With the used car market so dramatically outweighing new car sales, it’s no surprise that many of us have been tempted by a car makers ‘Approved Used’ programme. Whether it goes under the name of Cherished, or Gold Standard or something similar, the idea is the same – a new-car-style buying experience for used car money. The, Approved Used Car Sales, vehicles are rigorously checked and examined before being put on sale, they usually come with a warranty (some even come with a full two-year warranty, which is serious piece of mind in second hand terms) and the dealer will, as the saying goes, ‘stand over’ the car.
Or do they? In 99 per cent of cases, probably yes – but there are some exceptions. This week, the Associated Press reported on the plight of one James Allen, who bought a Citroen C4 Picasso under an approved used scheme. All was fine and dandy until the clutch began to stink and shudder and the Picasso was diagnosed with burn-out syndrome.
Now, a clutch is of course a wear-and-tear part, and short of a manufacturing defect, won’t be covered by a warranty. The Citroen dealer, Bristol Street Motors in Leicestershire if you’re wondering, said that the wear could only be caused by use and so quoted Mr Allen a hefty price for replacing the clutch.
Mr Allen though smelled a rat along with the whiff of burned clutch and started to do some digging into the car’s history. It turned out to have formerly belonged to a car rental company. Now, while being a former rental car doesn’t automatically mean that a car will be banjaxed, there’s no getting away from the fact that a lot of rental cars do get dog’s abuse, especially from drivers who may not be used to driving with a manual transmission.
Presented with the evidence of a lifetime of ham-fisted rental drivers in its background, the garage acquiesced on the Picasso, and fixed it for free. All well in the end, then.
But it does raise a useful warning. While approved used schemes are hugely helpful, and a boon for the consumer, you can’t be 100 per cent trusting of them. It’s never a good idea to buy a car whose history you haven’t checked out for yourself. Life as a rental car or a taxi can leave seemingly lightly-used cars actually on their last legs. While defects in the paintwork or obvious rough running in the engine can be easily spotted and remedied, items like a clutch can only be inspected by physically removing them from the car and inspecting them – sadly not really economically possible under most approved used schemes. Ditto for items like suspension dampers, exhaust filters and so on.
So, what’s to be done? Well, the short answer is to always be skeptical. Sure, a car may have passed all of the checks and inspections necessary to be covered by an approved used programme, but what kind of use has the car previously had? Does the dealer selling it know the car, has it been serviced with them previously and do they know the former owner? If it was a company car, what company was it with and what kind of driving did it do? Always, always be asking questions and always, always be checking paperwork. There is, after all, no such thing as a bad mystery car – the clues are always there if you look hard enough.
Does that mean that ex-hire cars, or any ex-company car should be avoided altogether? No, not least because ex-hire and ex-company cars are making up an increasingly large proportion of the available used car stock at the moment. In fact, in many ways, these are good things – the cars will usually have been looked after professionally and serviced bang on schedule. But play clever if you’re buying one – make sure you know before you sign on the line and it wouldn’t hurt to get a written guarantee from the dealer saying that wear items such as clutch and suspension will be covered for a brief period after the sale. Many will baulk at this, but the good dealers will know a good deal when they see one.
Of course, it also depends on the type of company that previously owned the car. Take a taxi for instance. Many of us will, when we think of a taxi, think of half-knackered ten-year-old Toyota with nasty vinyl covers on the seats and sagging suspension. Sadly, while that’s true of many of Ireland’s taxis, if you throw your net farther afield, you can find better cars by far.
Two taxis I’ve been in recently convinced me that an ex-for-hire car may even be a better purchase than an ex-hire car. One was a humble Skoda Superb estate, the other was a barely-year-old Mercedes-Benz S-Class but both were immaculate inside and out and both driven by drivers who took as much care with their own appearance as with that of their cars. There was nary a squeak, nary a rattle and nary a hair out of place.
So, when buying ex-corporate, don’t be afraid but do ask all the questions and always be prepared to walk away if something doesn’t look, feel or smell right. And while approved used programmes can be provide both peace of mind and excellent value, don’t forget that a used car purchase is still a used car purchase and you need to go in with your head straight, your questions ready and your homework done. Starting with your own history check…