I like Arthur Daley, but I wouldn’t buy a used car from him. A couple of weeks ago I decided I need a new car and I was specific about what I wanted: a diesel estate.
Space to carry tools and waste, diesel for fuel economy. I started looking in Autotrader and was rapidly consumed by the amount of stuff on offer. However, as time went by I started to notice a few disturbing trends. . . .
On Autotrader you can filter your search results. Price low to high places the cheapest rust buckets, lemons and dogs first. Here, you’ll find all the Ladas welded to Citroens and those insidious ‘spares or repairs’ and ‘sold as seen’ deathtraps.
But you’ll also find brand new and nearly new cars for £99. Except they’re not £99. In the description £99 is the deposit. I was duped. Autotrader has a ‘report this advert’ feature, so I did. Many times. Hopefully, the gangsters with their deceptive pricing will have been warned by now.
Other desperadoes place wanted ads in the for sale lists. You might filter your result by brand, and thus in the Audi list you find an Audi TT for £600, except it’s not a real sale, it’s a wanted ad. Top prices paid. Well, not for much longer, because I reported those ads as well. A thank you for wasting my time. Dealers have a name for buyers who waste their time: tyre kickers. I have a name for dealers who waste my time, but I won’t use the word here.
Those who hide in the shadows:
An increasing number of trade dealers have their cars hidden from view. You have to ring for an appointment to see the car. They have no website, no sales pitch, no premises. They live in that fog bank just north of the estuary at Ellesmere Port and emerge after dark to let you test drive the Ford Focus Zetec with the full service history and the two previous owners, both of whom mysteriously disappeared one stormy night in that same fog bank.
And that leads me to another problem. The last time I bought a used car was in 2007. Back then there was a car dealer on every corner. I took a break from Autotrader and drove round the area, visiting the dealers I knew from years back. They’re all gone.
Now, you have large used car dealers like Evans Halshaw, and their cars aren’t priced in my budget, around the £1500-£2000 mark. Their cars are ‘upmarket,’ which is a fancy way of saying expensive. The dealers who are left are small, camouflaged. You drive past them without seeing them, and the A6 is two hundred miles long. You can drive a long way before you realise you’ve passed the dealer and have to turn back.
I visited one dealer in Warrington and the compound was full of men in baseball caps. I no more want to buy a car from a man in a baseball cap than I do from a man in a sheepskin coat and a fedora.
After all this I actually managed to write a shortlist of cars. The choice came down to the Peugeot 207 1.4 diesel (£30 a year road tax). the Peugeot 307 1.6 diesel (60 miles to the gallon) and the Audi A4 TDi (nothing really, I saw one photographed in Yorkshire and it was tempting).
What I really wanted was a Mazda. I’ve had two Mazdas. They only break down if you abuse them. My 323 will have to be blown up before it dies of its own accord. It’s done 206 000 miles and still passed its MoT two months ago. A Mazda diesel estate would be ideal, but you’ll find brontosaurus soup before you find a Mazda diesel estate.
The next best alternative was a Mazda 6 diesel hatchback . . . with a tow bar!
I didn’t want tow bars to enter the equation. When I first mooted the idea of buying a new car it was for business use. I needed the space. I looked at vans, but with a van you need a trade license to dispose of your waste. The van was out.
Then I thought I’d fit a tow bar and buy a trailer. But you need a trade license to dispose of your waste. So, the next option was the estate. One day I noticed my neighbour taking rubbish to the local tip. He had a trailer. He told me you don’t need a trade license if the trailer has a single axle.
The trailer was back as an option. And there was a Mazda 6 diesel (hatchback) with a tow bar. I checked out the dealer online and found an interesting review. The dealer has a workshop where they take insurance write offs, do them up and resell them with no warranty, no guarantee, sold as seen or spares or repair. In other words, hand over my money and by the time I get home find my car shaken to bits with nothing left but the driver’s seat and three tyres.
The Peugeot 307 at Westhoughton had a turbo diesel engine. The turbo was stuck solid, said the dealer. I walked away. The 307 at St. Helens was okay, but St. Helens being St. Helens means I’ll never be able to find that dealer again. I only found him the first time because I got lost.
I went for a sail on Ullswater and had a think about it all. As the boat chugged its way back to Glenridding I had a brainwave.
Why don’t I keep my car?
Fit a tow bar, buy a trailer. So that’s what I’m doing. For now at least. If the business doesn’t take off my trailer will have lost hardly any value. I can resell it. My car will have a tow bar, but that’s neither here nor there.
When I do need to start looking all over again, cobblers to it. I’ll pinch an Aston Martin.