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Friday 20 April 2018

Darragh McCullough: Late-night browsing pays off on 'blind buy' jeep from UK

Darragh McCullough eats, sleeps and lives farming. Photo: David Conachy
Darragh McCullough eats, sleeps and lives farming. Photo: David Conachy
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Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

I've a confession to make. I've spent a good bit of time browsing porn into the small hours over the last month. Car-porn that is.

I've been farming full-time for over a year but still persisted with the notion that I could rally around the farm at home in an all-wheel-drive Skoda Octavia.

But with the winter entering its seventh month I realised the game was up. The ruts and muck were too much to ask of any car, so I resigned myself to the task of finding a jeep that wouldn't require me to rob a small bank first.

I've owned a few jeeps in the past, starting out with a trusty Mazda B2500 pick-up that I bought for four or five grand from a local who had to vacate the country in a hurry. It was right at the start of the economic melt-down and this fella was in the deep end and getting on the next flight to the Cayman Islands.

Knowing all I do now about the shenanigans that happened over the last decade with repossessions and the like, I'd probably run a mile from the same scenario now. But I was lucky with that machine in that it did exactly what it said on the tin and never gave an ounce of trouble.

The next machine was a step up but again at small money when I happened across an Isuzu crew-cab pick-up at a farm machinery auction in Lincolnshire.

It was another work-horse and I only reluctantly traded it in for a 2002 Isuzu Trooper when I figured I needed a good heavy machine to tow a tri-axle mobile farm trailer around the country.

It was a high enough spec machine with plenty of chrome, but a couple of sets of injectors and a new engine block later I was less enamoured by the Trooper, and quickly developed a dread of the annual DOE test.

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So I wasn't long getting rid of it when I made a switch to full-time journalism. On one hand it was great - one less vehicle to tax, insure and pour fuel into. But on the other, I suddenly had nothing to tow a trailer with.

That was fine when I was spending most of my time working as a journalist, but when you're farming it's hard to get away without ever having to use a trailer.

So I went for a little tour of my local car dealers last month to see what was on offer. And I quickly realised that unless I was prepared to shell out north of €20,000, I was going 'well down the years', as they say in the car trade.

And much as I tried to convince myself that my ego would not be swayed by any vehicle, I found myself drawn to options that were far above what I needed in practical terms.

So the fine 2009 B2500 that had only 71,000 miles on it got short shrift beside the impressive looking 2014 Ford Ranger and the pricey but always classy Toyota Hilux.

The Mazda was commanding a modest €7,500 but I knew that my heart wasn't in it when I had a spin in her younger rivals.

The only problem is that her younger rivals were about €10-20,000 more expensive. Now vain I may well be but I like to think I haven't lost the run of myself completely.

Hence the sudden interest in car websites. It's only when you get into them that you realise the world of choice out there.

I was trying to get my head around the various Irish offerings on DoneDeal and Cars Ireland and Autotrader when I copped that there was the same again, except multiplied by 100, on the British equivalents.

That's when the nights started to get long. You would tell yourself that you were only sitting down for five minutes to see if there was a Toyota Hilux in a 2011 with less than 100,000km and bluetooth for under £10,000.

But four hours later you'd suddenly catch yourself ogling £45,000 Range Rovers with panoramic roofs and heated leather seats on the basis that it'd be the same thing if you put it over a four-year loan.

Feeling increasingly bamboozled by the endless options online, I convinced myself that I had some urgent business up North and headed for Nelson Alexander's sprawling yard in Antrim.

On the journey up I noticed signs that the cost of living between north and south is beginning to diverge massively again, just like it did as we headed into the last boom.

In the Centra in Toomebridge at the top of Lough Neagh a portion of lasagne, a coffee and a bottle of water barely broke €4.50. Car-washes were advertised for £4. When was the last time you were able to get a car wash in the Republic for less than €5?

The same value applies to cars and jeeps, and James Alexander remarked on just how many customers he now gets from south of the Border.

I went home with a head full of numbers and stats. But I couldn't get beyond the prices that dealers in England were quoting.

Even with the currency conversion factored in, the VRT paid and a €500 allowance for transporting it back, there were thousands to be saved, and considerably more when you spend big.

So I took the plunge and bought a 2014 Mitsubishi L200 with 86,000 miles from a dealer in Sheffield. An electronic transfer of £7,250, which after all costs, will work out at €11,000 sitting in my yard.

I'd never sat in the machine, nor met the dealer. But I did all the background checks and talked to plenty of people who had bought in England before.

Some swore by it, others swore that they'd never do it again. The latter often cited chronic rust from the salt that the Brits seem to plaster their roads with, especially in Scotland.

The proof will be in the pudding. It's due to arrive in the morning.

In the meantime, I had to have something to cover the 1,000km that I'll clock up for RTE's Big Week on the Farm. So I rented a lovely 181 Kia Sportage for €100. Don't ask me how a rental company makes money on that. Maybe they can buy the fleet so cheap that when they put them up on Donedeal 25,000km later they can charge the same price as what they paid for them and get fellas like me to queue up for them.

Come to think of it, that Sportage even has heated leather seats!


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