Paul Baker is 33, his wife runs a 53 plate Skoda Octavia Estate, 1.8 Turbo 4x4 variant that returns just under 30mpg. It does around 30 miles a day in school and playgroup runs. Paul commutes about 25 miles a day in his 1972 Land Rover Lightweight which does roughly 14mpg. They need to cut their motoring costs. Paul wants a car that will do 50mpg plus. His budget is £4,000.

One of Paul's supplementary questions was whether to sell the Land Rover. No. For a start as it was registered before 1972 it has historic vehicle status which means that the road fund licence is not payable. That currently saves £185 a year and while Land Rovers rarely drop below £1,000, Paul has a military specification model which is always sought-after. Effectively, he is running a depreciation proof vehicle and it should only be sold as a last resort. The mpg can be improved by fitting an overdrive unit to the gearbox (giving a fifth gear) and also something called freewheel hubs which disconnects the drive to the front wheels when four-wheel drive is not needed. Also the petrol engine could be modified to run on liquid petroleum gas (LPG), although that costs £1,500 and may take a few years to pay for itself.

So that just leaves the family car. Presumably they don't need two 4 x 4s so the Skoda should go, to be replaced by a much more frugal diesel model. Paul hinted at a seven-seater because they need the space; let's see.

A car for the head

Over the years, I've met many photographers who have to carry loads of equipment all over the country and demand reliability and frugality to make the most of their cost-per-mile charges. They all drove Volkswagen Passat estates. Certainly the overall consumption figures are impressive. The 1.9TDi 90, 110 and 115 engine all return more than 50mpg. There would be enough room in the back for three small children, although it may not accommodate three child seats. The same engine is fitted to the Volkswagen Sharan and Ford Galaxy which has individual rear seats, but being a larger vehicle it will return mpg figures of around 43mpg. So, let's stick with the Passat and see what we can get. Well, for £3,690 a diesel specialist offered a year 2000 Sport model with 90,000 miles.

A car for the heart

Without a doubt, 50mpg is one of the sticking points. As efficient as modern diesels are, if a vehicle's on the large side that does dent the consumption. I would suggest a medium-sized car again in an estate format, but with one of the best diesel engines available. That would be the Peugeot 406 with the 2.0 HDi engine that should routinely make 50mpg. It is also spacious and not unattractive. Best of all though, the 406 is one of the nicest cars to drive. It feels big and comfortable has very sharp handling; the perfect combination.

These models are highly sought-after and hold their value very well so Paul must be prepared to spend at the upper end of his budget and even then the mileage isn't going to be that low. A look around the classified ads turned up a 2001 example which has revised styling and comprehensive GLX specification. It was a private sale, but came with a full history, it had covered 79,000 miles and was on offer at £3,995.

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested in buying and your budget.

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