When Janice Browning agreed to buy a truck from a local used car dealer little did she know within days it would be declared unfit to drive and end up parked in her garage for the next 15 months.
Her nightmare began after she decided the family needed a sturdy 4x4 to tow her daughter Fiona’s horsebox. The pair looked around the internet and settled on a used Nissan Navara pick-up.
Navaras are capable of carrying heavy loads and trailers, so they were delighted when a friend told them he’d seen one advertised on Facebook by Drokes Farm Motor Company Wickham for £3,800.
The 13-year-old truck appeared to be in reasonable nick for its age and mileage, and as her trusted mechanic was not immediately available to give it the once-over, she took a chance and bought it.
But 14 days later, despite it having been sold with a new MoT and six-month warranty, her local independent garage had no hesitation in declaring it unroadworthy.
They advised the car was riddled with rust and should never have passed an MoT. The chassis was in such a poor condition and seriously weakened by corrosion the mechanic’s fingers went through it. The brake pipes were rusted, and the petrol tank was leaking.
The 64-year-old Queen Alexandra Hospital medical secretary was so concerned she contacted the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) inspectors who just a fortnight later promptly issued a failure certificate and warned the garage.
Citizens’ Advice and trading standards confirmed the pick-up’s defects established it didn’t comply with legal satisfactory quality standards, and she had a 30-day window to reject the vehicle and apply for a no-quibble refund.
But when Drokes Farm boss Matthew Auty received her request he refused to accept her claim. He insisted the Navara was sold with a new MoT and a six-month mechanical warranty – end of story.
A frustrated Janice asked us to intervene so we invited Mr Auty to explain why, despite some evidence the vehicle was unfit for purpose, he was withholding her money.
But Janice’s case became hard work. Instead of having the vehicle repaired, she wanted a refund, as she and Streetwise believed was her lawful right.
Mr Auty denied the pick-up was unfit to drive at the time he sold it and insisted he’d a right to repair it. He blamed Janice’s garage for the MoT failure accusing them of using unacceptable test procedures by whacking the chassis with a hammer to expose the rust.
He said: ‘The first time we knew anything was going on was when we got a phone call from the regional DVSA inspector that we had to attend a MoT appeal about the vehicle.
‘At that point the two inspectors that inspected it confirmed that the damage caused to the vehicle subsequent to the MoT was far and above what was allowed.
‘The outcome of the inspection was the MoT tester was cleared of any malpractice, and the items that caused the vehicle to fail were on the balance of probability and in the opinion of the DVSA inspectors caused after the initial MoT by the aggressive nature of the inspection by her garage.’
Mr Auty went on to say the DVSA didn’t take any formal action which exonerated him from issuing an unreliable MoT and the inspector agreed with his conclusion the extensive corrosion probably occurred during the 14 days after he sold it.
We asked the DVSA to comment and they had an entirely different version of events.
DVSA spokesperson James Lindley told us that following their inspection of the truck, they found there were issues with the original MoT and warned the tester as a result.
They couldn’t consider the question of the chassis corrosion because the metal surface had been disturbed leaving them unable to gauge what it would have been like at the time of the original test.
He confirmed the DVSA didn’t get drawn into or intervene in disputes between buyers and sellers, and were only able to comment on whether tests were carried out correctly. The examiner did not offer any view outside the DVSA’s remit.
With almost 6.5 million cars changing hands every year, Janice’s bitter battle to obtain redress for dissatisfaction with a second-hand car is replicated nationwide.
According to official lists compiled by Citizens’ Advice, second-hand car sales by independent traders consistently top their league tables of consumer complaints.
Last year they received nearly 150,000 advice line calls about used cars in the first three months. Streetwise gets an average of two reader complaints a month concerning used car sales but rarely takes them up due to lack of evidence and conflicting claims.
Citizens’ Advice says unscrupulous dealers frequently source vehicles from auctions, just hosing them down before offering them for sale. Nearly half of unsuspecting buyers were left with cars which broke down with serious faults just weeks after buying them, running up repair bills costing an average of £1,300.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy told Streetwise: ‘Last year over six million used cars were sold in the UK. But as Citizens Advice’s figures highlight, too many consumers end up footing the bill when their car needs repairs or, worse still, ends up on the scrapheap just weeks after purchase.
‘Consumers need to know what to look out for when buying a used car. They need to think about the basic checks they should be doing before parting with their hard-earned money and stop those traders looking to exploit buyers in their tracks.’
New rules about unfair trading were introduced in 2008 and made it easier to clamp down on the rogue element of the second-hand car sector.
Dealers are required to disclose to buyers any defects and ongoing service issues with cars they put up for sale, and have an appropriate written complaints procedure.
The sale of an unroadworthy car and violations of the unfair trading regulations can amount to a serious criminal offence, but remain largely unenforced by the police or trading standards.
As luck would have it Janice paid a deposit on the pick-up with her credit card. This entitles her to make a claim on the bank for breach of contract under the joint liability provisions of the 1974 Consumer Credit Act.
She has filed her claim with Santander bank and is currently awaiting the outcome.
A determined Janice said: ‘To be perfectly honest when I first learned what I was up against I was sitting at my desk and debating whether to take a bagful of tablets or stand strong.
‘Then I decided to get in touch with Streetwise to confirm my rights and I can’t tell you how grateful I’ve been for all the help and advice.’