Classic car enthusiast Peter Forrest was left fuming when an engine rebuild turned into a six-month feud after an estimate for the cost of the work proved wide of the mark.
Peter has been the proud owner of an early-build BMW Cabriolet sporting saloon, which first rolled off the German production lines in 1973.
He’d lovingly cared for the iconic motor since he bought it from the original owner in 1983, painstakingly adding upgrade features and keeping it in pristine condition for almost 36 years.
But when it was MoT’d last September he decided it was time for an engine overhaul. The exhaust fumes had become distinctly black indicating that the heart of his pride and joy had seen better days.
The former Waterlooville procurement manager set about obtaining quotations from suitably-qualified car restoration engineers.
He struck up a good rapport with West Sussex Country Classic Cars Ltd in Midhurst, who last October estimated £6,000 inclusive of VAT for what was described as a ‘full engine restoration’.
However, sparks began to fly when he learned that the engine makeover wasn’t going to be as straightforward as he originally thought.
Peter said: ‘Naturally I’d rung other engine restorers for comparison quotes and although the price was regarded as on the high side, I was informed that it wasn’t too out of the way.
‘So I agreed with the firm’s director Paul Gravely, to pay half the amount up front to get the ball rolling.
‘But once the engine was in bits I was astounded when he asked for a further £2,500 plus VAT making a total of £9,000 – almost a 50 per cent increase.’
Relations with the company finally nosedived when the cost had unreasonably spiralled out of control. His car engine had been dismantled leaving him angry and dissatisfied with no choice other than to pay up or shut up.
Peter took the view the restoration project appeared to have become a licence to print money, and got in touch with Streetwise for help and advice.
Previous interventions for readers who’d run into problems in the engine replacement and car reconditioning business had highlighted numerous problems in the industry which fell well short of fair trading.
While there was not even the remotest suggestion Country Classic Cars Ltd were anything but a competent honest business, the sector had a bit of a reputation for not being up to scratch with their obligations under consumer protection law.
After Peter complained to Streetwise we examined his extensive thread of email discussions with Country Classic Cars director Paul Gravely. We quickly concluded both parties had left themselves wide open to unintentional misunderstanding because they’d relied on an initial relationship of well-intentioned trust rather than a formal written contract.
Peter hadn’t fully understood that the estimate to rebuild the car’s engine was little more than an educated guess. Instead of insisting on a contract containing a firm completion date and a legally-binding price, he’d just taken the crucial finer points of the transaction as read.
We could understand why he’d got steamed up, but when we attempted to intervene on his behalf the Midhurst firm was clearly miffed about the implied suggestion he’d been taken for a ride.
They’d sent Peter a report on the condition of the engine after stripping it down, unequivocally highlighting that all the component parts were excessively worn and unusable. They had to be replaced, which is why the original estimate was inevitably revised upwards.
Frustrated boss Paul Gravely said: ‘We explained to Mr Forrest many times that when undertaking work of this nature we cannot arrive at a final cost as there are many unknowns.
‘Clients are able to view the true costs we incur – nothing is hidden. Receipts, invoices and time sheets are all open to examination.’
Streetwise accepted that firms in the engine restoration business were dammed if they didn’t provide initial cost estimates, and dammed if they were significantly above customer expectations. This was precisely why we believed it wasn’t good practice to fail to give customers a formal clear written statement of their terms and conditions of business before they started work on their cars.
Our criticism focused on the way the order had been handled, which potentially was in breach of fair trading law. Traders were required to be completely transparent and scrupulously up front with pricing and their treatment of customers in the event of a dispute.
We explained to Peter it was a dispute just waiting to happen. As he felt he’d been left over a barrel and hadn’t cancelled his order, Country Classic Cars had every right to be paid the final asking price. We also suggested it was in the interest of both parties to get together and sort out their differences.
The plain fact was the family business’s informal arrangement with Peter was well meant but largely verbal and wide open to misinterpretation on either side.
They needed to learn lessons from the experience.
Despite our attempt at mediation, anger and recrimination continued to flare into a full blown war of words. The original misunderstandings had provoked irreconcilable mistrust on both sides.
Understandably a fuming Peter told us he was paying Country Classic Car’s final invoice of £9,786.60 under protest and was considering consulting lawyers to take the matter further.
He just couldn’t get his head around why the original estimate was so wide of the mark.
‘God only knows what someone faced with this situation would do without the ability to pay,’ he said.
‘This firm had me by the short and curlies from the outset. I’ve been done over like a kipper.’