Remember Arthur Daley? Some of you, possibly many of you, will be too young to do so, a fact that makes this writer feel increasingly old and creaky. Daley was a character from a seventies crime-and-coppers TV show called Minder. As played by veteran British actor George Cole, Daley was smooth-talking, charming and utterly conniving. The only thing you could trust him to do would be to weasel his way out of any promise, guarantee or effort. He was, of course, a used car salesman…
Arthur Daley became the absolute Acme of the dodgy car dealer, the guy who parked the damaged side of the car close to the wall in the hope that you wouldn’t notice until it was too late. The only matching numbers he ever saw were the ones on his bank balance. The character may well have been beloved, but the real-life versions (and there really were some) were hated and feared by consumers.
Now though it seems that Arthur has had a change of careers, or possibly is just dabbling in sleigh cars in his retirement, because there are some worrying figures coming out of a survey of private car buyers in the UK by the Royal Automobile Club.
Those figures state that 45 per cent of those buying privately think that they have been misled in some way, and that 67 per cent feel they were sold a faulty car. Now, let’s put that in perspective – it’s estimated that there are around 2.7-million used cars bought and sold privately in the UK every year, so that’s 1,215,000 people who feel misled and a whopping 1,809,000 who reckon that the car they bought was actually mechanically dodgy.
A further 21 per cent felt that they had paid over the odds for the car, and that’s in spite of 50 per cent saying that they bought privately in order to save money.
Now, you do need to filter these figures a little, because people are always more likely to complain in an anonymous survey and everyone secretly thinks they spend too much on things, but even so, there is clearly a serious amount of mistrust between those selling their cars privately and those buying them. The ghost of Arthur Daley hovers over every doorstep, it would seem.
Three biggest concerns
Ironically, the three biggest concerns that buyers told they RAC they have about buying privately are all ones that can be dealt with pretty easily.
The first concern, cited by 29 per cent of buyers, is of buying a car with a mechanical weakness of some sort. Ok, so cars are complex things and it’s never going to be easy to check every last little widget to make sure it’s working as it should be but there are things you can do to put your mind at ease. The old trick of taking along a mechanic friend (assuming you have one – 35 per cent of respondents to the survey said that this is what they do) is always helpful, but there are limitations – vehicle problems tend to be more related to electronics than with the oily bits these days and if your friend isn’t familiar with the particular type of car then there’s a limit to what they can tell you.
Far more helpful is to get a proper, full mechanical inspection done by such as the AA. These are pricey certainly but if you’re shelling out a significant amount of money on a car then they’re well worth investing in. The suggestion of such is also a very good litmus test for the person you’re buying from – if they agree readily to the inspection then it’s likely that they have nothing to hide. If they baulk or make excuses, then there’s something amiss.
The second and third concerns raised were buying a stolen vehicle (24 per cent) and buying a car that has been previously written off (13 per cent). Well, all you have to do to allay those concerns is click at the top of this page… A Motorcheck history check will tell you whether a car has been nicked or crashed, and it’s a good tip for sellers too – get a check done on your own car when you’re selling it and you can present it to any potential purchaser, offering them peace of mind.
RAC data services managing director Robert Diamond said that “buying a car privately can work out cheaper than going through a dealer and is therefore a popular choice." But clearly many drivers don’t have a lot of trust either in the person they’re buying from or in the car they end up driving away with.
“Sadly, motorists are telling us that buying a car privately appears to resemble something akin to motoring roulette. What’s more, buying privately doesn’t afford the same levels of consumer protection as buying through a dealership – putting more pressure on making the right purchase. Happily, this doesn’t need to be the case and there are now a range of services available to help ensure that private buyers needn’t spend hours researching their next car only to be let down at the very end.”
Buyer and seller trust
Can we build up trust between buyer and seller? Well, arguably services such as that offered by us here at Motorcheck certainly can – they help take away the uncertainty and allow you to deal, either as buyer or seller, with the other person on a more equitable basis.
And so, Arthur Daley’s ghost can be easily exorcised. If when you ring about a car the seller asks to meet in some dingy pub car park and offers the old excuse about the ownership papers being in Shannon, then just don’t bother. Walk away. If the person you’re buying the car from greets you at their own home, offers you a cup of tea and presents a thick sheaf of service records, NCT certs, old tax discs and a completed Motorcheck history check, then you’re probably onto a winner.