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Much has changed on the forecourts for those buying and selling

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Things have changed on garage forecourts.

Things have changed on garage forecourts.

Salespeople have stopped the 'ould spin' and jargon.

Salespeople have stopped the 'ould spin' and jargon.

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Things have changed on garage forecourts.

In a way, our popular Garage Watch mystery shopping exercise has acted like a temperature gauge for car buying.

A few years back, buyers were nearly storming the doors of dealerships to get their hands on the latest SUV.

We remember once being left waiting for 20 minutes by a salesman. We were furious. It encapsulated an attitude that was born of ease and excess in some garages. Buyers took a number and paid their money.

How starkly those days contrasted with the ones that were to follow. Many doors were closed behind the last person leaving the building as the recession shut down car businesses and swept good jobs away on the harsh wind of recession.

We remember seeing the fear in the eyes of dealer principals on wet Wednesday afternoons when it felt like we were the only callers to a dealership all day.

Of late, however, there has been a bit of a spring in their step. There is a confidence, albeit fragile, out there and no one is getting carried away.

But there is a new sense of purpose and, we are certain, a renewed level of focus on the buyer. That is only as it should be.

Above all, it has become apparent that salespeople have stopped the ould 'spin' and jargon that many used in the good old days. They know people have done their homework before they come near a garage. They know people haven't the time or patience to be hanging around. And they know there is always someone else with as good a deal.

Buying a secondhand car is a tricky undertaking, especially on a tight budget. We tend to be parsimonious with our Garage Watch money for good reason.

We feel the good sales person should, at least, give the impression of paying as much attention to the customer looking to spend €5,000 as one buying a new €30,000 saloon. That is a skill in itself. We have been mostly impressed with how sales people have reacted to our demands.

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But above all, we'd say, the ones we would return to if we were really buying are those who told it as it was – and that's the big difference these days.

If they didn't have a car that would suit our pocket they would say so, or mark our cards on something that was coming. We think that instils an element of trust that transcends the purely financial transaction of buying a used car.

Which leads us to, perhaps, the most important point for you when you are shopping around: how much do you trust the dealer/seller?

We always fall back on the old cliche of 'buying the seller as much as the car'. That means you take reputation, back-up, after-service, quality of staff, the sort of cars being sold, etc into account. That scores highly with us and we devote a lot of time to gauging it on our visits. We ask, do you feel he/she would look after you should something go wrong? Would they give you a car for a day or two while yours is being repaired? Ultimately, these are what sets the good garages apart.

And we're happy to say there are more of them out there now.


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