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Big Mike: Gordon was wrong about bust and he’ll be wrong about boom

Time 7:30 am, October 10, 2013

ImageIF the pundits are to be believed the recession is over, Britain is booming, and soon we’ll be remortgaging our houses again to fund overseas holidays, home renovations and new SUVs. Bye, bye credit crunch, hello boom before bust.

Yes, I am cynical but I’ve been alive for a good four or five economic cycles and I know Gordon Brown was well and truly wrong when he said there’d be no more boom and bust. He was wrong about the bust and, mark my words, he’ll be wrong about the boom as well.

But in the used car trade these things rarely matter. In the good times, people come through your doors happy as you like because they went into their bank to use the cash machine and came out with a 10 grand loan. In the bad times, they come to you because they can’t get a loan, and they have to buy a used car instead of a new one.

big mikeDifferent types of buyer, of course, but my own little business has kept its head above water over the past five or six years of economic doom, keeping the much-beloved in haircuts and me in Banks’s Bitter with a little bit left over for the odd week in Benidorm or Tenerife. What more could a chap want out of life, apart from maybe a pint of Banks’s Best served in Tenerife, but you can’t have everything, eh?

That said, the finance houses still aren’t exactly tripping over each other to dole out the cash and the days of any old ‘Erbert walking in off the street and finding himself with stackloads of ready credit are gone. They at least want to check that any potential customer is telling the truth when they say they have a job, a house and a reasonable amount of stability.

Unless, of course, you use Knuckleduster Finance Ltd, suppliers to many of the less scrupulous traders around these parts, even with an APR equivalent to the average third world debt. For those customers that don’t hit the high street loan jackpot — and there are more of these folk than there used to be — I use a reasonably reputable company that extends the tentacles of credit to those with a less-than-perfect past.

Here’s an amusing tale which I ask you not to laugh at too hard, for the poor gentleman concerned was a lovely bloke. Thick as the proverbial porcine excrement, but a nice guy. Having failed after three children to understand the biological implications of human copulation, said gentleman, late 20s and looking a decade older through sleep deprivation, chugged on to my lot in a Peugeot 406 estate that had served him well since he bought it on sub-prime credit from me five years earlier. The object of his desires (or practical needs at least) was a 2006 Zafira, a gloomy grey Motability-spec model with the big plastic hubcaps.

Nevertheless, at a shade over £4k it was prime stock for me and the sale was easy. The guy had no interest in cars and was happy to agree the purchase as painlessly as possible.

Determined to help him out, rather than go back to the old finance house, which was perfectly credible but did like to overcharge on the interest, I managed to get him approved with a more conventional lender on the basis that

he’d paid his last car loan dutifully and contemporaneously.

Agreed in principle, I asked him to come back in with two references and we’d do a deal that would involve the somewhat distressed 406 in part exchange – I wouldn’t normally be interested but it’s always useful to have something to haul Fluffy the Rottweiler around in without worrying that he’ll rip the interior to shreds in a fit of pique.

After six days, I gave him a call. Somewhat flustered, he said he was trying to get hold of the references but was having trouble pulling everything together. Would it be okay if he brought them in on Sunday? Never ones to miss a sale, both I and the finance house agreed to be there at 2.30pm to sort it out.

The following weekend the battered 406 pulled on to my lot containing a motley crew of three — the rather scruffy customer dressed in a sparkly polyester suit of the kind normally worn by someone referred to as ‘the defendant’, a more dapper man in a tailored offering and an older lady who looked frustrated to have been dragged away from preparing her roast potatoes.

‘I got them,’ said the customer, somewhat excitedly. ‘My letting agent, who can be the financial reference, and my mother-in-law, who’ll give you as good a character reference as you’ll ever get…’

Not the most conventional approach, I guess, but nevertheless once I explained that I only needed written references, and gave each of his passengers a pad and a pen, we got the loan agreed and he left a happy, if still a somewhat-baffled-by-life individual.


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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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