Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Car Choice: 'I'm after room for my dog ... and wine'

Ann needs a car big enough to carry her wheelchair, pet, and a few cases of French plonk. James Ruppert considers the options:

Nigel Hay needs advice on how best to replace his wife Ann's current car, a 2002 VW Polo 1.4S Automatic with 14,500 miles on the clock and full VW service history. His wife has MS and her mobility has worsened. She can now only walk very slowly over short distances and has increasing need to use a wheelchair either push or electric. While they can use an Audi A6 Avant for longer journeys the Polo simply isn't big enough for a wheelchair and their dog. Nigel also reckons that the Polo is desperately slow. Ease of entry/exit is important as Ann finds getting into and getting out of SUV-type vehicles difficult. As for the budget Nigel thinks he will get about £4- to 5,000 for the Polo and reckons that the total spend will be £12,000.



It is possible to adapt all vehicles these days and Nigel told me that Anne's car is an automatic and has a left hand accelerator as the right side of her body is the most badly affected. However, the car can be quickly changed back to its original configuration so that Nigel can drive it in the usual way. So what they want is a slightly larger vehicle that will not be too big for Ann to drive and park in South West London, but which will also be capable of longer journeys when it may be needed to carry luggage, a wheelchair, dog and two passengers and, Nigel tells me, wine, on the way back from their French holiday home.



Certainly the Polo is a good, if basic, small car and there are plenty of alternatives. It is crucial though, to resist the temptation to go for a Mini MPV in view of Ann's mobility problems. However, there are a number of rotating seats on the market, which can be raised and lowered allowing Anne access to a wider variety of vehicles. Nigel and Anne could contact a specialist such as Brotherwood (0193 587 2603) who also sells adapted vehicles. Which could broaden their choice.



A car for the head



I would be inclined to suggest that Nigel and Anne go for a small estate car. Instantly they will have a lot more luggage within a compact package. Also the dog can have its own designated area in the boot. With a dog guard up it has a decent area within which to live, but which estate?



Well, the Skoda Fabia is closely related to the Polo and the estate Fabia effectively doubles the amount of load space in the hatchback model. Nigel might be worried about the engine's performance as they are effectively the same as the Polo range, but I've always found them to be lively.



The Fabia is also well-built using quality materials and has an excellent reliability record. Looking around at what Skoda dealers had to offer I found a 2005 1.4 Elegance automatic that had covered just 225 miles at just £9,850. It was well-equipped and ready for work and they would probably give a great part exchange deal on the Polo. Skoda have also just introduced their funky looking Roomster which is great value for money and can be bought for below £12,000.



A car for the heart



Nigel says that Anna likes the look of the Citroen C4 which is a very good small car. It certainly looks different from anything else on the road and being a Citroen, it is possible to buy with a discount or zero percent finance.



What you get is a great value for money car with a decent specification, which is easy and cheap to own. Not everyone likes the digital displays inside, but the controls are light and it couldn't be easier to drive.



The 1.6 engine should be responsive enough although the reliability record for Citroens is not as good as a Volkswagen, but matters have been improving and it is easy to buy one still under manufacturer warranty. Indeed surfing through some classified ads I found that prices started at just £5,995 for a privately-owned model from 2005 that had covered just 16,000 miles. More usually though the cost will be £7,995 at a dealer with a higher mileage. The more conventional choice might be a Ford Focus. Here is a small hatchback that is cheap to run and nice to drive, although Anne could find the seat set too high. Fitting a rotating seat could be the answer.

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