On Watchdog last week they reported on a customer who sued a Citroen Dealer under The Sale Of Goods Act, his Citroen C4 Picasso (Ex-Demonstrator) had broken down abroad in France on a family holiday, it was picked up by Citroen and taken to a local dealer where it was diagnosed with a gear selector problem, the breakdown had occurred 16 months after he had bought the car. Citroen picked the vehicle up and repaired it free of charge, but the customer wanted reimbursing for his hire car costs and flights back to the UK, he didn’t have an extended warranty and Citroen wouldn’t pay citing this “Insufficient Warranty Cover as their reason. 

The customer took the Dealer to the County Court and was and was awarded consequential losses in the amount of £1345.16p, in my opinion, this was a ludicrous decision, I doubt the dealer made that amount in profit when he sold the Reverend the car in the first place, and anyway how can it be the selling dealers fault that it took another garage several weeks to fix it? I assume that the part wasn’t available from the manufacturers, otherwise even if it involved stripping the gearbox down it could only be a 2-day job, also when I go abroad In my car I always take out Holiday insurance and Holiday Breakdown Insurance to cover that eventuality.  

The Customer the Reverend Carl Chambers who is a Man of the Cloth said “ I’d like to think that I am quite a mild-mannered person, I’m a clergyman, and fairly friendly with it, but I do believe in Justice” and “ I did have a deep-down confidence that I was doing the right thing, and therefore I had to persist, and I guess I am the kind of person, a dog with a bone, and if I know what’s right I will just keep doing it” 

I’ve been in the Motor Trade for 40 plus years, and I am certainly no Clergyman, but if that happened to me on holiday, I would curse my luck and put it down to an “Act of God” I wouldn’t blame the Dealer, what am I missing?  

The program has given me an idea, When I got married in 1981 a reverend performed the service in Church, I tuned out for most of it but I distinctly remember him saying something about “Loving and Obeying” till one of us knocked off, I have to tell you that didn’t happen, in fact, if she had been a car, she’d have still been under manufacturer’s warranty when I realised that she wasn’t fit for purpose, I’ve tried to erase it from my memory so it’s a little hazy, and could be that it happened the other way around J but do you think I could I sue the Reverend for misrepresentation?


Then this week a guy sues a garage for the cost of replacing a cam belt, here’s a link to @Lawgistics_UK full article http://www.lawgistics.co.uk/read-news/494 the Judge said there was no evidence that the cambelt had or had not been changed, moreover there was no evidence that there was actually a problem with it, I’ve taken the liberty of simplifying the Judge’s summary and his thought process but essentially it was “no one could predict that it would or wouldn’t go but if it did it would cost a lot of money to repair, so he thought the cam belt should have been done before the car was sold.

Perhaps the Judge should have gone a step further and ordered the Manufacturers that cam belts should be scrapped and they should go back to timing chains, which at least gave you a warning by rattling for 50,000 miles before they eventually snapped, or that the people that make the engines should have designed them to be “Non-Interference” (where the valves don’t smash into the pistons if the cambelt snaps) to me the mere thought of an interference engine relying on what is effectively a rubber band is idiotic, but what do I know? Apart from exactly the same thing happened to one of my fleet customers who was driving a Vauxhall Cavalier 1.8 Sri he’d had the cambelt changed and it snapped in France when he was on his way to an important meeting in Germany that was in 1984, even back then the cost incurred was in the thousands, I had offered to fly out and fit a new cambelt but the driver had to get to his meeting so he hired a car and abandoned his Sri, 30 years later the same thing is still happening it would seem that people in the Motor Trade do not learn from their mistakes!

Nothing to do with a Cambelt, but I was reminded of this that happened to me a few years ago.

I had just got an 9-year-old little Diesel Hatchback in stock, it was taxed, tested and even though it had done nearly 100,000 miles it had a good service history and was the type of car that would sell its self, no need to spend money advertising it, it wasn’t going to depreciate a few hundred pounds in Glasses and Cap every month like most cars do, I just had to sit back and wait.

Almost every day I would get calls, or people would stop at the garage to ask me if I had any cheap little diesels, or anything coming in, Cars like this are known as “Little Plums” in the trade, I could sell as many as I could get, there was never a massive profit in them, but I couldn’t get enough of them and they were “You snooze, you lose” cars and they sold very quickly.

I had only just finished cleaning this one and put a price board and big red “Diesel” sticker in the screen, when a rather attractive young lady who was out jogging, interrupted her run to stop and look, I had priced the car at £1695 which was too cheap really, but that was what we in the trade call the “death” it was an attractive price but there would be no discount, no part exchange over allowance, no fill the tank up, tax it for 6 months put mats and mud flaps on, and I will have it, it was a “that’s the price take it or leave it, if you don’t want it someone else will buy it”

The lady was happy with the price, she told me that she wanted it and would buy it for £1695 subject to having a word with her Dad, that’s where things went a bit wrong in the right kind of way. Her Dads friend was a very good customer of mine and he phoned him to make sure that I was reputable and ok to deal with, my customer gave him a glowing report, but then he sensed an opportunity to make himself some money.

As I did with all my customers, I had told him that if he ever recommended me to someone and I sold them a car, I would give him £100 introductory commission. I am pretty sure he hadn’t sent her to see me, and I am pretty sure that the car had caught her eye as she ran past, otherwise she wouldn’t have turned up dripping with sweat in a sports bra and shorts would she? or maybe she would, who knows these days?

I’m pretty sure he had been contacted after the deal had been done, but he rang me that night to say that he had sent a friend of his down to see me, keen to impress her Father with his dealing skills, he wanted to negotiate on her behalf, and he said that if I was prepared to knock £95 off for her, and give him his £100 intro fee he would recommend that she should buy it, rather than upset him by asking him if he’d heard from Geppetto the woodcarver lately, I agreed.

I can guarantee whenever you sell a car to a “friend of a friend” or you have hardly made any profit on a car Sods Law states that something will go wrong with it, and make you look bad. My standard warranty on this older type of car was 3 months or 3000 miles, Customers only hear what they want to hear, so I always go to great lengths to explain and give them a printed Warranty Book with a list of the parts that are covered, and the parts that are not, having said that my warranty wasn’t set in stone and I am a soft touch so if anything went wrong that wasn’t technically covered I always repaired it.

4 months after she had bought the car and I was technically off the hook, she rang me to say she was at work about 20 miles away and a colleague had pointed out to her that there was water dripping from underneath her car, we get this quite a lot in the car job and usually it’s nothing more than condensation dripping out of the air conditioning drain pipe which is normal and nothing to worry about, it could also be coolant from the engine and if it goes unnoticed, which is unlikely as there is a warning light but the car could overheat causing catastrophic failure, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

I drove to her place of work and examined the car, it was the top hose from the radiator that was leaking quite badly, the main dealer couldn’t get one till the next day, the car couldn’t be driven, and she had no other way of getting home or back to work the next day. That shouldn’t really have been my problem, but again I didn’t want to do anything that would upset the guy who (cough) had recommended her, so I said I would go to my mates garage a few miles up the road, and have a cup of tea until it was her home time, I was going that way anyway so I may as well give her a lift.

I used to buy quite a lot of cars from the garage where I went for a brew, I knew the owner well and he very kindly offered to help me sort out the girl’s car, I made arrangements to have the new hose delivered there and he would send his mechanic to fit it and top up the coolant and antifreeze the next day, she would only be without the car for 1 night.

When I was driving her home she managed to get in the conversation that in order to get to work the next day, (queue violin music) she would have to set off at the crack of dawn, catch 5 buses, and walk miles, so being a soft touch I offered to take her. I know that you’re all thinking “oh yeah, I bet you fancied her” but I didn’t, I have also taken one of my customers to a hospital appointment and waited outside for several hours, he was a 70-year-old bloke and I didn’t fancy him either! I just felt I owed them.

Everything went like clockwork the next day, her car was repaired, she rang to thank me, great another satisfied customer, having said that her car was out of warranty, she never offered to pay for the hose or the fitting or the callout which most garages would have charged her, and not that I would have taken it, but she didn’t even offer me any petrol money for chauffeuring her to work.

Several months later she rang again, this time to say that the carpet in the passenger footwell was wet, and the car windows were steamed up so she wanted me to check it out, fortunately, this time it was weekend so I asked her to drop it off. Water inside the car, and windows steaming up can be caused by a few things, for example the seal around the windscreen or sunroof can leak, the drain holes under the bonnet can get blocked allowing water to back up and seep in through the heater fan, more serious is that the heater radiator which could leak it costs about £100, it’s situated behind the dashboard and is an absolute bastard of a job to get out, it usually takes 3 to 4 hours labour, those are more serious scenarios but equally it could have been people getting in and out with wet feet, and having a wet umbrella chucked on the floor.

The carpet was quite wet, but after examining the seals while our valeter was spraying a hosepipe at the car I was satisfied that this and blocked drain holes were not the problem, the coolant level was still where it should have been, and a pressure test on the system confirmed that it was ok, if the pressure didn’t hold it would mean that air was replacing coolant that was leaking out.

All the signs were there that it was melted snow, wet shoes, wet coat and wet umbrella that had caused the windows to steam up, so I rang to tell her it was ok to come and pick the car up, I thought she would have been pleased but once again my dealings with her took another unexpected turn. She told me that it was actually her friend, “who knows a lot about cars” that had noticed the problem he suspected it was the heater radiator, and he suggested that she should have a new one fitted (reading between the lines, her friend did fancy her, and he was trying to impress her with his knowledge).

Knowledgeable friends are hated throughout the motor trade mostly by Salesmen who have had sales scuppered by their unbelievably moronic observations, or by other people who think that pipe smokers wearing, sandals with no socks, a cap, a body warmer, and having a massive bunch of keys hanging from a special clip-on their belt are prats!  I recall one incident where the (Knowledgeable Friend) examined a car of mine that was an absolute minter from top to bottom, he took his pipe out of his mouth and said “I’d stay well away from that car, it’s too clean, it must have been in a bad accident and had a complete respray” I’m not often lost for words, but I just said “I’m sorry but I don’t think I can talk to you.

I knew it wasn’t the heater radiator on my customer’s car, but whenever a knowledgeable friend is involved, you just can’t win, so I said look I’m sure it’s ok, they’re £200 to replace and it would be a waste of money, however, if it would put your mind at rest I could put a can of stop leak in it and we can monitor the coolant reservoir to make sure it doesn’t go down.

I was very surprised when she replied in a very abrupt and stern tone, she was almost shouting down the phone “Look when I get a repair done, I get it done properly, no expense spared, I need my car to be reliable and don’t want it breaking down on me, So don’t make excuses, just get it done. That’s when I realised that she thought the repair costs should be down to me, I reminded her of the warranty terms and conditions and pointed out that it had expired 3 months and over 2000 miles ago, I asked her if she still wanted me to get it done, I already knew the answer as soon as she realised that it was her who would have to pay £200 for a repair that wasn’t needed her demeanor changed completely, she decided to spare the expense and she said, “oh ok love, just pop one of them stop leaks in it then!”