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We're closing the door on the household garage.

Byline: By Rhodri Clark Western Mail

They may put value on a home, but eight out of 10 garages are never used for the main purpose - keeping a car inside.

Estate agents estimate that 80% of homeowners treat their garage more like a shed or attic for storing junk. They are filled with garden tools, old tins of paint, washing machines, fridge-freezers and assorted boxes of rubbish.

Some people believe putting their car in the garage after rain would cause it to rust. Others have family cars too wide for their garage doors.

But the main reasons we don't put our cars in garages could be laziness and a desire to hoard things we can't accommodate in the house.

Yet a garage, as opposed to a shed of the same dimensions, is still high on the wants list of house hunters, according to Melfyn Williams, former president of the National Association of Estate Agents.

'A garage does add value to the house,' he said.

'People want a garage but never put the car in it. Of all the houses we go to, in about eight out of 10 the garage is an extra storage room.

'But with the way society is going, the need for a garage will increase - a decent-size garage where you don't have to climb out of the sunroof when you've parked the car. More and more people are wanting off-road parking because of crime.'

The trend, however, is for more people to leave their cars on the road or drive. In Gwynedd, garage use has declined so much that the council is considering whether to get rid of its blocks of garages on housing estates. Councillors say they're expensive to maintain but now bring in little income.

House builders have realised people want garages but not for cars - and are building houses with garages that are too small for the typical family car.

Mum-of-two Joanne Lewsey, who has a Peugeot 806 people carrier, bought a brand new home in Magor, Newport, five years ago.

'The people carrier wouldn't fit in the garage,' she said.

'Our next-door neighbours have a Land Rover for him and a Ford Ka for her. They do use their garage but they really struggle to get the Ka into the garage because it's so narrow. They have to fold the wing mirrors in.'

Jim Jones, of the Welsh Association of Motor Clubs, said people in newer houses needed garages because the homes themselves lacked storage space.

'Garages are for clutter, not for cars. These modern houses don't have any other place for clutter,' said Mr Jones, whose own garage in Rhyl is used for his lawnmower, house-decorating materials, washing machine and tumble drier.

'Cars deteriorate and rust if you put them in a garage when they're wet.'

Car manufacturers are also responding to our parking habits, providing windscreen heaters for quick starts on cold mornings.

Edmund King, director of the RAC Foundation, said, 'Nowadays cars have five-year warranties, are less likely to rust and are much more efficient at starting up. A modern car will start first time even on the coldest winter mornings. These are reasons why people are giving up on the garage.'

Laziness was another reason. 'There's no doubt some motorists can't be bothered to open a garage door,' he said.

'It's ironic that for many motorists the car is the second-most expensive item they will ever purchase, after the house. They will spend hours polishing and cleaning the car on a Sunday morning, and yet they can't be bothered to put the car in the garage to protect it from the elements or from criminals.'

He said older people were more inclined to use garages because they had grown up with the idea that garages were for cars.

'Also the older driver is less likely to have four mountain bikes for their kids, plus an extra fridge-freezer for their soft drinks and all the other things that tend to fill up a garage.'

Mr King warned motorists who leave their cars outside against 'frosting' on cold winter mornings.

'Frosting is coming out, starting up and leaving the engine running to defrost the windscreen while you go and have a cup of tea.

'What's been happening is opportunist criminals jump into the car and take off. There were a number of cases last year.' Safer than parking on the street: When bachelor Alun Morgan bought his bungalow five years ago he had a double garage built. He puts his Seat Leon in it most nights to protect it from harsh weather and vandals.

He says younger people have different attitudes to garages.

'I'm a young 62 and I don't think I should be without a garage,' said Mr Morgan, who took early retirement last year from the Calsonic radiator factory in Llanelli. 'I think it's a generation thing. There's lots of cars on the road outside here that people can't be bothered to put away. What if the fire brigade or ambulance had to come out? The road is very narrow in one part and people park on both sides of the road.'

He thinks the claim that cars rust if parked in garages when wet is just an excuse. 'They don't rust, not with today's car technology.' Five-car family: The house of Carole Poultney's family was self-built by a previous owner, with a garage big enough for her seven-seater Mitsubishi Space Wagon.

'I parked the car in the garage for the first couple of months but I stopped because we've got too much rubbish,' said Mrs Poultney, who works as a part-time child minder.

'I've got a fridge and a freezer in there. We had a new kitchen and put the spare appliances in there.

The freezer is plugged in. We don't particularly need it - it's just that it's there. You spread yourself into the room you've got.'

Her house in Magor, Newport, has a drive big enough for three cars - but that's not enough for the family. Her children, aged 17, 21 and 24, still live with their parents.

'We've got five cars. Two are on the roadway. There's so many cars on the road anyway. We're lucky we can get three cars on our driveway. A lot of people can't,' she said.

'It will become a terrible problem.

As soon as they turn 17 now, they pass their test and get their own little runabout.

'They're growing up with the habit of parking on the road.'
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 23, 2004
Words:1080
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