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Independent.ie

Friday 26 May 2017

Do your homework when picking a lifesaver of a 4x4

Bruce Lett suggests the checks to follow when you're buying a second-hand four-wheel drive

Bruce Lett

For the second year in a row, parts of the country were hit hard with snow and freezing temperatures last month. Schools were closed, getting to work was impossible for many to get to and, for those of us living in the country, travel was almost impossible unless you had a 4x4 or tractor.

Thankfully, we are still a friendly and farming-orientated country so there was plenty of help at hand if groceries or supplies were required, with no shortage of volunteers in tractors and 4x4s willing to help those in need.

At home, the family's battered and bruised 1998 Nissan 4x4 pickup was plenty busy running errands for the various family branches, in-laws and anyone that needed a job done. Towing other vehicles stuck on the numerous hills was a regular occurrence with every outing, and the tow rope was a constant companion.

This winter, even more than last, is demonstrating how ill-equipped we are to deal with extreme weather. The first fall of snow was hardly cleared at all and made driving extremely hazardous as the snow was compacted into a lethal surface. I borrowed my brother's tractor to make the 25-mile journey to work every day. At home, the 4x4 was a lifeline for anyone that needed it.

On one particularly bad night, our youngest needed to be brought to Caredoc, itself a fantastic service, which involved traipsing about 300m through the driving snow in sub-zero temperatures to go and borrow the 4x4. The drive to Enniscorthy and Caredoc was only three miles, but a treacherous three miles with one particularly bad hill.

In town, the snow had been cleared and the roads gritted or salted, but that evening the extra snow and freezing temperatures made conditions some of the worst I had seen. I saw a small car travelling at less than 10mph came to a stop at a junction on the side of a hill. When it stopped, the car started sliding sideways down the hill. The driver didn't panic (too much) and let the clutch out, which luckily stopped the sideways slide and moved off forwards.

When we got home and the antibiotics and Calpol were administered, I parked the old 4x4 back in its shed and, on the walk back to my own house, realised just how valuable such a vehicle really is to us living out in the sticks.

In Wexford, the county council slowly got a handle on the situation, drafting in all sorts of snow ploughs, from road graders to tractors with proper snow ploughs, and even ATVs equipped with snow ploughs for clearing footpaths, while one Co Wexford engineering firm quickly developed a snow plough for forklifts and other vehicles (www.dre.ie).

One thing is for sure, next year we will be better prepared if the snow does comes again.

If you have tracked down a potential purchase, for example a single- or double-cab Japanese-designed pickup (such as a Nissan), the following guide will hopefully help you determine if it is a good one or not.

A circa 2002 vehicle will most likely have a few knocks and scrapes but that is to be expected. Commercial vehicles have to do a Department of the Environment (DOE) test every year which, as a rule, helps keep on top of maintenance issues.

Firstly, ask that the vehicle not be started before you view it, so that you can do a cold start on it. This will give a rough assessment of the condition of both the starting system and the engine. Most Japanese-designed vehicles use high speed starters so they should turn over very fast and start easily after the glow plug light has gone out. Anything different warrants further investigation or just walk away. Any white smoke after start up should also clear away relatively quickly as the vehicle warms up.

Indo Farming