Rubber Stamps & Rubber Bullets

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When there is nothing on the telly, I love nothing more than to trawl through the on-line car adverts with a big mug of hot sweet tea. My other half call this my internet porn, and for me anyway, my favourite part of the adverts is the long and never exhausting abbreviations. ABS, EBD, ESC, B&Q, BBC, ERF – the list is endless, but of course the one that catches the eye is our old friend – FSH which stands for full-service history. Those three magic letters that promise you a tip top car of tomorrows quality at yesterday’s prices – today.

I recall a mate’s tale of woe regarding a used Volvo V70 estate that was emptying his bank account as quickly as spurned spouse. It’s a sad fact that the magical automotive abbreviation – FSH can in fact often mean FA. Within the first few months of ownership, Ron forked out for a new centre silencer, rear brakes, wiper blades, a front wheel bearing and more recently an air-con compressor that started moaning like, in his words not mine; “a bored eight-year-old”. Clearly, what we have here, is a tired and worn out Swedish suitcase that’s far from factory fresh – he’d well and truly shot himself in the foot!

One of the problems with Ronnie is his laziness when it comes to his car purchasing. He’s the sort of chap who unless the ideal car is located within a 20-yard radius of his armchair, he just simply doesn’t want to know. After further probing he told me the car was sourced from; “some mush who sells cars from his front garden” – all the boxes ticked for some serious motoring misery. With me feeling like an agony Aunt he solemnly told me how the service book was all stamped up to date and how pristine the car looked when he parted with the folding stuff.

Of course, valeting a car is the easy part but there again, so is stamping the service book… as I shall explain. One of the less reliable contacts I know sells trade-in bangers from his driveway in a busy village just outside Bedford, most of his stuff borders on being mobile death-traps but every now and again he has something half decent. I once witnessed Mr and Mrs Gullible looking round a used Citroen ZX – it was a few years back M`lud.

When the husband asked about there being no evident service history, the vendor proudly replied; “not a problem… I can sort one out for you for an extra £50” the couple seemed suitably reassured.

In a filing cabinet drawer was a varied selection of rubber stamps and wherever a service book was missing one or seven entries, he would simply thump the book with a carefully selected seal of approval – there was even a choice of black, blue or red ink pads too.  With all the best will in the world, a car with a full-service history is NOTHING without a bundle of bills in the old A4 sized brown envelope to back up the proof. Also be aware of a service book full of Fast-Fit centre stamps as quite often fitting the seat cover and driving it into the workshop accounts for the Lion’s share of their “Multi-Point Service Check”. 

Cunning vendors stop at nothing to hoodwink hapless motorists into thinking used motors are flawless. If the bills are on show, read them carefully. Example – my chosen motor factor, and others can print off what’s called a quotation bill. All you do is ask for prices for all the parts you need, and the paperwork spews out of the printer. It looks no different to an itemised parts sale invoice except for the word estimate printed somewhere on the sheet. Quickly flash this past a customer’s mince meat pies and they believe the cam belts been changed only last week. Tatty invoices with old debit card receipts stapled to the edge is what you’re looking for.

Hand on heart I would say that 95% of my transactions be them from service, sales or parts – I’ve worked in all those departments, have been conducted fairly and with integrity. I like to sleep soundly in my bed with a clear conscience. A customer once payed my restaurant bill when he saw me dining with a lady friend as they were leaving. Compare that to an incident when I was sitting in a Daventry Tandoori house with two chums also in the trade. A couple were walking out when Mr Hulk of a Husband clocked one of my table mates called Matt. A row broke out over a used van he’d been sold that was something of a pup by all accounts and punches flew.

A fool and their money are easily parted goes the time-honoured mantra – to a degree its true. The problem is this, everyone expects and wants a bargain. This may seem fair enough on face value, but my thirty plus years of experience has taught me one thing – there is no such thing as a cheap car. One day or the next you will end up paying dearly, unless you knew the risks at the time of purchase. Dodgy dealing and automotive highway robbery are shifting from bomb site pitches and lay-bys to the internet, this makes selling a rogue car even easier than before. But there’s also more ways of checking a car is a good `un than before thanks to the world wide web.

You can check complete MOT histories, road tax, outstanding finance – it’s all there. The crooks are still around but so is all the information to lower the risk of your purchase.

So, just who is to blame?


Mike Humble Bio Picture

Article Written by: Tim Miller www.autobritannia.net


Mike is a former car salesman and vehicle mechanic with over thirty years of experience within the motor industry. He now works as a freelance motoring writer featuring in a number of printed and on-line publications including Parkers, Classic Car Weekly, Car Mechanics Magazine and Commercial Motor. More recently, Mike has also become involved in automotive themed DVD productions. 


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