It is one thing knowing if a 4X4 is up to scratch mechanically, but does a jeep really make sense when all the costs are considered?
It is true that many people are now looking at the option of a 4X4 in a new light following the big freeze. They are not interested in anything fancy or expensive, just something relatively reliable and cheap that could fit into the farming way of life.
Such a vehicle could displace the old van or car that has been used for general farming duties. But what are the practicalities of making the leap?
The first issue is fuel economy. This won't please the Greens out there, but the sad reality is that there is none. Any of the vehicles we talk about here will, in reality, average little more than 25mpg. Twinkle toes at the wheel with no load and a wind on her back might get 30mpg. However, a trailer or heavy right boot will easily shave another 5mpg off to bring the average figure closer to 20mpg.
This will, perhaps, be the single biggest hurdle that a first-time buyer of a farm 4x4 will have to get their head around. And there are no 'green' concessions in the diesel either.
The next question is what to buy? The ultimate 4x4 vehicle would have to include military vehicles such as an MRAP All Terrain Vehicle, Hummer, the South African-built Light Tactical Assault Vehicle that the Irish Army uses or, my favourite, the Unimog. Price rules all of these out, so back to reality.
Let's look at what's out there in the price range of €3,500 to €5,000 (including VAT).
More than you might think and, for example, there is the under-rated Nissan Terrano. On www.donedeal.ie, there is an enormous variety of commercial and seven-seat versions to choose from in this price bracket, for a model between 1999 and 2002.
They were never really as popular as the Toyota Landcruiser or Isuzu Trooper at that time, but, during the boom, they were popular with hire companies, which leased them to road and ESB-project contractors.
As a result, there is no shortage of them out there and they are priced far better than the Toyota Landcruiser or others. Isuzu lost ground completely with its three-litre vehicles.
Boom times and a change in VRT rules in 2001 saw a large number of 4x4 crew-cab pickups come onto the market before that window of opportunity was quickly slammed shut again in 2003 and the VRT increased.
There are many examples of these out there, the most popular perhaps including Toyota Hilux, Isuzu TFS, the Ford Ranger/Mazda B2500 (same vehicles, different badges), Mitsubishi L200 and Nissan Navara (see end-note).
The high residual value of the Hilux knocks it on the head as a contender straight away. All bring different things to the table but they all share similar levels of specification, reliability and comfort, including electric windows, ABS and air-conditioning on most. Design features are much the same across them all, with a conventional chassis design, leaf-spring suspension and a solid axle in the rear with independent suspension up front.
Crew-cab prices are not bad either, with many examples advertised on the internet within the €3,500-€5,000 price range.
For potential problems with any vehicle, the internet is a fantastic resource -- just google the vehicle's name and problems and there are any amount of forums and websites discussing every sort of problem, from a minor niggle to a major blow-up.
Crew-cab vehicles do present another problem, however: road tax. To tax a crew-cab vehicle at the commercial rate of €288/year, the owner of a new or second-hand vehicle has to fill out and sign a crew-cab declaration form at a garda station, which has to be stamped by a garda. This includes providing four employee PPS numbers as possible passengers in the vehicle.
The alternative is expensive. To tax a 2.5-litre vehicle as non-commercial costs €935/yr and €1,293 for a three-litre vehicle.
If you live on one of our many islands, road tax would cost you just €88 irrespective of engine size, while veteran and vintage vehicles over 30 years old would be subject to a road tax of just €48. Japanese 4x4 vehicles over 30 years old have a serious rust problem and are not worth the hassle and cost of restoring.
Alternatively, there is the option of single-cab vehicles.
The Toyota Hilux's reputation is legendary and examples are either expensive or have been snapped up for export to Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa or elsewhere.
Examples of single-cab pickups are much harder to find here, but there is quite an abundance in Britain. The basic specification versions in Britain may have no plastic body mouldings and have basic steel wheels, but for farming they are ideal and affordable.
But another word of caution to the first-time 4x4 buyer who wants to tax this type of machine on a commercial basis: there will be a goods-only declaration form (RF111A) to be filled out at a garda station and stamped (in addition to the crew-cab declaration form if the vehicle has a crew cab).
If, for example, you are the son or daughter of the farmer or individual who pays the farm's income tax, you may have to get a letter from the same individual declaring that you need the vehicle for farm work. You may also have to present your most recent tax certificate issued annually by the Revenue.
It is a matter of jumping through all the relevant hoops but the staff of the Motor Tax office, as a rule, are very helpful.
It is this income tax capital allowances that may have a sting in the tail for high CO2-band 4x4s.
Capital allowances for vehicles that fall into bands D and E are halved under the new regulations.
See IFAC's website (www.ifac.ie) for more information on capital allowances and www.simi.ie for a vehicle CO2 listing guide.