Thursday, 20 March 2014

Clockers, Customers and Imbeciles!


Many years ago my Dad had a Taxi firm, I was in his office when a call came in from a member of the public to say that one of our cars had broken down in a place miles from anywhere referred to as “The Moss” . The car in question was a Cortina and it belonged to my Dad, it was being driven by a ginger headed guy who drove the car during the day, and paid my Dad by the mile. For some reason I don’t usually get on with ginger haired people, but I wouldn’t have got on with this guy no matter what colour his hair was and I had told my Dad that I didn’t trust him. My Dad was going to call him on the radio to ask if he was OK but I stopped him.

I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t radioed in for assistance if he had genuinely broken down. I jumped in my car and headed to the Moss. It was a lovely day and I could see the car in the distance, the driver couldn’t see me as he was reading the paper, as I walked towards the car I could see the windows were open, it was on axle stands, the engine was revving, and the rear wheels were spinning backwards. The car was in reverse gear, with the wheels in reverse, in the old days the speedo took its drive off the gearbox and although it was a painstaking process you could wind the clock back using this method. The driver was cheating my Dad out of money,  I thrust my arm through the open window removed the keys, and said guess what Ginge youre fired, do you want me to call you a Taxi?

So to my story

There’s an Old Motor Traders Tale, that a trader bought a car at Auction with the intent of winding the clock back, when he removed the speedometer, a piece of paper fell out and on it was written “Oh no, not again! Clocking Cars has always been rife in the motor trade, and it needs stamping out!

A few weeks ago what started off as a favour for a friend turned into a Crusade for me, but unfortunately I failed in my duties as self imposed Guardian of the motor trade. I won’t name any names to protect the guilty, the incompetents, the oblivious, the obnoxious and finally the people who should have known better and should have taken ownership of the problem.

My friend is a Motor Trader in every sense of the word, he buys “Motors” from the Trade, usually Main Dealers and sells to the Trade Used Car Dealers. He is a great lad, I’ve known him a long time, he’s honest, trustworthy, he has a lovely Family, good business ethics and his word is his bond. I would have no hesitation in recommending him. He had bought a Mercedes Benz which a Main Dealer had taken in part exchange. The car had 49,000 Miles on the clock, the customer had signed to say that the mileage on the car was correct, but he didn’t have a service book. He said he hadn’t been given one by the garage that sold it to him, but they had told him that the car had a “Digital Service History” in other words it was stored on the Mercedes Benz computer system, and in the ECU of the car. To me this isn’t worth the paper it’s written on (erm that’s a joke, sorry)

My mate had underwritten the vehicle, on the understanding that he could trace the service history, and get a duplicate service book stamped. He only deals with old fashioned garages so he knew that no one would buy it off him if he told them it had a “Digital Service History, let’s face it only an idiot would! Even though my mate only deals with the trade he still performs the due diligence checks that you are obligated to carry out if you’re selling to the public, so he set about back tracking. The last owner had a service invoice.

He was in luck or so he thought, the same garage had sold the car at 20,162 miles and had also carried out the last 2 service services. My mate ordered a Service book from their parts department and asked them to look through the history and stamp it accordingly. The book duly arrived through the post, with a service stamp at 27,316 miles in 07/2012 and 63,512 miles in July 2013. The problem was it was now October 2013 and the car was only showing 49,159. There was a mileage discrepancy 24,000 miles.

We were convinced it was a slip of the pen by either the mechanic or the Service Advisor when the car had been serviced last. We had checked the MOT history and on the 17/01/2013 the car had been showing 36,718 so again this pointed to a clerical error. The servicing dealer was contacted and the story that it looked like they had made a mistake entering the mileage and all the reasons why were explained to the service advisor, she promised to sort it out and ring back. She didn’t. We rang again and again, but they weren’t helpful, they said they were right and there was nothing they could do to help. They said that they had got the last mileage of the cars Digital Service history so it must be right. Their explanation was that the last owner must have clocked the car. When we told her that it had been MOTd at 36,718 miles, she said that he must have clocked it twice!

This was a ludicrous explanation, so we arranged to take the car to the dealer and have them connect it to their XENTRY Diagnostic equipment which would read all the information off the Electronic Control Unit. After keeping us waiting for 4 hours the service advisor came out with about 5 sheets of paper under her arm, she said that the car must have been clocked. My mate is an extremely calm and level headed guy, I have known him for about 20 years, I had never seen him lose his temper, until then. I could see that the thought of losing his trade profit and possibly even his reputation as a “Stand On “ guy, had upset him, so I stepped in. Believe me when Its left to me to be the voice of calm and reason, the situation has got way way out of hand! I asked the girl if we could see a hard copy of the Service invoice, but apparently this had been misplaced, as had the copy of their used car pdi sheet.

The Service administrator was clearly exasperated, she was way out of her depth, and her Boss who hadn’t got the balls to come out and talk to us was using her as a sacrificial Pawn. She said “I can’t keep going backwards and forwards trying to sort this out for you, I have other things to do!”  I asked her if I could examine the paperwork, and she thrust them at me. While I had been waiting and drinking many cups of Cappuccino in their Service Reception fuelled with caffeine I rapidly typed the cars details into the Vosa website and called up the previous MOT’s, this Dealer had MOT’d the car when they sold it in February 2012 and it was recorded at 20,162 miles. I had the smoking gun which should now get her Boss full attention and get him off up off his Arse, to speak to us, and help us sort out a problem which is a blight to the Motor Trade.

I noticed that the XENTRY report had a “Day Cycle Counter” a quick mental calculation (ok I opened the calculator, then the calendar function on my I Phone) and I had realised that according to the paperwork she had given me, the vehicle had covered 38,626 miles in July 2011, so it couldn’t have been the last owner that had clocked the car, it had to have been done before they bought it (If they hadn’t been a Mercedes Benz Main Dealer I would have suspected them, but i still have a little faith left, only a little) I explained the connotations to her, if this was the case the car deal could be unravelled and the last owner would be within his rights to bring the car back to them and demand his money back plus interest, plus whatever else Judges penalise Motor Traders for these days. We demanded to see the General Manager as this had now become a very serious situation (for them).

We were shown through to the “General Manager” but he turned out to be the Service Manager, again my friend explained the situation. If I am honest I don’t like Service Managers, over the years they have cost me many thousands of pounds doing recon work on Sales Cars that wasn’t necessary, so they could make their departments figures stack up, at the cost of some of my profits. To me Service Managers are akin to Robin Hood except they just Rob from the Sales Department and keep it.

This Service Manager was obnoxious, I listened to him talking down to my mate till I couldn’t stand it any longer, and then I told him a few facts, before he disputed them, he turned, looked at me like i was something he had just scraped off his shoe and snarled “Who are you?” Well I’m glad you asked that, I’m someone who has been in the Motor Trade for 40 plus years and who clearly has a better understanding of it than you do!  I don’t think you have quite grasped how serious this situation is! I had done well until then, I had managed to remain calm and reasonable for all of about 5 minutes, but that was pretty much the end of any further discussions, he didn’t even look up from his computer, when he said “We’re too busy to devote our resources to this, I will check later and ring you tomorrow” He may as well have just told us to F--- Off, because that’s what he meant, he had no intention of calling us.

I waited 24 hours then emailed the Chairman of the company, he responded virtually straight away. We traded emails, and he copied his brand manager in on them and asked him to contact me, he didn’t! After another reminder to this URGENT problem, I got a phone call to say that the Brand Manager was on holiday for 2 weeks. To be fair I got a phone call from their Finance Director to say that he was trying to sort the matter out and he would come back to me, he didn’t. After a text to his phone he called me to tell me that they were satisfied that it was the slip of a pen and they were trying to sought it out with the manufacturer and correct the digital service history, he also set up a meeting for me with the Brand Manager. By this time it was too late as my friend had bought the car back from the Dealer, and the Dealer who he had bought the car from had given him his money back.

I decided to go to the meeting anyway as I was curious and I knew if I didn’t sought the matter out it would rear its ugly head in the future, possibly with some unsuspecting dealer. I attended the meeting and although I was welcomed I didn’t feel like it. The brand Manager asked me why I was so interested, I got the feeling that they thought I was sticking my nose in where it didn’t belong, or I was going to try and blackmail them, or somehow I was trying to make some money, which wasn’t the case.

They apologised for the behaviour of their Service Manager, I appreciated that but to be honest the way the Service Manager talked to us would only have bothered me if I respected him, and I didn’t, but it’s the thought that counts. Then they asked me to explain why I thought the car had been clocked, and I did so. I also told them that I couldn’t be certain that I was correct, as I wasn’t familiar with the workings of their diagnostic systems and the printed read out I had. It was obvious that they didn’t know how it worked either, but at that moment he produced an invoice from an Auction showing the mileage when they bought it, this vindicated them completely from any wrong doing. Hovever it did point to wards them retailing a clocked car which they had unwittingly bought from the Auction and sold to am unsuspecting customer. I asked them if it was as easy as plugging their diagnostic machine into the car to check the mileage, why didnt they do it with every car that came into stock. In fact why didnt Mercedes Benz insist on it as a part of their Approved Used Car Scheme checks? they had no answer to my question.

Reading between the lines I would suggest that the First owner acquired the car on Contract Hire or a Personal Contract Purchase, he had taken the car agreeing to a 24 month 20,000 mile agreement and had done double the mileage, Before handing the car back he had clocked the car so that he wouldn’t have to pay the leasing company the excess mileage charge which i would guesstimate to be in the region of £4000 so he had just paid one of these Mileage Correction Services that are advertised these days £250 to knock it back, then returned it to the leasing company who then sent it to auction.

The Brand Manager should have stopped there, because then he produced a photocopy of the missing service invoice/job card, written at the top of the invoice/job card was the mileage that was showing on the car. He told me that he was satisfied the car hadn’t been clocked, I wasn’t and I pointed out that that could have been written in at any time after the event, or even  just before I turned up, I asked, if he was satisfied with the mileage, could he get me a service book stamped up and an explanation on his letter headed paper in case the discrepancy came to light in again in the future, he wouldn’t!

Then I was told that they had been in touch with the garage that had taken the car in part exchange and that they had taken the same view. I asked precisely what that view was and he said something like “That it’s not worth the time and effort of sorting the matter out” I realised that any further conversation would be futile, I apologised for wasting their time, put my stuff away, drank my coffee and left. As I got to the door I turned and left them with my final thought “you have the opportunity to sort the matter out now, you could buy it back at today’s trade price, correct the mileage if it has been clocked, and retail the car yourselves, it’s a win win situation for you, no upset customer, no solicitors costs, no bad publicity, and some profit to boot, if you don’t I guarantee it will come back and bite you in the ass”

Obviously they didn’t heed my warning, as I was driving past a local garage a week later, I saw the car for sale on the forecourt, I checked their advert on my mobile and it stated the mileage as 49,200. I emailed a link to the Chairman and the Brand Manager with a message “Well who could have seen that coming?” the car disappeared off the internet and their forecourt the very next day



I have no way of knowing whether they had sorted out the mileage, but I didn’t get a reply, so I remain sceptical.

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