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.
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.
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.
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.