Car Choice: Help! My 4x4 is a cash guzzler

Using an off-roader for long drives really whacks the traveller's pocket. James Ruppert has some gentler suggestions...
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Aman Kanji, an IT consultant, is required to travel to client sites at locations throughout the country. Having recently bought a 4x4, he has been horrified to discover that the costs of tyres and fuel mount up alarmingly.

His dilemma - does he stick with the 4x4 and put up with the higher cost of fuel and tyres, and higher depreciation due to excessive mileage? Or does he change it for a second-hand car to use on his long-distance commuting? His budget is £2,000.

man admits that he went for the 4x4 partly on the basis that you might as well own one once in your life, so presumably it is an image thing. Nothing wrong with that; hardly anyone buys a vehicle without thinking: "Will I look good in this?"

With a new car, the way to get maximum value from it is to keep it for as long as possible. After a decade, you have probably had your money's worth. However, I do sympathise with Aman's dilemma over the running costs of the 4x4, which certainly sound unsustainable.

There are many variables to consider when it comes to getting rid of his 4x4, depending on whether there is a finance agreement on it and whether he will pay a penalty if the vehicle is sold early. He must do his sums to see if he can afford to do this. I don't know the make, but a diesel 4x4 with the right badge - Toyota, BMW or Mercedes, say - will probably be easy to sell, whereas others may have depreciated substantially more.

I would always recommend going for the cheaper option of a durable car for long-distance runs, and maybe Aman could buy something interesting for the weekend.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

Taking Aman's mileage into account, the car needs to be comfy and relatively trouble-free as well as cheap to run. Unfortunately, that also means the ideal car probably won't be very interesting. For £2,000, the mileage may be on the high side, or the vehicle may be a tad older than he is used to.

He shouldn't worry, though, because we can save him some serious cash. One of the best long-distance cars has been the Vauxhall Vectra. It was designed to be an undemanding and very comfortable drive. Its running costs were designed to be containable, as fleet users demand predictable and low outlays.

For £2,000, Aman should be able not only to pick up a very tidy late example from 1999 or so, but one with an acceptable level of equipment. Even a lowly LS had air con, and a CD would have a few more tweaks. The 1.8 engine should be adequate and deliver reasonable economy in the mid-30mpg range. The hatchback body is practical, but if Aman prefers a more secure boot and doesn't need lots of space, the saloon is usually a few hundred pounds cheaper.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

There really isn't one in the frame, as the solution here has to be both ruthlessly efficient and economical. However, because of the money he will save, Aman could afford a nice little Mazda MX-5, just for having fun on weekends.

While he is waiting for the MX-5, he should get some Mazda practice in by going for a 626. It could hardly be more different from the characterful sports car, but the 626 is hugely underrated as no-nonsense transport.

It's a Mazda, so won't break down, and Aman will enjoy a degree of exclusivity, as the 626 is a reasonably rare beast.

A late 1990s 2.0 Gxi five-door hatchback should have plenty of room and a very decent specification that will at the very least include air conditioning. The 2.0 engine returns 35mpg or so, but if Aman can find a later diesel, that will deliver in the region of 54mpg, although it is likely to have covered 100,000 miles and may be in need of repairs.

Nope, a 2.0 will do, not least because it is so easy to live with and drive, and the major saving should be that it only needs servicing from time to time.

CAR CHOICE

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

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