Motoring: Kings of the road at knockdown prices

If you have got to have a 4x4, then the current market slump means now is the time to pick up a bargain

FOUR-BY-FOURS have been found out. Used off-roaders are now officially in the price doldrums and are cheaper than they have been for many years.

That is odd because the winter is usually boom time for vehicles of this type, and one would expect to see values strengthening along with demand. However, if you genuinely need to buy or have always promised yourself a 4x4, now is probably the time to buy

Even so, some models are better value than others. According to the January issue of CAP Black Book, one of the motor industry's leading price guides, the 4x4 sector has been struggling for most of 1998. It believes that the trend will continue this year. CAP makes the observation that buyers favour the two opposite ends of this market. Fashionable, so called lifestyle 4x4s (such as Honda CRVs and Toyota RAV 4s) are still popular, while high- mileage, well-established off-roaders more than five years old are doing very well. Everything else is struggling.

So there has never been a better time to put this marketplace under the microscope and maybe even dip your toes into the wonderful world of used off-roaders.

So what is happening? Well, certain kinds of 4x4s are coming to the end of their fashion cycle. A lot of buyers switched from hot hatches to 4x4s in the early Nineties when insurance premiums went through the roof and appreciated the attention-seeking dimensions of a two-storey truck. It did not take long for owners to realise that they were actually slow, ugly, uneconomical and, in the urban areas where they were mostly used, a pain to park. Bad publicity about pedestrian safety from bull bars did not help either, and so the 4x4 backlash was in full swing. That soon filtered down to the used market, making it harder to sell certain models.

CAP identified two particular models at the top end of the market. The Range Rover 4.6 HSE costs a staggering pounds 50,990. However, to the gentlemen of the motor trade, a 1998 R-registration example is worth just pounds 33,800. With only 10,000 miles on the clock and buffed up for the forecourt, it will be temptingly priced at no more than pounds 36,995.

CAP also thought that the Mitsubishi Shogun GLX was a high-profile model set to struggle this year. By contrast, though, genuine, pre-used 4x4s, like the older Land Rover Discovery, Vauxhall Frontera and Isuzu Trooper are all in high demand. That probably has a lot to do with all three of those models recently being replaced by pretty much physically identical, although technically superior new models.

Marketing research reveals that people like the familiar, chunky shapes, but that also seems to be doing no harm to used values, although in the short term, they may make the latest models suffer a price crisis. Most surprising of all is the strength of the real muddy boots brigade. The Land Rover, in it's Defender and older guise, continues to perform like the legend it is and is never likely to go out of fashion.

Lada may not the most fashionable motoring name, but the discontinued Niva range still makes converts. This cheap and cheerful vehicle still manages to get an enthusiastic fan club for just a few thousand pounds. Daihatsus are also respected rather than fashionable and the tough Fourtrak is the best of that breed. Indeed, Daihatsu with the Terious 4x4, tried to corner the micro off-road market with this model and has ended up slashing the new price by more than pounds 2,000.

If you don't mind being unfashionable, there are lots of bargains to be had. A 1994 three-door Discovery 300Tdi which has covered 70,000 miles costs at least pounds 800 less than a five-door. If you can afford the fuel bills, knock more than pounds 1,000 off for a petrol V8.

If you want a real 4x4 bargain, then you have to buy a vehicle from someone who maybe should not have got themselves lumbered with an off-roader in the first place. These 4x4 wannabes won't have damaged the vehicle off road, will have gently run it in and should be desperate the see the back of it. I took a trawl through the classified advertisements to see how long it would take to find some giveaway 4x4s. I found a 1988 Jeep Grand Cherokee Orvis which had done a year's motoring up for grabs at pounds 28,000. Selling for more than pounds 33,000 new, I could feel the seller wilting under not too much pressure, bringing the price down to the earlier pounds 20,000s. Then there was the Frontera owner who gave it all away in the advertisement: he wanted to part-exchange his L-registration 2.3 TD model for a Vauxhall Corsa TD. Otherwise they wanted pounds 8,500.

It is worth mentioning that there are increasing numbers of Japanese import models. These Mitsubishi Shoguns are badged Pajero and come with every conceivable extra for under pounds 10,000. The Japanese Import Centre (01883 7444439) is well worth a call.

Range Rover anyone? Well there isn't any good reason to pay much more than pounds 10,000. There seem to be a lot of the last of the K and L registration models being cleared by the gentry. Maybe they know something we don't. Perhaps thirsty old Range Rovers are going to be banned. At these prices, they will certainly be an endangered species.

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