Wednesday, January 06, 2010

My "Chelsea Tractor"

At last some honest sanity about 4x4 cars, and from a Labour MP of places! Tom Harris has posted in defence of the so-called "Chelsea Tractor" noting that its essentially each to their own and also noting that the very name, "Chelsea Tractor" "betrays the class-oriented nature of the criticism".

However, I would like to pick up on some slight misconceptions and inaccuracies in Tom's post, not, you understand to have a go at him, but rather to correct often repeated nonsense about these so-called evil vehicles.

First off though, a declaration of interest, this is my car. Don't ask me why I've blanked the plates out, you can't exactly miss me (it says "Surf" on the side for Christ sake!). I should also point out that I do not live in London and will, later today, likely be asked to get to Luton airport via roads that I can do safely but others won't be able to pass.

OK, so on to Tom's post. Tom says of 4x4's that "their fuel consumption efficiency is obscenely low". This really isn't true and is a generalisation based upon what a car looks like and the assumption that it must therefore have crap fuel efficiency. Take for example, the Lexus RX400h - commonly seen on the streets of Kensington and Chelsea because it's not cheap at all - between 0 and 40mph it's electric.

Yes that's right, "Chelsea Tractors" can be hybrids. What about your beast you might be thinking. Well, its a 3L Turbo Diesel and the way I drive it I have managed to get around 37-40mpg out of it. That's also quite maintainable if you look after it and change the oil and fuel filters every 10,000km (sorry, work in kilometres for things like that because it's a Jap Import and that's what the odometer uses).

Anyhow, the fact is that fuel efficiency on the most popular models of so-called Chelsea Tractors, such as the Landrover Freelander, Honda CRV, Toyota Rav4 is little different to an average family saloon car when it comes to what they call "city driving". Please note at this point that a Porsche Cayenne 4x4 does not count.

Tom goes on to argue that because the fuel efficiency is poor "their owners have to pay through the nose for the privilege of driving one – and quite right too". Again this really isn't true, when compared to your average family saloon, if you're doing the "city driving" you're probably not going to see much difference and your tank size will pretty much mean filling the thing up will be much the same price.

Tom also argues that the extra cost is the same with road tax and that "Chelsea tractor owners pay a lot of money for their indulgence". This isn't really true either, that beast above has just cost me £190 for 12 months road tax. Now, that might sound like a lot, but it's no different to how much it would have cost me to tax 2 litre family saloon.

Anyhow, these misconceptions and inaccuracies aside, I do rather appreciate that Tom has written the defence that he has, which essentially follows the line of "if you own a big car you pay for having a big car so what's the problem?". This doesn't of course change the fact that many see these cars and think they're driven because of status, money or whatever.

If you want to know why I drive one it comes down to some practical and individual reasons. Firstly, it's a Hilux. The engine is bulletproof and essentially it's the car of choice for terrorists and warlords in the badlands of the world because it just keeps going (almost 200,000km on the clock and still going).

Secondly, I do a lot of motorway driving to the bottom of the M1 and around the M25 and want to be comfortable and relaxed when I get to the end of my journey. Thirdly, where I live the only way out is over hills, which, on days like today when the snow comes are treacherous, but it's just as dodgy when its wet.

Until you actually experience the difference of having all four wheels doing something, not just the front or the back, you won't understand how important it is for keeping your car on the road and not in a ditch. Ask a saloon driver with four wheel drive and they'll tell you the same.

Fourth, finally, I drive one because they really really annoy some people. Now that might sound selfish, and in a way you'd probably be right, but this reason is really only the icing on a much larger cake which has very practical reasons in its other layers.

Now I have to run off and get the snow cleared off the bloody thing, slap it into low four-wheel drive and experience the sheer pleasure of not getting stuck.

P.S. I have never ever lived in Chelsea and never could unless I won the lottery.
P.P.S. The import cost less than £3000.

Update: Have just come back rom somewhere and got stuck behind a fool in a rear-wheel drive BMW trying to go up a steep hill. He managed it, in about 10 minutes..... sideways. Why do people even bother with a car like that in these sort of conditions?

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