When you’re a motoring journalist and, at present, I’d loosely describe myself as one of those, unless you’re an American customs official and then I am in no way connected with the media and you can put away your rubber gloves. But that’s another story… Anyway, I digress. As I was saying, when you’re a motoring journalist everybody, and I mean everybody, asks you for your opinion on what car to buy.
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve got into a taxi and mistakenly told the driver what I do for a living. I’m then subjected to a 15-minute monologue on the perils of owning a high-mileage Peugeot/joys of variable servicing on a Skoda/the ‘fun’ you can have with a Fiat Doblo by sticking on a James Bond ‘7’ on the back (delete where appropriate or, if I’m REALLY unlucky, don’t and sit back and enjoy tales of all three).
It’s not just bored cabbies, though. Friends, friends of friends, friends of people I really don’t like, people I don’t like, family members and distant relatives all ask for car- buying advice. And it doesn’t matter what I say — how perfectly rational and sensible it is, or how long it’s taken me to research the options for said inquisitor… because they only go and ignore it.
There was the time I told my older brother he shouldn’t buy a TVR because it would break. It did. Then there was the time I told a friend not to buy an Alfa because it would be worth as much as a pebble after three years. It was. You get the point.
In fact it’s got so bad that I’ve started to recommend completely ridiculous and in no way suitable alternatives to anyone who asks. I need a car to take my two kids to school and have fun at the weekends, one friend of an auntie’s cousin asked me third-hand. Obviously, I suggested a MK3 Toyota MR2. Kids could sit on each other’s laps and put the shopping between their legs, I told my auntie to relay to her acquaintance. I do hope she bought it.
So when my mum and brother both asked me to help them buy new cars recently — both in the same weekend — I started to get a little nervous. The last thing I wanted was to suggest my mum bought a Skoda Citigo and she’d then decide what she really wanted was a Vauxhall VX220.
Thankfully, both mother and brother were up for the help — and mum didn’t want a plastic Vauxhall. Little bro was buying a used BMW M3 from an independent dealer in Bournemouth while the old dear was shopping for a Citigo (she actually liked my suggestion). Unfortunately both experiences weren’t as great as they could have been.
Both dealers tried it on. The independent tried to give us a Beemer with eight months’ MOT despite advertising it with 12. When my brother took it to be tested, £1,000-worth of faults were found — including serious MOT failures. The attitude when he reported this back to the dealer was shocking. It doesn’t take much to put your hand up and say sorry — and fix the issue — but sadly this dealer didn’t see it that way until we played hard ball. Why did we have to do that?
My mother was ready to do a deal on the Skoda, until the salesman offered her £800 under the CAP Clean price for her part-exchange — a mint condition, 8k-miler Ford Ka. I knew what it was worth because the editor of said guide had emailed me the price I should be expecting a few minutes before we sat down.
The salesman immediately got his back up when we pushed for more — so much so that we nearly walked away — until we reached a happy medium on the price of the new car. Mum did the deal there and then but wasn’t impressed with the attitude of the sales team.
These days consumers are doing more research than ever before about potential car purchases. When they enter your showroom they’re more often than not looking to do a deal — and it’s how you treat them that’s the important bit. Screwing up when the customer is sitting in front of you isn’t about losing a potential sale any more, it’s more than likely about losing an ACTUAL sale.
Okay, so they might not have a motoring journalist sitting with them, but they’re bound to know a lot more than they used to. Maybe it’s time dealers started to realise this and give informed punters the respect they deserve.
What do you think? Tweet me to let me know @CarDealerEd.