WITH car dealers in the media spotlight once again and yet another government crackdown on the ‘evil’ that Whitehall believes lurks within every showroom, isn’t it about time we got together as a trade to weed out the real rotten turnips?
Every industry has its bad apples (I promise that’s my last fruit-and-veg-based metaphor) — just look at the press and the bad name that sewer-scraping tabloid hacks have tarred us all with. I struggle to listen to my own voicemail let alone anyone else’s, but if I tell anyone what I do for a living I can see them grab for their phone as if I could hear Aunt Jude’s soppy message about Sunday lunch just by looking at their Nokia 3210.
Just as in the car industry, working in the media requires a level of trust. I’ve often been told stories that would make the editors of weekly car magazines foam at the mouth (baby Jag, anyone?), but when the source tells you that it’s ‘off the record’, then that’s exactly what it means. If they can see that I don’t leak sensitive information like a Lotus Elise’s roof, then they’re more inclined to give me the low- down on something they want to shout about in the future.
It’s the same with car dealers — if your customers don’t trust you then you’re already on the back foot. In fact, building up trust, in my eyes, should be the most important thing for every dealer. Sadly, there are many in the motor trade that don’t see business that way — and it’s this minority that are ruining it for the rest of us.
Earlier this month the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and the Trading Standards Institute clubbed together to launch its ‘Check It, Don’t Regret It’ campaign. It appears that the government is fed up with second hand cars being the most complained about topic on the CAB’s advice line.
In the last 12 months, the charity has been told of 84,000 complaints about used cars. That’s quite a lot. In the first two weeks of September alone there were more than 2,500 angry punters on the blower and some 83 per cent of them had valid faults on their ‘new’ used car. Four out of five of the callers’ motors needed essential repairs. Incredibly, 139 of them were fit only for the scrap heap.
That’s not good news for dealers as a whole. While you may be genuine, honest and helpful, there are many out there that are not — and most of them, if I were to hazard a guess, are selling their cars not from a showroom or used car pitch, but from a layby at the side of a busy main road. While it’s all well and good for the government and its enforces to get angry about dodgy used cars, their latest campaign should really have a simple message and one alone: Don’t buy a used car from the side of the road.
Seriously, who are these people that buy machines costing thousands from a guy in a grotty layby? With the desire to save a few quid clouding their craniums, they’ve thrown all sense out of the window and decided that yes, they might not know where the dealer lives, or trades from, what his real name is or have anything more than a pay-as- you’re-gone mobile phone number, but still handing over £1,695 for a fading red Ford Ka for his daughter is in fact a solid and sound investment.
What’s that, you say? The head gasket has gone? And you want the number for Citizens Advice? Oh.
If aforementioned doting dad had spent a couple of hundred quid more and bought from a car dealer — one with premises, one paying business rates, advertising costs, VAT and all the rest of the big bills that come with running a legitimate business — then he’d have had some comeback. And that’s not forgetting he’d have known where to take the faded Ford Ka back to in the first place.
If the government focused its efforts on killing off kerbside traders (not literally), then I’d wager those 84,000 complaints a year would fall dramatically.
A simple message to car buyers warning them of the dangers of buying dodgy motors at the side of the road and instead to head to a dealership would be far more effective than simply scaring consumers into thinking all dealers are out to get them.
Maybe it’s time the industry clubbed together — threw some cash into an advertising pot — and launched a campaign of its own to get the message across.
I’m up for organising it. Who’s with me? Tweet me @CarDealerEd.