Like Jimmy, we want to trust people

lemon_car_little_girlIt’s a sobering thought when you read that Citizens Advice handled some 45,000 complaints about secondhand cars last year from motorists who clearly bought a lemon. Sobering in that this is probably the tip of the iceberg because not everybody knows to go to them when things go wrong. This may well explain why many garages and dealers make a selling point of trade associations’ complaints handling schemes – they think that dealing with complaints is normal practice.

The problem is, as ever, that the motor industry isn’t regulated which is why the likes of the rogue trader car dealers we see on an increasing number of TV programmes about them carry on trading.

Which is why we should also watch the Citizens Advice video about Jimmy buying a secondhand car. Please watch it all, even if you can sense what’s coming, because the most useful bit of advice is at the end.

Sadly if Jimmy won’t listen to the good advice of his friend, chances are few motorists will listen to advice from a company they don’t normally have any dealings with.

That doesn’t make Jimmy an idiot in any way. In fact most of us are like Jimmy in that we don’t realise the risks we run buying a cheap car from a private car seller or an Arthur Daley-like character on a garage forecourt. If we don’t know them but the car’s a gleaming steal, it’s human nature to want to trust the individuals here.

Used car checks

Fortunately buyers do have rights as stated in the Sale Of Goods Act when we buy a car from a trader. It must be ‘of satisfactory quality’ be ‘fit for purpose’ and ‘as described’. If it isn’t and you find this out within a reasonable period of time, you can take it back to be repaired, replaced or for a refund. Fingers crossed.

Bear in mind however that all this is subject to the grey area of reasonableness ie the older/cheaper the car, if faults were pointed out to you (always difficult to prove they weren’t), if the service history was non-existent then you stand a lesser chance of proving liability.

And that you don’t have the right to get a substandard car fixed to your satisfaction elsewhere and then expect the original dealer to foot the bill. That’s not usually seen as reasonable although I would beg to differ in some situations

My advice is always to do a used car check before buying, to make sure it is ‘as described’ ie that it hasn’t been stolen, written off, had its mileage clocked or be the subject of outstanding finance, which you’d pick up the tab for by the way. Just google for ‘used car check’; they’re really cheap and easy to do online. Many dealers include one for all used cars they sell – it’s often called an HPI car check so you can ask to see theirs before you buy.

Other than that, our advice is ‘if it seems too cheap, the salesman will know why, and so will you in due course.’ I recommend you always google to see what the car in question is worth, via a valuation service online. If the car in question is much cheaper, only you can decide whether to risk it but I’d always pay for a mechanical car check from the professionals here. Especially if the car doesn’t have a regular servicing history.

Most garages will look this over for you for a fee. Experts like the AA, RAC and DEKRA (FOXY’s partner) will do a thorough mechanical check for you costing c£100. I recommend this so you don’t end up like Jimmy, facing a bill of a lot more than £100 simply because he didn’t do his homework in advance.

Getting the deal in writing

Sadly you have little comeback in law if you bought the car from a private seller.

Whereas if you buy a nearly new car from a franchised dealer or a big used car showroom you should expect the car to have been thoroughly checked before you buy. But these impressive sounding checks vary quite a lot so you’d be best to ask what precisely is included and to ask to see what the mechanical checklist revealed.

I’d also look for a minimum 6 month MOT and a 12 month used car warranty for your reasonable peace of mind.

From a financial point of view, where part exchange and car finance can turn the transaction into a smoke and mirrors game of moving numbers, we recommend that you always get the final financial facts spelled out in writing before you go ahead. Their paperwork should spell out, separately, the amount you will pay for the ‘new’ car, the precise amount you will get for your ‘old’ car (where applicable) and the final car finance terms (where applicable).

Then take a reflective break of 24 hours to check online and be happy with the deal. Where in doubt, pull out…

I know it shouldn’t have to be like this but it is. Sadly those that know how to play the car buying game are likely to end up with a better deal than those who don’t. Which is why FOXY Lady Drivers Club offers a hand-holding service for Club members and encourages all women drivers to post feedback about their recent car buying experiences via our sister FOXY Choice website.