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Big Mike: When it’s a pleasure to deal with a different class of customer

Time 6 years ago

big mikeSCREAMERS. We’ve all experienced them. Folk who, no matter how good the car is that you sell them, always come running back with one problem after another.

What’s more, the likelihood of someone becoming a screamer is, in my unfortunate experience, inversely proportionate to the value of any car they may buy.

I was reminded of this the other day when I encountered not a screamer, but the complete opposite.


A couple of weeks ago, I sold a lovely BMW 535d to a middle-aged chap in the next suburb. The car was a 2007 model, moderate mileage, and dealt to him for £5,995, which is about as high as I go.

The gentleman was what we call in the trade ‘good for it’, which meant there were no questions at all about whether or not he would pay. He had a nice house in a nice suburb, and a mega-mile but well-maintained 15-year old 530d that he wanted to trade in on a no-nonsense ‘I’ll be happy with £500’ kind of deal. Straightforward, in other words.

On the day of the deal, he turned up in his V-plate Beemer with a glovebox full of cash, I took both, and he drove away in his shiny 57-plater happy as Larry, whoever Larry is. I, meanwhile, decided to buy the 530d a tax disc (boo to the new rules!) and use it myself, as the 275k on the clock would have put off many a Tom, Dick or Harry, but to a dyed-in-the-wool trader like me was nothing more than a badge of honour for a car that had, clearly, been a reliable servant to its previous owner for over a decade.

And I’m glad I did.

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Why? Because four days later, the gentleman in question wandered on to the lot carless and apologetic. The 535d, apparently, was immobile in the Waitrose car park, and he hadn’t a clue why. He (extremely politely) suggested that was a tad disappointing for a car he’d only owned for four days, and I had no option but to agree with him. So we both set out in the old 5-Series for a closer look.

Unerringly polite

Of course, when we got there, I jumped into the Beemer and it fired up on the first turn of the key, so we drove both cars back to the lot and got the chap from the MoT station next door to come and cast an eye over it. An hour later, none the wiser, my customer drove home, both of us perplexed at the 535d’s earlier failure to proceed.

Two days later, it happened again, this time while he was stuck at work, so I jumped into his dutiful old barge and rescued him. This time, the 535d wouldn’t start for me, either, so I called the garage and let the customer, who was still unerringly polite, drive home in his old car.

The problem, it turned out, was a faulty inhibitor switch, and by taking it out of Park, moving it up and down the gears a few times, and popping it back into Park or Neutral you’d normally get a start out of it, so at least the repair wasn’t too disastrous (unlike the part from BMW, which wiped out 50 per cent of my margin on the deal), but the good news is that it was well and truly fixed.

Alas, when I called him to come and collect it, he arrived on my forecourt at the same time as a prize screamer. The ‘lady’ in question had bought an Audi A4 from me a week earlier from a ‘px to clear’ ad in the paper, and truth be told it was an absolute minger (the car, that is…). Eighteen years old, two rust-holed wings, an interior that smelled like a pub carpet in the days before the smoking ban, and suspension that creaked more than Count Duckula’s door hinges, it was clearly its seven months’ remaining MoT away from the junkyard. But then again, I’d sold it for the princely sum of £325.


Her beef was that the central locking didn’t work on the passenger door and that she needed it to as she didn’t want to load her prized Pug into the car from the traffic side of the road, and had she realised as much when she first ‘viewed’ it (she came along, Smoking. A. Fag. Handed over the cash in a brown paper bag, filled out the V5 in spidery scrawl and drove off) she would never have bought the thing.

She then went on to rattle off a load more faults – the fag lighter didn’t work, the radio only picked up Magic or Smooth FM, the carpets were smelly and there were holes in the wings. A discourteous rant, overall, and the complete opposite of the BMW owner, who had been gracious and polite, despite experiencing a far more distressing problem. When the Audi ‘buyer’ demanded her money back because if she didn’t get it she’d ‘get into trouble on her payday loan, innit’, the penny dropped. Quite literally, in actual fact, as that’s what I gave her as compensation for her troubles…

Who is Big Mike? Well, that would be telling. What we do know is that he’s had 30 years in the car trade and picked up some terrific tales along the way.

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