Big Mike Blog

Big Mike: A few tips (not) worth taking on board

Time 6:37 pm, February 14, 2012

LAST month, you may recall that I had a bit of a pop at lazy motoring journalists, who regularly dispense pearls of misplaced wisdom disguised as used car buying advice.

Alas, I was then contacted by a mo-jo who I know quite well, who had a bit of a grizzle back at me because he believed his used car know-how was the best in class. So I took him to task…

What, I asked, are the three most important pieces of advice you could give to a punter? He chewed it over for a bit and came out with the following…

Buy something less than a year old as the first owner will have taken the biggest hit on depreciation. Always insist on a full service history. And never buy an ex-rental car.

Now, as you’ve probably gathered by now, Big Mike and spring chickens have very little in common (indeed, the only similarity I could come up with is that we’re neither very good at flying). I’ve been around the tin-pushing industry long enough to know my eye-watering bulb-shaped vegetables, and I know that the three pieces of advice given above are absolute poppycock.

Let’s knock down the easiest one first – full service history. Unless the owner has been to the moon on holiday, then chances are a car that’s less than a year old doesn’t even have a service history, or if it does it’ll make very light reading. With 12 months and at least 12,000 miles being the norm between bonnets even being opened these days, chances are you’re looking at a PDI and maybe one stamp.

Then there’s the wisdom of buying less than 12 months old. Letting the initial owner take the big depreciation hit seems fairly prudent, but when most cars at three years old are worth about 40 per cent of what they cost new, and tend to still be in perfect working order, I question the sensibility of buying nearly new unless you’re after a recent new model in very high demand.

But what’s even more perplexing is the contradiction between advising someone to buy a car less than a year old, and never buying an ex-rental. Okay, so we’ve all heard the mantras ‘drive it like you hired it’ and ‘don’t be gentle, it’s a rental’, but where on earth does Billy-Bob think this seemingly endless supply of less than 12-month-old cars comes from?

Frankly, I’d much sooner buy a motor that’s been driven round Edinburgh by American tourists for the first half-year of its life than one that has come directly from a private owner, who clearly sold it quite quickly because they hated it!

Revolting colours

And how, exactly, do you identify an ex-hire car? Most of the rent boys, as us traders affectionately know them, source their stock either direct from manufacturers or through major dealer groups.

They, in turn, tend to either hire or lease the cars themselves, or negotiate a buy-back scheme with the supplier that means they, on paper, are the first owner.

Go to your local main dealer, and a car supplied ‘direct from head office’ generally means the thing has had 101 drivers, most of whom picked it up from an airport and opened the left-hand door first and stared agog at the lack of a steering wheel. It’s probably also been revved up to its limiter between each gear change and has been smoked, eaten and shagged in. You won’t find any of that in the service book!

So how, exactly, do you spot an ex-hire car? Big Mike’s clues, in no particular order, are new front tyres, revolting colours (Doom blue is popular, as dealers can’t get ‘em off their forecourts) and a regional identifier on the number plate that’s from nowhere near where the car’s being sold (for example, round my way, they usually begin with a B [for Birmingham] so I look on anything with an ‘L’ [for London] with suspicion). I also know for a fact that some companies, especially the bigger players, register their own company cars and their rental packs in different towns, as a subtle clue to their dealer network as to which really are ‘ex-management’.

When I had a main dealer franchise several years ago, I always looked for the Newcastle registrations and not the Kent ones!

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In the scheme of things, though, does it really matter? To me, absolutely not. Why we should be so precious about the history of a nearly new car when the thing has had heaps of money spent on it by super-skilled engineers, and has been tested to near destruction across Arctic tundra, is beyond me.

There’s no such thing as a crap car any more, but unfortunately, there’s plenty of crap advice…

Who is Big Mike?

Well, that would be telling. What we do know is he’s had more than 30 years experience in the car trade and picked up some seriously funny  tales along the way. You can read more Big Mike here

Dave Brown's avatar

Dave, production editor on Car Dealer Magazine, is a journalist with more than 30 years' experience in the worlds of newspapers, magazines and public relations.

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