ONCE again, it’s that time of year where Britain goes into crisis mode, as we all start to dither, wither and panic about the onset of what’s affectionately known as ‘weather’ – or in the case of the Daily Express, ‘today’s headline’.
For car dealers, it’s often a good thing. Not only can those of us with available space stock up on some nice bargain convertibles to sell on in five or six months’ time, but we can also sell anything with raised ride height and four-wheel-drive, no matter how shoddy the condition.
This year, however, the DVLA has given us an unexpected bonus. While I’m not a huge fan of the new road-tax rules, which prevent traders like myself from driving ‘whatever’s in stock with a tax disc’, the upside of all this is there’s now an option to pay your road tax by direct debit, and to do so monthly.
What that means is that if you buy an SUV that costs £500 a year to tax (and for that, you no longer even get rewarded with a decorative paper circle), you can actually pay for it at the rate of £42-ish per month.
And, in anyone’s book, £42 sounds a hell of a lot cheaper than £500.
As a result, with long nights, short days, wet roads and icy winds all around us, more and more people are opting for the SUV option to ensure they’ll still be able to make it as far as Sainsbury’s on one of the three days per year that it usually snows south of Hadrian’s Wall, and that has to be worth £42 a month of anyone’s money, doesn’t it?
Yes – with arse firmly about face, the government’s road tax system, which was designed to encourage people to buy and run less-expensive cars, is actually making it easier for some of them to drive filthy gas guzzlers.
Look at it this way. If you’re buying a car on finance (and more than 60 per cent of people who buy their own cars do just that), then you can simply roll the cost of road tax into whatever your perceived monthly payment might be.
So for £350 a month, rather than £310 a month, you can be trundling round your local housing estate in your very own BMW X5, complete with road-roller sized tyres, gangster glass and chrome-tipped exhaust pipes. Pure style.
The sad thing is, for many people, this is entirely reasonable behaviour, and once ensconced in the perceived safety and invincibility of their very own 4×4, the cost of the road tax will soon be forgotten.
Okay, so you can tax a Ford Fiesta for a whole year for less than one month’s road fund on a big SUV, but then you can’t intimidate lesser mortals at the wheel of a 1.0-litre Fiesta, especially not one of those girly metallic purple ones.
Cynical, then, I may be. But complaining I am not, because for the past few years, getting your stock right
for such vehicles has always been a guessing game. If you didn’t shift them in the winter, chances are you’d be lumbered with them taking up stock on your forecourt for the remainder of the year, when they looked like inefficient, impractical, unstylish and overpriced lumps of metal – which, of course, they are.
This year, though, I’ve had no trouble. I even got good money for an extremely shabby old Freelander that was belching out plumes of black smoke on the over-run – it didn’t matter, apparently, as for only £20 a month (based on tax rates for older cars), the 4×4 security it offered the owner was enough to convince her that she needed it for the winter months.
I did try to explain at the time that this particular Freelander, a £795 px to clear, wasn’t even four-wheel-drive any more, as the propshaft to the rear wheels had been removed by a previous owner to make it more fuel efficient, and also get round the problem of fixing the notoriously flaky viscous coupling that plagues Freelander Mk 1s, but she didn’t listen.
All of which made it a little embarrassing the other week when I saw the very same Freelander stranded in a ditch by the side of the road. The one saving grace – it was being pulled out of the gloop by a Y-reg Discovery I’d sold to a diff erent customer just a few weeks previously.
The road tax on that one was £27 a month, and he appeared to be earning it back by judicious use of a towrope and a flashing orange roof beacon…