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James Baggott: We need a way to stop the cowboys ruining life for the rest of us

Time 2:09 pm, September 25, 2015

I’M starting to hear worrying things about how tough business is out there for some independent dealers – and I’m wondering whether it’s time something drastic happened. I don’t mean drone strikes, but something a little more thought through and planned than a good old moan to your kinfolk down at the auction.

Delving into the Car Dealer Forum, as I do regularly (and if you’re not on there you really should be, because it’s full of dealers like you talking about the issues that affect you every day), I spotted a worrying post from one of the more active members saying he was throwing in the towel.

In a post entitled ‘Closing Down My Business, Sad Day’, Wheelerdealer1 says that with a heavy heart he’s decided to call it a day. In an emotional post he wrote: ‘I sold the last of my stock today. Unfortunately I can no longer compete with all the local driveway sellers working from home I have down here in West London and up and down the country.

‘I prep my cars well and sell from a premises with a warranty, and these guys are undercutting me big-time selling no prep cars, no warranty, with no comeback from anyone so they don’t really care what scrapheap car they sell.’

What a sad state of affairs. A legitimate business closed down by cowboys – roadside traders, or home-based wannabe car dealers who are giving you hard-working tradesmen and women out there a bad name.

But what can we do about it? And – more to the point – what can we do about it before the government steps in and does something that causes even more pain for the rest of us? It’s no secret that one of the largest causes for complaint in the automotive sector to Trading Standards is from used car buyers.

But I’d hazard a guess that those buyers aren’t buying from the VAT-registered, FCA-approved, customer-conscious dealerships that make up our core readership. No, they’ll be buying from Dodgy Dave in a layby on that busy road into your town where you find all the cheap cars with fluorescent for sale signs in their windows. And when their car, which they bought because it was ‘a bargain’, breaks down, they have no avenue for recourse.

I’m not stupid – those complaints won’t just be about the roadside traders. I’m sure there are some ‘proper’ dealerships out there that don’t do the best by their customers either, but what is clear is that there’s a minority ruining it for the rest of the industry.

So what can we do about it? Well, I’ve long thought that a campaign that supports the good guys – you – was needed, something that signposted consumers to the good guys. Customers like to buy with confidence – just look at sites like for proof of that – but how does that take shape for us, what form does it take and how does it work?

We could go all out and attack those dodgy roadside traders, point out with stickers and flyposting on the cars that the buyer should beware, that the seller is a trader but not offering trade benefits to the customer. But that’s just an incendiary to fan the flames of contempt in the industry – let’s face it, as annoying as it is, we’ve all got to start somewhere, right?

I’m afraid I haven’t got the answers, but I do know that if we don’t do something together, as a collective industry, to stamp out those rogue traders that are giving the rest of us a bad name, then Big Brother is going to do it instead. What this business needs is a solid scheme that everyone believes in, a scheme that has a set of standards the dealers have to adhere to for membership, a scheme that would give car buyers the confidence that they were buying from a trusted retailer who isn’t a flash in the pan and who will still be able to help them if things take a turn for the worse with their purchase.

No one likes more regulation, but by clubbing together and getting the message out there that buyers should be purchasing their cars from verified dealerships that are part of a national scheme that boasts an agreed set of principles and minimum standards, then perhaps the bad guys will be weeded out by process of elimination.

Think of it like the Food Standards ratings that tell you how clean the takeaway is you’re ordering from. I’m not saying a star rating is needed, but you wouldn’t buy from a one-star takeaway, would you? And before that scheme was introduced you had no way of knowing which was a clean one and which was swimming in rat poo, did you?

Think, just for a minute, how powerful a nationally recognised scheme would be for the used car industry, especially if you were one of the approved dealers. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter.

Get in the forum and post your comments, tweet me @CarDealerEd or send me a good old-fashioned email.

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James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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