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AUCTIONS: Smaller off-roaders swerve the bad press

Date: 21 May 2007

The smaller end of the 4x4 sector is showing no signs of being tainted by the eco devil label afflicting their larger, more visible brethren

The used small 4x4 market seems to be relatively unaffected by the recent bad publicity surrounding the sector. Despite plans to increase vehicle tax and the increase in the cost of fuel, smaller 4x4s have not been tarred with the 'gas guzzler' brush - therefore demand in the halls has remained strong.

BCA's network operations director, Simon Henstock, however, has a word of warning: "Bear in mind, the green lobby has 4x4 vehicles very much in their sights. While the smaller versions generally attract less attention from politicians and environmentalists, following the lead of this year's Budget, who knows what the tax implications might be further down the line? If 4x4s become ever more expensive to run, it may well impact on residual values."

As a used purchase the vehicles are affordable to buy and run, and most have been well looked after.

"The smaller 4x4 sector is a favourite on the school-run, certainly in the more well-heeled parts of the country, and is dominated by the 'lifestyle' cars," explains BCA's network operations director, Simon Henstock.

The Land Rover Freelander, Toyota Rav4, and Honda CR-V are the main contenders, although there's plenty of competition from the Suzuki Vitara, Nissan X-trail and Kia Sportage as well as good value offerings like the Suzuki Jimny and Fiat Panda. It all adds up to plenty of choice in the used market.

As already mentioned above, and confirmed by the likes of Manheim, prices have held firm for small 4x4s.

"Even with the Freelander 2, new Rav4 and Fiat Sedici launching recently don't expect to see any great changes in demand for current models," says Henstock. "We won't see volumes of any of these models in the used market for some time and even when we do, it will be the nearly new market where any effect will be felt. Typical fleet and lease-sourced stock represents good value for money at three years and 60,000 miles, and as volumes of small 4x4s are thin in the marketplace generally, demand is always high."

On the road

Few small 4x4s actually experience any off-road action, and those that do will suffer from low-level scratches and damaged or dirty wheel arches. Therefore, any tatty, higher mileage examples going through auction attract less interest and are harder to sell - on average the tidy vehicles coming through the auction at three years old with approx 50k miles are extremely desirable and affordable.

"Even though it may never have been further off-road than up a kerb, the used buyer doesn't know that," adds Henstock, "so ensure cars are sold with a comprehensive service history. It may well be worth getting a pre-sale inspection done by the auctioneers to further promote buyer confidence."

As always, spec is important, and alloys, leather, aircon and increasingly satnav are favoured in the used market. "And make sure the spare wheel is in place, particularly if it is exterior-mounted on the rear-hatch," says Henstock. "If you are selecting models for a user-chooser list, too, you'll be pleased to know that both diesel and petrol generally do well, but don't let petrol models get too well travelled."