The Unintended Consequences Of A Lifetime Warranty

Hyundai gave their cars a 5 year warranty to overcome their out-of-date reputation for being shody.

Kia trumped them with a 7 year warranty in order to grab some headlines.

Vauxhall, who have pretty much always been the UK’s second most popular car maker, decided to trump the lot with a “lifetime” warranty.

Lifetime warranty

Lifetime warranty!

All these warranties have small print and question marks; Kia don’t cover wear and tear for example, only design faults. I suspect that a 6 year old car owner is really going to struggle to make the case that a failure is down to anything but wear and tear.

And all these warranties have strings attached; they require a full manufacturer service history. Yes, in theory you can get that at any garage because of the block exemption laws, but most people don’t want to chance it.

But Vauxhall’s warranty seems particularly slippery. The lifetime is defined, but not as long as you live, or as long as the car still has a chassis that is more metal than rust.

No, it is defined as 100,000 miles. Plus, it only applies to the first owner (other warranties go with the car). So all used Vauxhall buyers just get the remainder of the standard (and perfectly reasonable) three years. But they now feel they are getting less than they might – always a bad signal to send customers.

Rather than trying to just send a message of quality and faith in their product, Vauxhall have set out their stall as clearly wanting to appeal to more new car buyers.

Their warranty says to me, “the product is only going to last 3 years, but we want your business so we’ll take it on the chin if you own the car longer.”

Presumably they hoped it would lure in some Volkswagen Golf buyers who go German because of their reputation for reliability.

So I was amused to meet a Head Master recently who cares not a jot for cars. He needs one to get to work and wants it to be reliable and cheap. Full stop.

John Cleese Was Late In Clockwise Because Of Car Trouble

John Cleese Was Late In Clockwise Because Of Car Trouble

For a decade, he has bought a new Vauxhall Coras on finance. When the finance expired after three years, rather than risk getting repair bills, he would get another new Corsa on a new finance deal. His cars cost him the same every month and every year and he was a happy repeat customer. Some might say a dream customer.

But as he came to the end of his most recent finance plan, because the car was under a lifetime warranty, he decided to keep it. Saving himself £200 a month and still sleeping soundly because he has a full manufacturer warranty.

So, in summary, the Vauxhall warranty has lost them a new car sale. They already had the service work, and while they retain that, he’ll now get the cheaper fixed price services.

I can’t help but wonder what will happen if our Head Master breaks down from something that the manufacturer doesn’t want to cover under the warranty. He’s probably not going to remain loyal to Vauxhall.

You have to hand it to the public, their ability to see a loophole in a proposition is uncannily canny. But it does create unfortunate unintended consequences.

MOT Time… Be on your guard?

I am an optimistic person, who mainly believes things will go well and people will be fair and reasonable.

When they are not, my first reaction is a sort of wince – as I realise I am going to have sort something out.

Not everyone shares my optimism of course, especially when it comes to garages. Many people think garages are definitely out to rip them off.

And so I recently launched: MOTangel.co.uk.

MOT Angel is the first directory to ensure that a minimum level of key information is available about every garage listed.

We provide opening times, services and facilities, key labour and MOT prices. And we use street maps to help you take a look at the premises too:

Do you want to go here…

Or here…?

If you know how to use all the information we provide (and read the articles on the site) you can save yourself some money and hassle.

But better than that, we are also piloting a ‘price checker’ service and ‘pass guarantee plan’ warranty.

These products protect you against genuine surprise bills and garage ‘tricks.’

It is amazing how many swerves some garages can still pull. From inflating the parts price, to only fitting one wiper blade instead of two, to quoting low and then claiming you need different parts (when they knew that all along).

These are just the strokes we have seen garages try to pull this month, because while it is early days, we have already saved people money and hassle (when they let us!).

The next step is start educating people who are even more optimistic than me about the chances of failure on young cars, and the myriad ways garages can top-up their bank account at the expense of yours.

New cars… why would you?

I have never bought a new car and I have no plans to.

But last week I spent a lot of time looking at the differences between one new car specification and another.

For example, do you know the difference between an Audi A5…

Audi A5

…and an Audi A7?

The answer is the A7 is about 15 cm longer and about £15,000 more.

Do you know the difference between a Ford Mondeo Edge…

Ford Mondeo Edge…..and a Mondeo Zetec? 

Mondeo Zetec

For £1,900 more, you get an extra storage bin and body-coloured handles. Here they are up close:

Ford Mondeo Edge Vs Zetec

And what about a Citreon C1 VTR vs the VTR+? Well, you will see a lot of this thing while you wait for Citroen’s web pages to load:

Citroen website

But eventually, it becomes clear that an extra £795 gets you…. a set of fog lights!

It’s like winning Bulls Eye isn’t it?

Bullseye

And so now I know why I have never bought a new car. And why I never will.

What is the truth?

There are two car-related news articles that confuse me.

The first are news items where the Government say the motorist is going to have to pay more (sometimes they phrase this as ‘pay differently’ which is a different way to say ‘more).

Fuel Tax Duty & VAT ExplainedAs this nifty graphic from the Road Haulage Association shows, I am pretty sure the motorists pays far more in tax than it costs to give us tarmac and Highway Support Wombles (which while I am in a betting mood, I bet most motorists would gladly lose) and Traffic Police (including the unmarked Skoda VRs’ and natty white gloves).

Rather than writing about how much more tax the Government needs, I want to see journalists campaigning to have some of the extraordinary amounts of tax they already receive spent on building a world class hyrdogen fuel cell network. It is the future and we will miss our chance to be a part of it if we are not careful.

And the second is features about dangerous driving, as if our roads are a reckless and lawless foreign land.

Whenever I read about campaigns to cut road deaths I think to myself, given the millions of people profecting themselves about the place at speeds of up to *cough* 100 mph, I think: It’s amazing that there aren’t more accidents and deaths.

I am not saying we shouldn’t do more to make things safer if we can (without compromising certain freedoms or mounting more tax). I would just like someone to write a news story about all the great driving that there is out there.

Look No One Crashed

Look No One Crashed

I have seen van drivers get a blow-out and control their van so no harm was done. In the Sunday night rush hours I have seen lorries driving for about 6 cars around them – politely ushering them all around their articulated mightiness.

And my view is, well done and thank you drivers. Thank you for the care and skill with which you drive and the money that you pour into the treasury.

You are good people and that is the truth.

Car Clubs Probably Aren’t The Future

“Hello, how can I help?”

“I would like to close my Zip Car account please.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, may I ask why?”

“Well… the cars are often dirty inside, scruffy from lots bodywork damage and people smoke in them even though your rules say they shouldn’t. And when you take the annual membership fee into account, if I shop around for hire cars, they are about the same price.”

[Silence] .

“Right, err, well I am sorry about that. They shouldn’t be damaged, but…that’s obviously been your experience. Sorry. I will cancel your subscription.”

“Thank you.”

[Call ends].

I don’t like shooting messengers, so I was as polite as I could be to the nice man at Zip car. It’s not his fault. It’s not even Zipcar’s fault – they are doing all they can.

But the public let them down by treating the cars like, well, like their own car; a huge number of people see a car as a tool and if it gets dented and scuffed and muddy, that’s life. 

A dirty Zip Car with bumper damage

A dirty Zip Car with bumper damage

And when you’re always banging into things, I can see you might NEED a cigarette. Hence the condition of half the Zip Cars I have used.

So I headed into my local, privately-run “Citi Rent- A-Car”, whose prices work out over 12- 24 hours to be only a tiny amount more than the car clubs I have used so far. And the car I got was clean. And from a distance, scuff-free.

Up close though, it was a bit pock-marked too. And the staff were slow and non-communicative and everything felt a bit amateur – just a one level up from creepy, frankly.

Hiring a car is always an intimidating experience one way or another. In Citi’s case I had this feeling that when I brought the car back they would have loads of reasons why I couldn’t get my deposit back. I was wrong, but I still carry the emotional scar.

So, I have decided that over the next few months, when I need a car for a short period I am going to work my way through some of the bigger brands and see if they fare any better.

I’ve seen this funny ad for Enterprise.  The ad claims to offer American Customer Service as their point of difference – including picking me up.

Having had some amazing customer service in Washington’s Holiday Inn recently I am keen to see if that’s what they mean. Because at this stage, I can’t rule out that I will get the surly New York customer service I experienced on the same trip.

Enterprise American Customer Care

Enterprise American Customer Care

After Enterprise, if it’s not as lovely and fluffy as Brad, the ad’s American customer-care guru says, then I’ll try those chaps that used to ‘try harder’ to beat the market leader. I tried the market leader before and they were hopeless.

I’ll keep going until I get a nice car, handed over quickly and in a friendly way. And I’ll report back.

The Problem With Le Mans Is…

Le Mans is a 24 hour battle of man and machine that tests brains and bodies and engines to their limits.

Steve McQueen made a film about it. Graham – Mr Monaco – Hill won it. Henry Ford was so obsessed by it he had the GT made.

The Bentley Boys,Group C Jaguars, Ferraris, Porsche, Silk Cut, Martini, Gulf, Rolex… Le Mans has brands and liveries and stories that Formula One has to hang on to Monaco and Martin Brundle to compete with.

And yet it gets little or no media coverage and is easier to miss than a London bus.

Why? I’ll tell you: The LMP1 class. They are Formula One cars with hoodies and as such too fast to be on the track with the others. And have to be piloted like jets not hustled like Playboys in cool cars.

It amazes me that McNish’s accident in 2011 and Davidson’s in 2012 were both the result of the LMP1 tapping a Ferrari, when more or less in parallel to it.

The Audi is square to the Ferrari. In BTCC they would push and shove like this for two to three corners. In Le Mans, they glance each other and….

…we all had a nervous wait to see if anyone died. Fortunately they didn’t.

That was the Audi in 2011. But the same thing happened in 2012 with the Toyota, also passing a Ferrari like you can buy*.

 There they are, square to each other one minute, then….

 ..round they go. And over.

Then there’s that nervous wait again.

In summary, the LMP1s make Supercars look like cheap runabouts – you don’t get F1 cars racing road cars, it would look ridiculous and be bloody dangerous.

That’s what LMP1 does to Le Mans and its Supercars.

Remove the LMP1 class and you will have Ferraris and Aston Martins and Porsches racing each other like it’s BTCC, but for 24 hours… branded by Gulf and Silk Cut and Tic Tac.

And Le Mans will be glorious again.

*I realise most of us can’t buy the Ferrari due to lack of money. I am making the point that money CAN buy a Ferrari in lots of showrooms but the Audi is a specialist racing car that cannot be bought in a showroom.

Warranties

One of my team and I recently completed our regular sweep of all the major car warranties available in the UK market for our comparison site, WarrantyExpert.co.uk.

The idea of a warranty appeals to me. It makes me feel that for the one-off payment, or a monthly direct debit, I can stop worrying about the car (or atleast the bills it might create).

But when I get into the detail I slowly get turned off from a lot of them – especially the extended warranties available from the car companies themselves.

They pretty much all fall into one of three categories for me:

  1. Those that are baffling, because they list all the parts they do and don’t cover. And I don’t know what that leaves out, or which parts are going to fail, or what they might cost if I do… so how can I get a feel for whether the warranty is likely to be of value?
  2. Those that blatantly don’t cover many of the things most likely to fail, and while usually ‘cheap,’ don’t give me the peace of mind I am looking for. The only thing in favour of these warranties is that – unlike far too many others- they usually cover older cars, which will arguably most benefit from a warranty.
  3. Those that could be fine, but have one or two little things in their terms that make me wonder, “Does that give them carte blanche to back out of paying? And if so, will they?”

At the heart of aftermarket warranties is a simple premise – we all share the risk, so we all pay something affordable, and when something breaks, we don’t get stung. Which gives me a nice feeling.

I just wish there was a warranty out there that left that feeling intact when I finish reading their small print (and why is there so much of that?).

The World is Changing

At the weekend I was driving a Nissan Juke.

And I followed a Kia Soul onto a roundabout:

Shortly before a Land Rover cut me up:

And later that night I waited at traffic lights behind a Toyota Urban Cruiser….

…And it struck me that if this is what we are ‘all’ driving, the World must have gone mad.

Buy what you are told

There are pockets in the UK where cars that struggle to sell elsewhere, shift like the Model-T Ford. The South West is one such place.

Another is North Norfolk.In this fine county’s quiet winding lanes, smokey old Mitsubishi Shoguns rule the tarmac. Flanked by new Protons and, bizarrely, the Nissan Juke, as my review on Used Car Expert reveals.

And this got me thinking. What is it about certain cultures that lead them to blindly trust their local retailer?

Cars like Suzuki (excluding the Swift Sport) and Proton and Mitsubishi, I firmly believe, only sell because the customer does as their Father did before them, and his Father did before that. Great Granddad didn’t because he had a perfectly good horse and cart.

Proton Garage

What is it about these small garages, selling lesser-known cars, that manage to build such a level of trust in a family that they all just trundle in and buy whatever they are told to buy?

Is it a cultural phenomena? Are they…backward?

Or does that dealer take part in the community, and price everything ‘just so’ to ensure that their trustworthiness is never doubted?

Just may be it is this latter idea, and if it is, imagine what could be achieved by a dealer who applied the same approach, but had a decent car.

Let Saab be a warning to Chinese entrants

There is so much talk about Chinese cars being on their way to domination at the moment, I thought I would offer a word of caution.

Saab recently went bust despite having stylish cars, made from reliable GM bits, that were priced very keenly.

Why?

Well in my view there were three failings:

1) A poorly supported dealer network. They were too often tacked on to a Vauxhall dealership – like a creche area for architects and philosophers rather than a serious sales set-up

2) The PR team was under-resourced. If people don’t see the cars in TV shows and ‘Celeb pap’ shots, they don’t think to test drive them and so they don’t buy them

But here’s the big one for me – the one that I think could have given them time and resources to get the first two right:

3) Not enough big fleet sales.

So if Geely and MG et al are serious then they need to poach some Fleet sales reps from Ford and Vauxhall and offer them big bonuses for signing up Lex Auto lease and Avis and the like.