ROSEMARY PARHAM wants a car to share with her partner in far-flung South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. In that wonderful, though windswept, location vehicle paintwork gets a savaging from the salt- laden air and the roads are mainly single lane with passing places. Rosemary is six feet two and her partner is five feet two and they also require the rear seats to fold down to give large boot area. Only used for short journeys, 50 miles or less, their cash limit is 8K.

Rosemary and partner need a tough, reliable and spacious vehicle, which could probably benefit from four-wheel drive. Sea air certainly does have a corrosive effect and it isn't just the bodywork. Most cars have a 10- 12 year warranties on bodywork and rust isn't the issue it used to be. Other components though will have a shorter life, such as exhausts and particularly some electrical components and sensors could malfunction if exposed to salty water. Rosemary should always embark on a programme of rigorous regular maintenance.

Greasing battery terminals to stop corrosion, regular pressure washes and waxing will all help keep the vehicle in tiptop condition. A reliable local mechanic is essential and this may even influence the type of car selected. If they specialise in a particular make it would be wise to take their advice on what would be best for the conditions especially when it comes to spares availability and containable running costs. Four- wheel-drive would certainly be useful in such an area, especially in those narrow lanes when going into a muddy pasture to let someone pass is the norm.

A car for the head

With the older model V70, built from 1996 to 2000, there are traditional Volvo appeal and values here - big, safe and sound with bags of room. Safety, refinement and solidity are the obvious reasons for buying this, but it is also a very stylish way to shift loads. The Volvo estate has been the largest in its class and it depreciates fast. 1998 to 1999 models are around pounds 6000. Comfy with plenty of head and legroom, the seats are very good. Obviously it is very practical, with good estate load bay and sizeable boot. Dull trim perhaps, but overall a quality feel to it all.

There are plenty of decent engine options and none seem to struggle with the 70's size, or weight from the 2.0 litre upwards. 2.5 is the best all rounder being flexible and refined. The XC version is rare and has four- wheel drive and a higher ride height. It is not a hardcore off-roader, but has the traction to get drivers out of trouble. Volvos are famed for amassing huge, trouble free mileages and the 70s range is proving to be no exception. Just look for signs of hard use and abuse.

A car for the heart

There is no way to adequately describe just how good the Subaru Legacy is. In pure practicality terms the load bay may be spacious, but it is a tad narrow. There is no denying that it is comfortable, well ventilated and sturdily built. Another criticism is that the trim and materials are dull if durable.

No, the real appeal is the build quality and technology. It has the ability to extricate itself from a muddy field, or negotiate a snow-bound road thanks to permanent four-wheel drive technology. The Outback variant has eight inches of ground clearance and fatter tyres so it can cope better than most with the rough stuff, yet still be very refined on the road.

Parts prices are high; but then again owners don't need to worry about buying them very often. The main service interval is at 15,000 miles so costs are predictable. Fuel consumption is not a strong point, although the 2.0 and 2.2 will get within a shout of 30mpg if you are careful. In the classifieds we spotted a 2002 2.0 GL Estate with full history at pounds 5650. Bargain.

vCAR CHOICE: Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at, giving your age, address and contact number, and details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested.