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Car dealers taking customers for a ride

Which? investigation uncovers sharp sales tactics

car keys and car

Car dealers’ reputation for sharp practices could be justified, despite new consumer protection rules designed to stamp out misleading sales tactics.

An undercover investigation by Which? found several examples of poor, misleading or unclear sales advice. Of the 26 enquiries Which? researchers made about buying new cars, 12 car dealers made dubious or vague claims, and four of these could have broken the new rules.

‘Bait and switch’

Some bad advice could be because car dealers are ill-informed about manufacturers’ offers. But Which? suspected some dealers of using ‘bait and switch’ tactics – advertising a car, despite knowing there’s no stock, with the aim of selling an alternative – and ‘pressure selling’ –  e.g. implying a false deadline for a discount offer or saying stocks are low.

One Peugeot dealer said on the phone he had a model in stock that was advertised on its website. Just an hour and a half later in the showroom, our researcher was told the dealer didn’t have that model and was shown a different car. This seems like an example of ‘bait and switch’ – but is difficult for a buyer to prove.

Pressure selling

A Jeep dealer strongly suggested a special offer would finish at the end of that month (October 2008), despite the Jeep website saying it applied to any cars registered before December 31 2008. The salesman claimed: ‘there’s only about 10 left in the country’, although Which? found no apparent shortage from established online car brokers.

Which? motoring expert David Evans also visited some showrooms. He enquired after a Vauxhall Astra advertised on the dealer’s website, and was asked to take a seat while a salesman ‘checked stocks’. Without even disappearing from view (the dealer walked into a small office, then came straight back out), he said he was sorry but that particular model was gone. He then offered David a used Astra, with several thousand miles on the clock, for the same price.

Consumer protection

Which? is concerned that the new Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trading) Regulations can’t be enforced effectively as it’s so difficult to determine what is an unfair sales tactic and what is simply misguided advice.

It is calling for car dealers to get their house in order, and make sure sales staff have the knowledge, skills and training to provide car buyers with the facts when they enquire about a car.

Richard Headland, Editor, Which? Car, says: ‘The ghost of Arthur Daley’s alive and kicking, unfortunately. Dealers have had ample time to get used to the new rules, but too many still let car buyers down.

‘If dealers want to win the confidence of consumers, especially in these tough times, they need to play by the rules.’

Consumers who believe they have received sales advice which flouts the new protection rules should contact Consumer Direct (0845 404 0506) or their local trading standards office.


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