Saturday 18 January 2020

The wheeler-dealers you meet when buying a car

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

My husband and I need the expense of a second car like a hole in the head. However, after almost two years living in the country with one car, we decided it was time to bite the bullet and buy a second car. It would have been an ongoing logistical nightmare otherwise.

So with a very tight budget, we started to shop around car dealers for a second-hand car earlier this month. As we live up the mountains, we needed a reliable 4x4 - something that could handle steep hills and snow.

The first thing which took us by surprise was the speed at which certain models of cars are selling - as well as the price of cars that are almost six years old, or younger.

We had four cars on our shortlist - a Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4, Nissan X-Trail or Suzuki Grand Vitara.

You'll easily pay between €12,000 and €15,000 for a 2008 Honda CRV today - but you could pick up a 2005 model for about €6,000. "Everyone wants to buy a 2008 or younger car because they're cheaper to tax," said Padraic Deane, editor of Auto Trade Journal. "Everyone wants to buy diesel. That has been pushing up second-hand prices."

Another thing which has pushed up the price of second-hand cars is the scarcity of them. The recession prompted many people to hold on to their cars - nearly four out of five of the cars being driven in Ireland today are five years are older.

"Over the last few years, the market was being supplemented by a lot of the dealers bringing second-hand cars into Ireland from Britain," said Mr Deane.

"However, there's a shortage of supply of used cars in Britain now so the price of these second-hand imports has gone up. The stronger sterling has also increased the price of those cars."

It's very hard to get your hands on a well-priced second-hand Toyota Rav4 for example. Unless there was something wrong with the car, anytime we rang to enquire about a Toyota Rav4, it had already been sold.

Other second-hand cars which are in short supply in Ireland include the Nissan Qashqai, Volkswagen Golf (diesel model), Volkswagen Passat, Audi A4, Toyota Auris (diesel) and Toyota Avensis, according to Mr Deane.

"It's hard to get one of these cars in good condition, with reasonable mileage and at a good price - particularly if it's a diesel model," said Deane.

The second thing which really surprised my husband and I was the blatant lies told by some of the car dealers we visited. We checked out a Honda CRV in a dealers in Dublin over the wet and stormy August bank holiday weekend. The sunroof was clearly leaking. When we asked the dealer about this, he said that it'd been left open.

In the midst of thundery downpours? We would have been fools to believe him. Had we checked that car out on a sunny day, we would have had no idea that the sunroof was leaking - and you can be sure the dealer wouldn't have pointed it out.

Other used cars we checked out had electric windows which wouldn't close properly, gearboxes that stuck, worn break pads, and exhaust pipes which sounded like they were about to explode. Dealers never mentioned these flaws - it was up to us to discover them.

Our last stop was an 'old school' dealer in Bray registered with the Society of the Irish Motor Industry. Unlike the cowboys we'd visited, he accompanied us on the test drive and seemed a bit nervous. For some reason, this reassured me. We got our mechanic to check the car out all the same and it was fine. We also ran a hire purchase check - this too came up clear. We agreed a price and went off to arrange the insurance.

Next came the third shock - and the only one I had absolutely no idea was coming. Our insurer offers a multi-car discount if you insure a second car with it. As we paid €362 to insure our first car last year, we expected the insurance on the second car to work out cheaper.

I am the main driver on our first car while my husband is down as a named driver. Despite having a clean driving history and holding his full driver's licence for almost ten years longer than I, this was the cheapest way for us to buy car insurance a few years ago - before the rules which ban gender discrimination kicked in.

I have my full no-claims bonus. So too does my husband - but as a named driver. So you can imagine my shock when my insurer quoted €851.51 to cover the 4x4 we were about to buy. This was the quote for comprehensive insurance with myself as the main driver on the second car. I remarked that this quote was very expensive given my no -claims history and asked my insurer if it could do a better price. The reply was that I wouldn't get a cheaper quote - and that the sky-high price was largely down to the two-litre engine on the second car.

Another reason for the expensive quote was that I could not carry over my full no-claims bonus on to the second car. This is common practice. You usually need to work up a no-claims bonus for each car if you have two cars. So you do not automatically get any benefit from your existing no claims discount if you buy a second car.

This simply doesn't make sense - as it is only physically possible to drive one car at the same time, surely the 
no -claims bonus already built up by a driver should apply. Some insurers give an introductory discount if you have a good claims history on your main car. In my case, I was offered a discount of two years on the second car - but that was included in the €851.51 quoted.

We simply could not afford to buy this car we had just struck a deal on if we paid over €850 in insurance a year - as well as the tax. My husband rang the online brokers, A very helpful woman in there explained that we could almost halve the cost of the insurance if we put my husband down as the main driver on the second car. The reason for this anomaly: my husband could carry over the full no-claims bonus he had built up as the named driver on our first car.

I got straight on to my insurer once I heard this. I asked how much the insurance would be if my husband was the main driver on the second car - with myself down as a named driver. I was quoted €428 for comprehensive cover on the same car - about half the original price. Why my insurer didn't suggest this course of action to me at the outset is beyond me - particularly when I protested about the expensive quote.

Clearly someone was trying to make a quick buck here: welcome to the world of buying a second-hand car.

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