Wednesday 22 January 2020

Smart Consumer: Why falling head over wheels in love can drive you to despair

Susan Gately

Okay. I'll admit it – and I haven't even told my husband this – I was looking for love. I wanted to be wooed, wowed, fall in love.

My first was a red Fiat Bambino called 'Broom, Broom' – christened for her spluttering engine sounds and the sawn-off brush handle supporting the ceiling.

Then came Sylvester, a blue Fiat. There was no going back with Sylvester – I drove without reverse for six months . . .

Gulliver was next – an apple-green Mazda with floaty suspension. It was like driving a trampoline.

After that a string of nameless cars, without charisma or personality.

So when an accident wrote off my Honda Stream, it was time for . . . well, love. I have a bad back so the first criteria was comfort. Yes I was thinking cheap . . . but luxurious.

A friend recommended getting a Saab and after several missed chances, one day we saw an ad for a black Saab 9-5, diesel automatic, low mileage, low price, NCT-ed, taxed. It had a dent in the boot. Its Polish owner, who spoke little English, explained in gestures that children had jumped on it.

On the test drive I sank into the plush black leather seat. "How many kilometres do you get to the litre of diesel?" I shouted to the owner. "One hundred, thirty thousand kilometres," he answered. "No the mileage to the litre?"

He said "Yes". I gave up.

Afterwards, love was in the air. We offered €600 less than the asking price, and having considered the offer for five seconds, he accepted. We were the proud Saab owners.

The "awakening" began quickly after. Charlie our mechanic, explained that there was a "lot of funny stuff underneath".

What exactly?

"Well things repaired with sticky tape." Charlie's list included four new tyres (kerching), brake pads (kerching), bushings, (kerching, kerching).

By now my husband and I were laughing helplessly like the condemned.

Days after our 'final' visit to the garage, the driver window popped out of its holder. "I'll get you a price . . ." "No!" I would avoid using the window – how difficult could that be? Very, as it turned out. Only the next day, my son hit the button and the window was down – and out – again.

Finally the car was fixed. As I purred along the motorway, I noticed an ominous "engine malfunction" light on the dash. We booked in 'Black Sabbath' (the name that has, alas, stuck) for a diagnostics session. It was fixed – no charge (apart from the diagnostics), but there were a few more jobs that needed to be addressed fairly urgently . . . (kerching, kerching).

We have now spent €1,500 and Black Sabbath is restored. Were we mad to buy him?

"Yes," says my husband emphatically. I'm not so sure. There's still the matter of love.

I decided to ask Conor Faughnan at AA Ireland. His gentle voice was all sympathy. "There is a real tendency to fall in love with a car on sight. It's a fact of life."

But his advice was clear: when buying a used car, get it checked out professionally, or at least bring someone along who can give an impartial assessment.

Ask the right questions, and watch out for 'clocking' (doctoring the mileage).

But you can get good value used cars, he said, especially as depreciation is so front-loaded at 30pc in the first year.

Hindsight is wonderful. It's like looking in the rear-view mirror.

Otherwise, love comes at a price – be ready to pay it.

Irish Independent

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