One (of many) careful owner(s)

Interesting story going around just now about used car buyers queuing up for 'compo' after they were sold cars labelled as second-hand, when the previous owner was actually a rental firm or other multiple-driver fleet.

Fiat Chrysler and Alfa Romeo got a slap for this from the Advertising Standards Authority last year, but it's believed that hundreds of thousands of buyers could be affected by the scourge of cars previously sat in by dirty, cackling fleet drivers rather than normal human beings. The ASA notes, with due gravitas and not the merest sign of a titter, that cars from these sources "were more likely to have been subjected to wear and tear".

That's as maybe. Some might say, though, that the trade is entitled to get some of its own back. Smart but bent punters are more than capable of matching or outdoing the pros in the jiggery-pokery stakes nowadays, and not just in the motor business either.

According to an ABTA survey just out, plenty of holidaymakers have been approached by claims management companies promising to get them cashola through bogus holiday sickness claims. Those who have successfully followed up on the idea have been raking in average payouts of just over £2,000. Unsuccessful ones have been put in chokey - but of course there are risks in any enterprise.

The point being, it's dog eat dog out there now. It wasn't always so. There has always been roguery in the motor trade, but it used to be a more jovial, quid pro quo sort of thing. In the 1950s the 100mph Club was operating in full swing down London's Park Lane, with guffawing Terry-Thomas types validating each other's membership runs past the Dorchester while fat jolly constables pretended to tie their bootlaces. In the '60s, the outside lane of the M4 echoed to the exotic thrash of Italian valvegear as hipster-wearing trust fund beneficiaries battled through the small hours to crack Heston to Bristol in under an hour.

Those motors would have eventually filtered down to the man in the street. Everybody knew there was as much chance of finding a wodge of scrunched-up newspapers behind the sill of a Daytona as there was behind a Datsun's. You either had to pay more attention while buying or shrug your shoulders and get out the Isopon repair kit for immediate onward sale.

I believe that the solution to dodgy used car sales lies not in nannying the public by protecting them from the evil trade but in giving them a good excuse for making a dozy purchase. And to do that I'd be starting from a very different place: dealership opening times.

Used car experts have always strenuously warned against buying used cars at night. A few years ago, when I was pretending to be such a bod at What Car? magazine, I was paid to pass on this sort of sensible buying advice to readers.

Naturally, I ignored my own advice, buying a used Peugeot 205 diesel after a three-minute 9pm examination on a dimly-lit rainsoaked petrol station forecourt in February. In the harsh light of day, the Peugeot turned out to be very used indeed, a veritable patchwork quilt of mismatched panels. I spent the next several months in a state of frustrated rage, crying into my pillow until I managed to unload the beast onto the next sap.

Things would have been quite different if I could have ambled into a dry, warm, seductively lit and (crucially) drinks-licensed used car showroom at 9pm. Let's face it, worthwhile customers rarely visit car showrooms between the hours of 9am on Monday morning and 5pm on Friday afternoon, when respectable working folk are respectably working, so why bother to open up during the day?

If I had a car showroom, I wouldn't. Much better to work in the evenings, with lightly-sozzled, Uber-delivered customers nicely primed for easy sales of razzed ex-fleet 'secondhand' motors. There is nothing like the feeling of fine cognacs surging around the system to add that vital extra spark of appeal to an otherwise unremarkable Proton. A couple of stiff sherberts before my nocturnal 205 purchase would certainly have equipped me with the vision and courage necessary to tell its vendor where to go.

Here's another idea for my notional drinks-licensed car dealership: warranties would be directly related to how bladdered you are when you sign on the dotted line. If you stay totally sober and buy sensibly, you get the usual warranty backup. If you take the plunge after six pints and end up with the keys to a really smart-looking but suspiciously cheap 5-litre W140 Merc throbbing ominously in your pocket, the warranty period is reduced to ten minutes.

Car salesfolk are supposed to be sharp, but for the price of a late-night mini cab they're surely missing a big trick here. After all, even banks let us get our money in the dark these days. We must defend our right to make stupid car-buying decisions. It's all about freedom. Caveat emptor - and mine's a large one.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (43) Join the discussion on the forum

  • HardMiles 09 Jan 2018

    Had a good chuckle reading this, but you're so right. Garages will be open late at night soon, as the normal 9-5 crew can't get into one, hence dodgy online eGay deals etc...

    People that don't know about cars, won't ever understand the backstory of one, nor care, so I'm happy for them to scoop up these "bargains" to keep us lot safe! :-)

  • Cheapskate 10 Jan 2018

    Opening hours of most b2c establishments have always frustrated. Great idea - just so long as I don’t have to live anywhere near the test drive route of a dealership that liquors up potential buyers...

  • lord trumpton 10 Jan 2018

    Was speaking with my neighbour over Christmas (senior bloke in Audi) about the late night stuff.

    He seems to think it's very much on it's way. Late night servicing is already being adopted by some dealers and the evening sales is coming too.

    Can't say too much but theres a big move to a car site in Trafford park for one car brand that will be developing a large site for this sales route.

  • Sa Calobra 10 Jan 2018

    Good. Why shouldn't a customer be compensated if they have been misled. I've had a V5 withheld at point of purchase and misled on the previous owner. I won't name the large Scottish chain.

    Whether you feel ex rental cars are good or bad customers should be able to make an informed decision based on what they want when spending thousands.

    I personally don't want an ex rental car.

  • Buff Mchugelarge 10 Jan 2018

    Strange article.
    Surely the 9-5 lot just do their car shopping at the weekends?
    Almost all <3 year old cars on fourcourts up and down the country are ex rental, ex lease hire, or fleet. I'm sure 95% of their buyers are happy and couldn't care less what it was doing before they bought it. Plenty of brand new cars get a hammering before they're even registered, no one ever cares about that?

    ETA: if buyers are being deliberately misled however, then that's very naughty and someone needs time on the naughty step.

    Edited by Buff Mchugelarge on Wednesday 10th January 07:34

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