This is a tale of woe about the trouble we had with buying a used car in North Walsham, Norfolk. If you have your own experience of 2nd-hand car buying, whether you're a consumer or a dealer, please comment at the end of the page or contact us with your car buying horror story.
For two years after the birth of our fourth child we managed with just a single five seater car: a rather reliable 1995-registration VW Passat (estate). That was the first car we ever bought as a family car (from friends of friends). We managed even after the family grew, I suppose because it turns out that with a large family that you don't really all go places together very often! One of us adults would cycle or train or taxi (or combination of the last three modes) so that we could all go places together (too bad I didn't know about Multimac then). Our system mostly worked quite well. AND it only cost us about 15p/mile to run the Passat (you can tell already that I've pined for it!).
In January of 2010 the Passat did a load of annoying things. We kept having to chip off ice from the inside of the windscreen. Doors either wouldn't close or wouldn't open. So when we saw a (seemingly) decent quality 7-seater MPV (2002 Kia Sedona L) at a local (very convenient) used car dealer (Foundry Cars North Walsham, the used car dealership next to Sainsbury's in North Walsham) we thought we'd take a look.
Well... you can kind of guess where this is going. Loads of things went wrong. We were okay about the purchase price (£3000). We negotiated an extra warranty (on electrical parts for 3 months, in addition to the default engine and gearbox warranty on parts for 3 months). But we made loads of mistakes. And that leaves out the fact that we flogged the Passat too quickly, even after we suspected that there were severe problems with the Kia.
We drove the Kia for 500 miles before sending it in for a service 3 weeks after purchase (because even after phoning many local garages we couldn't find any records of it having been serviced in the last 40k miles). In that 500 miles we noted that it shuddered a lot when going into gear (especially 1st and 2nd gear) when cold. John noticed that it was slipping in 5th at 1500 rpm. We reckoned the wheels needed balancing. Belatedly John realised that the Vehicle Excise Duty (Road Tax) was a lot higher than it had been for the Passat: £225/year. In view of the costs of repairs I don't really mind the car tax, but John rather regrets not checking on it! Also, I found that our (very bog-standard) child carseats didn't fit very well in the Sedona.
So we take the car to our local trustworthy garage for a service... AND Mechanic declares it a death trap. Turns out that the drive shaft support joint is severely corroded and liable to break off at any moment. There's a rather corroded rear brake pipe, too -- Mechanic has never seen anything like the severity of the drive-shaft problem, and can't see how it passed MOT (issued three weeks before we bought it). And at the very least we should have had an advisory notice about the rear brake pipe (not part of the paperwork given by dealer -- although we now know that MOT records can be accessed online, and the advisory note was included in the online records!). Mechanic details several ways the drive shaft could catastrophically fail, especially when driven at high speeds.
We return to Dealer (the proprietor of Foundry Cars, Robert Fitzgerald) who at first declared no responsibility, but eventually started to capitulate and say things like "It's okay, we'll sort something out."
It turns out that two other local garages had been involved in issuing the Jan 2010 MOT for the Sedona. One of them re-examines the car and admits that the brake pipe should never have passed MOT, although they are more equivocal about the drive shaft; although they agree that it needs replacement, they say it's not a failure on the MOT; basically it seems like mechanics can put on blinkers and ignore major safety faults on a car if that area isn't specifically mentioned as part of the usual MOT exam. So while a conscientious mechanic would notice a corroded drive shaft during an MOT check, a mechanic in a hurry only looks where he is supposed to.
John speaks to the agency that supervises MOTs (VOSA). They basically inform us that :
Basically, the MoT test is worthless - the VOSA man said that a car that can't even reverse can pass the test (which is a pretty meaningless comparison to our fault). Even if the driveshaft was on the test, we'd have to use legal means to get our money back. We didn't fancy the stress of going down the small claims route.
We have to be honest here. We are pants at arguing our corner in a complicated situation like this. In spite of the fact that we paid a lot for a non-road worthy car, legally we didn't have a lot of room for maneuver. We had to play on the moral case and use powers of persuasion (which we abundantly lack).
Saturday 27 Feb 2010: John went with a friend to the car showroom, with proposal that either we get our money back or that the pre-existing issues are resolved.
Dealer was initially willing to make a small contribution with regards the driveshaft (£100). Upon mentioning the brake pipes which we claimed were badly corroded and hence should have failed the MoT, Mr. Fitzgerald (owner of Foundry Cars) called his garage (since we hadn't previously raised this with them). We them discussed whether the dealer had a moral duty to sell cars that were unsafe. Robert Fitzgerald's view was that he didn't personally check the cars over and that he couldn't be held responsible for work that they'd paid a workshop to do. Mr. Fitzgerald "did not care" whether the work was done correctly, whether VOSA took action against an MoT test centre that he used, or whether Trading Standards got involved.
When our friend interjected in about 3 sentences, asking about the dealer's moral duty to
sell road-worthy cars, Mr. Fitzgerald and his assistant took offence and forcefully
asked him to leave the office. Once our friend had left
the tone became much more friendly. Dealer would not accept full refund
of the car, and instead offered (no charge) for his workshop to fix the
brake pipes and fit a second-hand driveshaft. We were not happy with a
second-hand driveshaft, so we agreed to go 50:50 on installation of a
new one. NB: We were subsequently advised by two different garages that a second hand replacement part would be unwise because
it's impossible to know how much wear it's sustained and it could not possibly come with a strong guarantee; also, when we did go to court on 11 March 2011 (see below) even the District Judge agreed that he himself would not happy with a second hand replacement part; and the same Judge said that we were not obliged to accept a second hand replacement part, so don't let any car dealer ever try to fob you off with that one.
As if things hadn't gone pear-shaped enough already, they got worse. The work cost £781 to fix; the car dealer insisted that he should pay only £200. Feeling sick but assuming that we had no rights we initially accepted that. Very soon afterwards we finally phoned Trading Standards and found out our REAL rights. From the begining Foundry Cars should have offered to replace the vehicle or to pay the full cost of repairs -- Sale of Goods Act 1979 imposed that duty on him. But because we had agreed to a different arrangement, we knew that we had forfeited at least some of our original rights :(.
We decided to sue Foundry Cars using the small Claims Procedure in the County Courts for the outstanding £581. Our argument was that Mr. Fitzgerald (Foundry Cars) completely dodged from the start his legal duties -- which he must have known about given his sign on the building advertising "40 years" of doing business in North Walsham.
Unfortunately, by accepting the £200 we voided all of our legal rights; which is funny, but I guess that's the case
with the law. Ignorance is not an excuse.
Of course, the story doesn't stop there. In the early stages of filing our lawsuit (early May 2010) the car developed yet more problems.
Playing these mind games with the dealer was quite tiring. The whole situation was extremely stressful, mostly because of the dealer's initial wish to absolve any responsibility or attempt to resolve the problems. We had to resort to what felt like arm-twisting to get the dealer to see things from our perspective, that he'd sold a car which turned out to have a pre-existing serious safety defect and an inadequate MoT test.
Our mistakes were that we didn't check the service history of the car very carefully -- it hadn't been fully serviced for over 40,000 miles; it probably had been run to the ground, really, up until sale to the dealer, We should have had our own mechanical survey carried out before purchase, and should have insisted on a full warranty (instead of the parts-only engine/gearbox/electrics warranty that we got).
VOSA let us down because they didn't give us any protection or recourse for corrective action. If a car passes an MoT test that it should have failed, why is the garage not liable for rectifying the faults that it should have spotted?
The upshot is that you should be very careful if you buy a car from a simple forecourt dealer -- especially one without its own workshop. You must check the paperwork very carefully - including the service history - and insist on a full warranty (parts and labour). If you can't negotiate a full warranty, it is best to get the car independently inspected before buying (the AA does such checks). Wish we could recommend a used car dealer in North Walsham or North Norfolk, but sadly not!
By the way, we learnt from Trading Standards that it is always an offense to sell a car that is not road-worthy -- even if you are private seller.
We went to court in January, but both sides were directed by the judge to go away and prepare our cases properly. The dealer interjected that he didn't know what we were doing there, anyway, since the amount in dispute was "peanuts". There was also an interchange between the dealer and the judge that went very much like this:
Dealer: "What if I get my solicitor to come next time?"
Judge: "That is of course your right to do, but I must advise you that you will not be able to recover any costs incurred by employing legal counsel."
Dealer: "Oh, I don't care about the cost. But... what if I go to a higher court, could I get my costs back then?"
Judge: "You won't be able to take it to a higher court, because of the amounts involved."
Dealer: "Not even if I appeal?"
Judge: Pause. "It is unlikely that you could transfer this case to another court. In any case, you still wouldn't be able to recover your costs for legal representation."
We went to court and lost -- because we voided our legal rights by accepting the 200 quid rather than protesting at that point (on 11 March 2010) -- ironically exactly a year previously. When he realised that he was going to win the case, Mr. Fitzgerald eargerly boasted how great a service he provided, he argued that he had always done right by us, and he mentioned how many judges how bought cars from him in the past "Not that I'll mention any names" he added.
Plenty of friends advised us to just flog the Kia and get something else to drive that we can feel more confident about.
Unfortunately, the clutch problems we have observed mean that the car will probably cost us in excess of another 500 quid -- and soon. So far the car is costing us about 40p/mile to run. So for every mile we drive we can expect to spend 40pence (or more) on fuel and repairs. This compares fairly badly with most MPVs, with running costs generally running higher than ours for fuel but much lower for repairs.
Timeline and Latest Updates:
10 Mar 2010, 460 miles: faulty driveshaft replaced, cost to us = £581.
20 Apr 2010, 700 miles: wheels balanced to redress vibration problems. £71
18 May 2010, 900 miles: rust removed from wheel wells to fix squeaking problem, £46
1 Jul 2010, 1387 miles: electrical repairs to both windows, Keyfob failure, ignition barrel cleaned. £201
26 Feb 2011, 3600 miles post purchase: Windscreen repairs (£10, £65 on insurance, Autoglass).
July 2011, 4767 miles post purchase: Clutch replaced at a cost of £998 at Mr. Clutch in Norwich.
September 2011, 7270 miles post purchase: Odometer and speedometer failures, repair cost = £169, Kia NMG in Norwich.