The story so far

Sunday, 20 December 2009

A Car or a Lemon?

Arriving at Coffs harbour was a relief and after stress over running out of money and the car, we took a few days to recover while Matt and Fiona carried on their routines of work and taking the kids to and from Nursery.  Actually, the first day, Matt took me to the Deep Sea Fishing Club for a couple of beers and had second half of the afternoon off.  We looked out over the sea, drank cold beers and enjoyed the scenery.  It was pretty good really.

We came back to his place and drank half a carton of beer between us.  This was inevitable, as was the fact that we have probably done more or less the same thing every night since, although we did have onenight off, just to keep the ladies happy.  We did have a dodgy car on our hands though and that would prove to be a weight on our minds which needed lifting.

We had been planning a trip up the coast, but the Fairlane obviously wasn't going to make it.  Matt and Fi, in their infinite kindness, offered to lend us their second car, so we took them up on the offer and set off up the coast for the Gold Coast.

Meanwhile, I had decided to take Ross's advice (see comments on the first month in Australia) and ask the dealer to take the car back.  When I phoned him, he spun me some story about needing to speak to the manager who was out sadly dealing with a family emergency.  He was lying and not very good at it, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  I left him my phone number and called him again to speak to the manager.  This time I asked for the manager's mobile phone number but this was withheld from me.  I gave my phone number again and asked him to get the manager to call me.

Knowing they were trying to give me the run around, I checked my rights on the New South Wales fair trading website.  Sadly, all Australian states have different laws and NSW's are not quite so protective of the consumer as other states.  I believe in Queensland they have a "lemon law" which deals with lemons (Cars which basically fall apart the minute you get them off the forecourt)

In NSW they have a general law which says that goods when purchased, must be fit for the purpose for which they have been purchased.  The car was not, clearly, but having driven 1200kms, proving it would be difficult.  I wrote the following email, to encourage the garage owner to take my case more seriously.

Dear Sam or Manager,

As discussed with Jay twice on the phone this morning, I bought the above car from you two weeks ago and it has given me problems ever since.  The engine temperature keeps rising and I have to stop to avoid overheating.  Also, the cooling system is losing water at an increasing rate.  I took the car to a garage for an inspection and am informed it has had he following faults which appear to have been an existing condition when I bought the car.

Having spoken to Jay, I am advised that I need to speak to Sam to resolve the issue, but having called Sam at the time proposed by Jay, I have been advised he has had to attend a family emergency.  While I sympathize with this situation, I would like the resolution of my issue to occur as speedily as possible.  I would expect that if the family issue persists, it would be possible to delegate authority to another member of staff on what should be a simple enough issue to resolve.

I have already consulted the NSW Office of Fair Trading to understand where I stand in this issue, but would like to reach an amicable solution before making this a formal issue with them.  I appreciate that you may not have been aware of the state of the car, but you do have a mechanics shop and ideally should be aware of the mechanical state of the cars you are selling, especially when the front struts and the disc rotors have been described to me as "dangerous"

If I have not heard from you this afternoon, I will call again and if I have no contact from Sam or a delegated authority by this time tomorrow, I will raise the issue with the OFT.


Nick Wiltshire

I called the next day and was told that Sam had been in and out "all day".  Up to this point I had been very polite and non threatening, so I was shocked when, on reminding him it was only nine a.m. he changed his story, telling me that I shouldn't be hassling him and I was wasting his time since they would not cover faults which occurred after purchase.

I had been told about car dealers on the Parramatta road and had so far reserved judgement, especially as a lot of the comments were mildly racist, in their criticism of "Lebo Car Dealers"  I would like to think that each person has the ability to be decent and do the right thing, irrespective of origin.  Sadly in this case, the Lebanese car dealer lived up to the slimy crook stereotype.

I'm sure there are dodgy Australian car dealers as well, but I was saddened to note, even for some of the Lebanese friends I have in London, that this piece of low-life was doing everything to validate the prejudices which seem to exist about his countrymen in Australia.

I decided to politely tell him what I thought, mentioning that it was against the law to sell an unroadworthly vehicle and that he should be taking this seriously.  Sadly, this direct approach got him very upset and he became very aggressive.

I reported him to the OFT, who were very sympathetic and helpful.  Apparently they can't perform any enforcement in this case because it has to be proved in a court of law.  They did phone the dealer on my behalf and he did offer to only charge me "cost price" to fix the car.  The guy from the OFT advised me to take him to a tribunal, something I could achieve with only a minimal financial outlay.

I seriously considered this course of action, but there were several issues.  I would have to leave the car in Matt's garage until the dispute was resolved.  If I lost I would need to re-register the car as the registration date was approaching.  I would also need to get the car back to Sydney and try and part-ex it for a different model and it would likely get in the way of other things we needed to do.

Hannah and I had emotionally written off the money because the cost of hiring a car for a month would have been in the same ball park.  I would probably get some trade-in on it also.  The main issue was that this guy had cheated me and would get away with it if I didn't stand up to him.  I thought long and hard about this, but reached the conclusion that although this type of person probably feels very self satisfied and feels good about himself, he is lacking something.

Sometimes the greatest pleasure is gained from being decent to other people and helping them out in times of need.  Hannah and I try to be decent human beings and I reckon we are genuinely happier because of it.  By getting myself worked up over the car dealer, I would only cause myself more stress and while the downside was that he would get away with this time and probably rip-off others in future, I don't think that guy can be really happy or fulfilled, even if he doesn't know it explicitly.

At this point, Hannah and I had spent most of the money we had brought over for setting ourselves up before a job, but after much deliberation, we decided that we had to get something much newer and from a recognised main dealer.  We therefore decided to "loan ourselves" some of money we had put away for a deposit on a house.

This is kind of bad because, we had promised each other before we came that we would not blow our life savings on "living costs" in Australia, however we will need a car and we would have got a loan, so as soon as I get a job we will pay ourselves back over a few years or whatever it takes.

Once the decision was made, Matt and I spent a couple of hours in front of the computer looking at the various cars which could be bought for £10K/$20K and found that the Ford Focus and Mitsubishi Lancer were the best options.  Actually Matt did all the research on various aspects of the car, I mainly went on what they looked like and tried to sound like I knew what he was talking about.

Hannah and I went out the next day and test drove a Ford Focus and a Mitsubishi Lancer.  There was a slight hiccup because Hannah had forgotten how to drive a manual which meant that she became stressed while driving, took a wrong turn and did not want to do a u-Turn.  That meant we were gone for some time and had racked up 15km by the time we returned the car.

The Mitsubishi was a better car in looks and in feel when driving it.  Crucially it also had cruise control, essential for those long drives in Australia.  We were looking at the cheapest model, but driving in a model one up.  When I asked the difference it seemed that they had added lots of pointless inventions to the car for about 4000 dollars.  Automatic rain sensing windscreen wipers and headlamps among others.  I decided that I would rely on my eyes to sense rainfall and darkness.  They've never failed me before.

When I asked about a trade-in, the subject of the Fairlane came up again.  Well it had to didn't it?  When the salesman asked the condition is was in, I told him that the horn didn't work and that there were a few other niggling issues.  As he left the garage to speak to a colleague on the forecourt, Hannah admonished me for not describing the full extent of the "niggling issues".  On his return I told him about the water leak and having to turn the aircon off at traffic lights.  "You're not really selling the car to me are you" He said.

They didn't have a car in stock of the type we wanted, but they managed to get a similar car in Grafton which could be delivered and fitted with a spoiler and alloy wheels, which the car we wanted had.  I was asked to bring the Fairlane in that afternoon for a valuation and, if satisfactory, to pay a deposit and order the car.

I went home and jumped in the Fairlane, but strangely it didn't start.  30 minutes later, I was unplugging the jump leads and listening to the splutter enhanced purr of that beautiful straight six, perhaps for the last time.  I wasn't saddened by this prospect, but Hannah and I had agreed that a figure of $1000 would make the loss around what it would have cost us to hire a car and would be acceptable psychologically.

Following the usual comments "This car has issues", "It's not worth much" etc,  I was offered $700.  This, I thought was a shame.  So near that psychologically acceptable level.  I haggled them up to $800 but they would go no further.  I had already asked them to exchange the spoiler for a set of roof bars, far more useful at legal speed limits, so I asked them what they would have charged me for them if I had bought them as an extra.

This was a real brainwave.  On being told they would be over $200 I asked them if they would give me $1000 dollars for the Fairlane if I paid $200 for the roof bars.  We had a deal, the Fairlane was worth a grand as I always knew it would be and we had a great car at a good price.

Hannah and now are eagerly awaiting pour new car, A Mitsubishi lancer ES with alloy wheels, a set of roof bars, a height adjustable boot, an iPod connector, cruise control, air conditioning and cup holders fron and rear.  While we are worried about the future and whether we will be able to afford to buy a house once I have a job, we are very excited.  We have never bought a new car before and this, while not the top of the range car of our dreams, is a little beauty and do you know the best bit?

It comes with a 5 year roadside assistance warranty....


  1. To all Nick's readers I say, whatever he says, the car is currently outside our front door in Coffs, it therefore starts, goes and stops. Whether he can get it going again remains to be seen. I hope so.

  2. Blimey Nick. What a palaver... I'm reminded of the way you dealt with a certain malcreant at an Eyes of Eden gig and am both sad and glad that you weren't able to deploy the same tactic on the car salesman! Happy Christmas from me and my family. Haydn and I will be having a couple in The Fountain Inn one night, and we'll be having one for you. You'll be with us in spirit, at least. Do you remember when we were there as 17 year olds and someone shouted "police"....!!! Oh how we chuckled...

  3. Oh how we laughed, especially when Struggler didn't stop running until he'd reached Cheltenham. What fun we had when we were young and agile!