I’ve a long history with buying and selling cars. I used to do it professionally, and quickly realised that it was possible to buy interesting cars, run them for six to 12 months and move them on. The cost, apart from insurance and repair bills for the occasional clunker, was minimal.
It was fun. I loved poking around websites, forecourts and auction houses. The thrill of the chase to pin the selling down on a keen deal was wonderful. I can happily say I’ve owned some of my favourite models from the last two decades.
Not long ago, I realised that I needed a cheap family kickabout as a second car. Equipped with a modest budget and the need to hunt out a safe, reliable and spacious family bus, I started hunting around.
In my days of cycling through hot hatches and sports cars, I generally dealt with enthusiasts, but occasionally dealers too. I usually found them to be fairly affable characters. Sometimes they had a whiff of Swiss Toni or Boycie about them, but if you took what they said with a pinch of salt, they were fine.
My latest experience couldn’t have been more different. Admittedly armed with a smaller budget than before, the dealers I contacted were uniformly rude and had a couldn’t-care-less attitude.
Despite calling ahead to tell them I was coming, most cars were non-runners – either having flat batteries or no fuel. One Focus, rather comically, had no lock barrel behind the badge meaning it was impossible to open the bonnet to jump start the car.
Full service history is a must for any car I buy. And I had no idea there could be such a liberal interpretation of the term. A handful of crumpled invoices for new tyres and a couple of old MoT certificates isn't exactly comprehensive.
For the most part, the dealers I called seemed capable of only monosyllabic answers, and were generally unwilling to offer much in the way of assistance. One aggressively accused me of calling about a car he never had, only for his equally aggressive and unapologetic boss to tell me otherwise.
I didn't expect gilt-edged customer service, nor did I expect the full Basil Fawlty treatment.
In the end, I found a lovely two-owner car advertised privately by a well-to-do lady in a leafy Surrey suburb. The car was as-described, drivable and well priced. Perfect.
A couple of surveys last year suggested some 20 per cent of Brits are putting off a car purchase due to the recession. Judging by my recent experience, it’s not just economic woes that are barriers, but the dealers themselves.
Have you noticed a change in car dealers’ attitudes? Do you prefer to deal with a private seller?