: 'Brilliant at getting up dog hairs and everything else from the car.' John Fordham agreed: 'It has lots of bits to add on in order to probe those elusive corners that conceal sand, shattered madeleine cakes, pulverised crisps and so on. Ideal for boats and caravans, too.'

On the minus side, though, the fan belt has to be removed in order to fit the attachments, making it by far the most complicated to use. Katie Stanhope thought the Formula One-inspired image of the Dirt Devil both macho and naff. 'I thought I should put on an overall like a Kwik Fit fitter's to use this. The instructions seem to be aimed more at mechanics than at technical duffers such as myself.'

Running the cleaner off the cigar lighter means that it will work for longer than the others, but it can't, of course, be used in the house. One panellist, who did not spot the instruction that the cigar lighter had to have a 15-amp fuse, blew the fuse on his.

****BLACK & DECKER SUPER SPILLBUSTER pounds 27.99

This cleaner, which picks up both wet and dry spills, was a popular choice. John Fordham said: 'It's rather noisy, but it's effective and fast. Out of the three cheaper rechargeables, I would buy this one.' The panel also approved of the instructions. 'You can look at all the diagrams and the instructions at the same time, instead of having constantly to flick pages backwards and forwards. I wish other manufacturers would do the same,' said Kate Stanhope. The Spillbuster comes with a squeegee attachment for picking up spills, a crevice tool and a brush. Good value for money.

***ELECTROLUX SUPER-COMBI

pounds 49.99

This is a hand-held device that converts into a small, upright vacuum cleaner for tackling floors; what you do is clip on a larger unit with a long handle and revolving brushes. It runs for 20 minutes, which is longer than some of the others. Our panel thought that, as a car cleaner, it was effective and very simple to use. 'The Rolls-Royce of the rechargeables,' said John Fordham. However, you pay a fair bit extra to be able to convert it to an upright and, assuming you already have a vacuum cleaner in the house, it's not at all clear what you would use it for. It's not really robust enough to serve as a main vacuum cleaner, though it might come in handy when visiting a holiday cottage or doing a bit of cleaning for a son or daughter in a student flat.

As far as car-cleaning was concerned, the only unsatisfied customer was Daniel Grey, who stuck to his favourite, the Dirt Devil. He felt that, like all the machines except the Dirt Devil, the Electrolux one wasn't powerful enough to tackle the hairs from his German Shepherd dog or 'half the football pitch my sons bring home with them after every game.

Next week: ELECTRIC MASSAGE MACHINES

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