Guy Jebb, a 39-year-old print consultant from Cheshire, wants to know if he should buy a cheap 10-year-old Mitsubushi Shogun, on the grounds it is an over-engineered reliable car built to last. Is there anything to be said for buying a Japanese market second-hand import?

What I want to know first is, does Mr Jebb really need a four-by-four vehicle? Unfortunately the country is full of people driving vehicles inappropriate for the job. A heavy, fuel-hungry, off-roader that handles like a lorry is not the ideal way to get around the urban sprawl. But if he is going to tow things or is genuinely going to stray from the Tarmac and onto the rough stuff the Shogun may be ideal.

The short-wheelbase model is easier to live with, and own, because of its tidier dimensions, but the long-wheelbase five-door is a a handful. Compared with many off-roaders the Shogun has good road manners as well as being able in the mud.

For many, that makes it the perfect combination and as Mr Jebb points out, there are the Japanese import models. These are not called Shoguns, but Pajeros and generally have a higher specifications, plus big wing mirrors and extra bits of chrome trim. Mr Jebb has to avoid paying too much for these models and if a Pajero is being sold privately, check it has been well looked after.

A car for the heart

If Mr Jebb wants to go down the four-wheel-drive route there is an alternative to the traditional trucks we see on the shopping and school runs. When it comes to all-wheel -drive one of the most accomplished manufacturers is of course Subaru.

The Impreza has won rally championships and raised the company's profile and image, but the Legacy has worked hardest and most reliably of all their models. They have characterful, flat-four engines and there is also a turbo version, which isincredibly quick. The popular choice is the estate, but there is also a saloon, which is cheaper. The 1988 to 1994 first-generation models can be picked up for a few thousand pounds. The Legacys from 1994 on are only £2,000 to £3,000, and although there is not much ground clearance for off-road use, on the road it sticks to corners in all conditions.

Most amazing of all are the mileages Legacys accrue. The Subaru press office are always proud to announce the latest six-figure mileage racked up by some rural doctor or vet. But Mr Jebb should still avoid Legacys that have had hard lives.

A car for the head

Mr Jebb wants a good-value, reliable car and is not fussed about style or image. He should still think Japanese because that is where reliable vehicles come from, not Germany. However, when it comes to value, Mr Jebb needs to shop for a vehicle outside the four-by-four, sports and hatchback markets.

The Toyota Camry regularly tops American reliability surveys and it is a best-seller there. But here it virtually invisible. Yet, since 1991, with the Mark 2 model, it has been getting on with the business of not breaking down. Revised in 1996, the Camry remained a minority interest, yet as a family car it is spacious and refined. The smaller 2.2 litre engine delivers reasonable 32mpg economy, but perhaps the most remarkable statistic is the asking prices.

Early models go for £1,995, and £5,000 allows a huge choice of later Camrys. Mr Jebb has to avoid buying a former minicab and his purchase must have a full Toyota service history.

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