THINKING OF CHANGING THE CAR?
Peter Tabb of the Jersey Motor Trades Federation ponders the options
IT’S A CLICHÉ, I know, but you’re likely never to have to spend more money in one go on anything else. That conglomeration of metals, glass, rubber and plastics that we call a motor car will rank, after your house if you choose to buy rather than rent, as the major investment of your life.
Psychologists have long ago given up trying to explain the link between man (in the humanoid rather than the gender sense) and motor and although the satellite channel devoted to ‘Men and Motors’ moves away from things mechanical to things pulchritudinous after midnight, more than half those who ‘use’ motor cars are female, so gender would seem to have little to do with it.
In Jersey, if you count everything that carries a number plate, there are as many motor vehicles as there are people. Many of these, of course, have replaced pack animals and even human sweat in our modern lives but the biggest single group are cars, very nearly two thirds of them..
This is not the place to probe why we buy cars and what cars we will buy but rather how to go about buying and minimising the problems often associated with the parting of a lot of money.
Anyone seeking to buy a car has several sequential choices. Do you buy new or used? If buying new, do you buy from a local dealer, shop around in the United Kingdom or on the Continent for a ‘bargain’ or go surfing on the Internet? If buying ‘used’ do you buy from a dealer or privately? Do you buy for cash or hire purchase? Do you already have a car? If so, do you trade it in or do you sell it separately yourself?
So let’s look at these options. If you have a car and you want to trade it, whether it’s against a new or used car, then your options are limited to visiting one of the many local dealers. While in Europe it is now possible to buy any make of new car from any dealer, in the Channel Islands new cars are still, for all practical purposes, only sold by their manufacturer’s nominated dealer, the so-called ‘block exemption’ legislation now in place in Europe not having yet crossed our little strip of Channel. Since Jersey still lacks a Sale of Goods Act, while a new car is as protected by the manufacturer’s warranty as it is in the UK, used cars are not and although most will carry warranties, many will not and a vehicle sold ‘as seen’ means exactly that and buying a car without a warranty is very much a case of caveat emptor – let the buyer beware! Incidentally, despite horror stories about people buying cars which were still subject to someone else’s hire purchase agreement, you can sell a car while you are still paying hire purchase on it provided you or the dealer advises the finance company concerned. Whatever you still owe (the settlement figure) will be deducted from the trade-in value of your vehicle against your intending purchase. If you are buying a used car and you want reassurance that it is the vendor’s to sell (i.e., that it is not still subject to someone else’s hire purchase agreement) then a call to HPI (Hire Purchase Information) on 01722422422 will almost certainly provide the necessary info. The information costs around £40 but it’s a relatively small price to pay for peace of mind. Furthermore a JMTF member will meet the cost himself.
Buying from the Continent or off the Internet pose their own challenges. While undoubtedly savings can be made, remember that any import will still have to pay the appropriate rate of VRD relevant to its engine size which rather knocks the gloss off the gingerbread! Warranties too are a lot less certain (they are certainly shorter) and just because a make has a well-established local dealer it doesn’t always follow that he will carry out warranty work on something you bought in a supermarket in Belgium!
If you buy off the Internet you do so at very much your own risk, particularly with regards to after-sales service which often only exists in cyber-space!
By far the safest course is to buy the car from a reputable dealer. Most dealers will provide a warranty with a used car (unless the car is above a certain age – usually ten years) but few warranties these days are comprehensive and most are accurately termed ‘mechanical breakldown insurance’. In this phrase ‘break’ means what it says and however much you tease out the English language, ‘wear’ and ‘break’ are two different things. Therefore the warranty will cover those things that break but not those that fail through wear. Always, but always, read the small print!
If you buy from a private individual you have very little protection against something going wrong and thus it is crucial that all rose-tinted spectacles are removed and those stars are banished from your eyes.
Whoever you are buying from there are few simple rules to follow if your buy is to live up to your expectations.
Always give a car a road test and that means more than driving it up and down for fifty yards. Check the brakes by stamping the pedal to the floor – the car should pull up in straight line. If it doesn’t, the brakes are unevenly worn. Go up and down the gearbox like you were stirring a Christmas pudding. If the car is an automatic, put the selector into the fixed drive positions and see how the gearbox likes it. Although autos don’t have a conventional clutch, they can still suffer a form of clutch slip. And shouldn’t. Wiggle the steering wheel and make sure the front wheels do what you tell them at the same time. Put on all the lights. Apart from being a hazard, having only a selection of the lights working can be an offence. Listen to the exhaust and watch for any smoke coming out. Smoke usually means that in its internals the engine is worn but again leaving a long plume of oily smoke behind you is another offence. Look at the spare tyre – it should be inflated and have a full tread. Make sure all the instruments work. Bounce up and down on the wings to see whether or not the shock-absorbers squeak in protest (they’re not supposed to). Although you cannot legally test the car above 40 mph, run the rev counter needle around the dial in low gear and see how the engine likes it. Open the bonnet and check oil and water levels including the windscreen washer. If they are where they should be, the car has had a caring owner. If not, perhaps not. If the car has a service record, have a look through it, particularly if the car has a high mileage. The higher the mileage, the more important the servicing. However, human nature being what it is, the reverse is often the case. If there is no service record, ask why not. Only when you’re satisfied, do you buy the car.
Members of the Jersey Motor Trades Federation are bound by a code of practice which is as near as a Sale of Goods Act as anything in Jersey so far gets.
Some time in the foreseeable future consumer legislation may well render the JMTF code and complaints procedure obsolete. In the meantime, motorists have at least the satisfaction of knowing that the trade association is also on their side.
Copies of the JMTF’s list of members, complaints procedure and code of practice are available from the JMTF, tel: 07797 721275. Ends.
PT JMTF 2008