The wheels and spiel of 2000

Ailing Rover sold for a tenner, not-so cut-price steels on wheels, and who could forget the fuel crisis?
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The Independent Online

£10 for a dog

£10 for a dog

Paying BMW a tenner for a car company is a shrewd move, especially when a £500m sweetener goes with it. Saving Rover is either a cause for celebration or for postponing the inevitable. At the moment it allows us the dubious pleasure of being able to buy a Rover 45. For the sake of all those manufacturing jobs, we hope Rover survives and prospers; however its chances of consistently building 200,000 cars a year are remote. 2001 could be rocky.

Bad website

carbusters.com. Quite why the Consumer's Association wanted to switch from protesting about the high price of cars to the grubby business of selling them themselves is beyond me. Especially when they charged surfers £10 for a quote on prices that were comfortably more expensive than the majority of their dot.com rivals.

Good website

Another week, another website trying to flog you a car - it's so confusing. A good job then that autohit.com set up carpricecheck.com, where you type in the model you want and receive back by e-mail the cheapest on-line quotes. Not only that, participating dealers signed up to Autohit will try and beat the best quote.

Good Merc/Bad Merc

It might be argued that when Mercedes-Benz cut their prices, they set an example that others were obliged to follow. Although the cuts on offer went up to 20 per cent, the most handsome reductions were reserved for their worst-sellers. Benz also sought to snuff out the import trade by levying higher charges on right-hand-drive models, increasing prices by up to £2,000.

Lower prices?

2000 has been the year of the price cut, but is the bottom line really any lower? New figures from CAP, publishers of the trade price guide, show prices are now 5.6 per cent lower than a year ago - hardly a massive fall. Buyers are not convinced either and have yet to flock back to the showrooms. It seems that good old-fashioned discounts are no longer part of the new-car deal, so transaction prices have actually risen.

Hero: Ivan Hirst

If it wasn't for this far-sighted, determined Major in the Royal Engineers, Volkswagen would not exist - not as we know it. He took the remnants of a war-torn factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, and laid the foundations for a global car company. Sadly he died this year, but VW rightly accord him the respect and place in their history that he deserves.

Villain: John Prescott

Perennial motorists' hate-figure, and quite right too. He has singularly failed to get to grips with the various transport crises and only increased the road budget under pressure. Still has those Jags. One might well run on LPG power, but really he should be on a bike or a milk float if he wants to set an example. He has rung me personally to complain in the past and is welcome to do so again.

Taxing times

The Chancellor has guaranteed a two-year freeze on petrol duty and a tax cut of 3p a litre on greener fuels. Also, cars up to 1500cc qualify for cheaper tax. Nevertheless, although the Government claims UK taxes are on a par with Europe, a What Car? survey claims that UK drivers contribute £869 a year, compared with the £648 forked out by the next highest payers in Germany. Overall the Government raises £36bn a year from motorists.

Fuel blockade heroes/Villains

Apart from a freeze on already sky-high fuel duty, parking HGVs outside fuel depots didn't achieve much. However, it served to prove a thing or two - like just how reliant we are on the car and HGV deliveries, and that dry petrol stations cause nationwide panic. Frightening.

More power to powershift

This institution could subsidise your next new car. Convert it to run on LPG and the Government will give you a grant to cover the conversion. You'll then pay around 40p a litre. The emissions are cleaner but performance is the same. Powershift were also knocking £1,000 off the price of a petrol-electric hybrid Toyota Prius, which will do 58mpg.

Used-car price crash

There really is no excuse for owning an MOT-borderline banger anymore. Thanks to falling new-car prices, part-exchange and used-car values have collapsed. CAP have suggested that cars over seven years old are now virtually worthless. We say, buy reliable and roomy Ford Mondeos for less than £2,000, while old Rover 200s are classy, well made and well under £1,000.

Bad service

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) reported that 39 per cent of garages failed to meet basic service levels and that motorists suffer 1.3 million problems with garages every year at a cost of £170m.

Miracle products

The OFT took action against Clockwork Orange Ltd for producing misleading adverts for its tin-alloy pellet "catalyst". They claimed it lowered emissions and boosted economy. Independent RAC tests proved it did no such thing. A much better miracle product is the Ecotek, which really does seem to boost performance as well as economy and reduce emissions thanks to some amazing magnetic-force thingie. Ring 01483 204444 for more information.

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