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The Independent Online
Some pitiful souls are driven into paroxysms of longing by gadgets, and cannot resist a new purchase. For those with a more pragmatic outlook, hiring often makes more sense than buying, especially for expensive and infrequently used equipment.

I lack both time and energy for digging, so every year I hire a big beast of a rotavator to give my largest allotment a thorough going over. It has a powerful 8hp engine, and the job takes only about four hours. I then pass the machine on to a neighbour for the rest of the day and split the pounds 50 hire cost. To buy the thing would set me back around pounds 2,000, which, at the current rate of usage, would pay my rental fees until I am 116.

The advantages are not limited to finance. Machinery that has sat around for months on end tends to sulk and refuse to start, metal bits get rusted up, and cutting blades are often left blunt. Hiring spares you from all that inevitable maintenance and repair. As with a rented car, hired tools live fast and die young. It is simply not worth a firm's time to fuss over geriatric gear, so most of the equipment is relatively new, and often more powerful and efficient than that normally available to the domestic market.

Home shredders, for example, are usually agonisingly slow. Far better to save up your debris for several months and then hire in a big, petrol shredder that will tear through the whole lot in next to no time. Hiring also avoids the headache of finding permanent storage space, and reduces the losses should you suffer a shed break-in.

The range of equipment available for hire is staggering; everything from a shovel to a JCB. If you are not familiar with your local outlets, it's worth having a look around before you embark on a major project or lash out big tool money. The most frequently requested garden item is probably a set of hedge cutters; then there are butch versions of familiars such as mowers and strimmers, and more specialist items - paraffin weed burners, post hole borers, long-reach pruners. If you're planning a new look, help is at hand to take some of the tedious drudgery out of landscaping - concrete mixers, compactor plates for ramming down hard core, cutters for paving blocks. For something really ambitious, you could even get in a mini-excavator. Some of the equipment might prove a bit of a squeeze for the family car, but delivery can always be arranged.

Weekly hire is usually only double the day rate so it pays to set aside a block of time for each job rather than tackling things piecemeal. Fuel, cutting blades and so on are usually extra. Not unreasonably, all hire firms demand a sizeable deposit, and you are also liable to a cleaning charge if you return tools without having made any effort to clean them.

A few ground rules. Quality, cost and equipment range vary considerably so it's worth shopping around and looking at what is on offer before you part with any money. Never take something away before you are completely confident about how to operate it. If necessary get the shop to give a proper demonstration. Always make sure you have all the recommended safety equipment - gloves, goggles, ear defenders or whatever - and then use it. The most effortlessly lethal bit of garden equipment is undoubtedly a chainsaw, and I am pleased to see that many firms will now hire them out only if you take the appropriate safety gear with them and can guarantee that you are competent in their use.

Make sure that anything that you do hire is in good nick, with sharp blades, fitted safety guards, undamaged cables and so on. All equipment should have been thoroughly checked since it was last hired out - your life should not be threatened by the carelessness of the previous user. With all that taken care of, off you go.