THERE is no denying that four-wheel-drives are an essential tool for most farmers. They pay dividends in the winter when conditions become tricky and by their very nature are roomy.
Pick-up double cabs, meanwhile, offer rear seating and are useful for the school run. However, there is a case to be made that, for retired and part-time farmers in particular, a small cargo van could fulfil most if not all the duties required of it and at a fraction of the cost of a 4WD.
They might even make better alternatives to family saloons that are more frequently used for work than trips to the shops. Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of a small van.
Cost - Small vans are inherently cheap to run and maintain. Their engines are similar to those found in passenger cars so parts are interchangeable. Commercial tax is just €200 and you can still claim the VAT back on the initial purchase price provided it comes with a VAT docket.
Space - Depending on size, space in the cargo area is ample and less awkwardly shaped than a saloon or hatchback. There aren't any seats in the back to fold or risk damaging, either. It's also much easier to hose out than clean upholstery.
Loading and accessibility - some small vans come with sliding doors which makes access far easier than a car or even a short wheel base jeep. The lower height of most vans makes loading and unloading less of a strain.
2WD - You're most likely to be stuck with a front-wheel drive vehicle. Not only that but small vans are extremely light when unladen and so they can be a touch skittish on slippery roads.
Ground clearance - Obviously, with a lower loading height you sacrifice the ability to drive over rough or tricky ground. Banging the sump off a rock could put a serious hole in your wallet too.
Towing - Small vans don't make great towing vehicles. They're happy enough pulling a small trailer with hedge trimmings or cattle feed but they won't do the heavy pulling that's required on most farms.
Citroen Berlingo/Peugeot Partner/Fiat Doblo Cargo: You can get these little cargo vans (which are essentially the same thing) as 3-seaters in case you need to carry an extra passenger. The two-seater versions won't cost as much.
Depending on the model, the payloads range from 560kg to 850kg. The Berlingo and Partner are powered by a 1.6 HDi engine. The Doblo Cargo also has a 1.6 diesel unit but it is most popular as a 1.3 diesel. The Fiat and Peugeot are similarly priced at around €16,500 (inc VAT). Add another €1,000 for the Berlingo but don't expect to retain much of this premium.
Ford Transit Connect/Volkswagen Caddy. Typically these two are the top performers in their class. There is a new Transit Connect out since September 2013. The Connect 200 is a short wheelbase and the Connect 210 is the long wheel base. The Connect 200 suits most tradesmen fine. It's got the same 1.6 TDi engine as the Focus and has payloads ranging from 625kg to 715kg. The Caddy holds its value really well. It comes with either 75bhp or 102bhp. It's got a payload close to 750kg so it's bigger than the Berlingo and Partner.
Ford Focus/Toyota Auris/Volkswagen Golf.
Car vans are great for providing a bit of comfort but remaining functional enough. The Focus, Auris and Golf vans cost roughly the same price new and perform similarly on the used market. These might suit the part-time farmer with some small scattered holdings too. The Toyota 1.4 D4D is a super engine. When you're not tending to the farm, you're still driving around in something that looks like a car instead of an out-and-out van.