I quite like watching Top Gear, but I’m certainly not a ‘petrolhead’. Every Saturday as I take my daughter to her swimming lesson, our neighbour is assiduously cleaning, treating and buffing his immaculately-presented cars. I smile and chat, inwardly wincing with both guilt and relief that I’m not like that.
But when Rachel’s car finally gave up the ghost, we opted for something new. The manufacturer & model isn’t important, as I have it on good authority from many friends that my experiences are pretty much the norm; which is a pretty poor indictment of, well, lots of things.
Besides a home, a car is one of the most expensive purchases most people make. As such it should be a source of excitement, pleasure and no little thought. But the acres of press ads from every brand simply turn me off. The offers change every month (or so it seems) and comparisons between models aren’t especially easy, as even some websites seem to praise everything indiscriminately.
One brand in the UK has extended the Government’s scrappage scheme to incentivise people to trade in old cars for a shiny new model. We needed to take advantage of both this and indeed a contract finance scheme, so at least two signficant decisions were made for us. We called a nearby dealer and booked a test drive.
When we arrived the dealership was shiny, clean, and silent: not silent in a reverential, respectful kind of way, but more like a morgue; cold, unwelcoming, almost intimidating. There were no other customers. Although we had pre-booked an appointment, noone came forward to greet us or introduce themselves. Noone asked us a single question about what we wanted in a car, if we had a family or a dog, likely mileage. Noone even launched into any sales patter about a model’s features, or the differences between different specifications. We had asked to test-drive a diesel, but the only car available was a 2½ year old petrol model with a very different engine and driving experience.
But we were making definite buying noises; asking about finance contracts, deposits, delivery leadtimes. We even told them outright we weren’t interested in trekking round lots of different manufacturers. Is that the best they can do? It was though we were intruding on some private grief.
So we went elsewhere, albeit with the same manufacturer. We phoned four different dealers for a quote on the finance deals, with the same specification, and received four different prices that varied the ultimate cost of the same new car by up to £1,500. Some demanded no deposit, others required 15%. The monthly payments varied from around £200 to more than £250. The final payment values were all over the place. And none of them could explain why their quote varied from any of the others.
We’re really pleased with our car. It drives nicely, has lots of nice features we’ve not had before, and the finance is affordable. But even as we drove it away, I felt only relief to be out of the dealership, knowing I didn’t have to go back in there. What does this say about the state of car marketing? Why was the experience of buying it such a soulless, life-sapping experience? I’d love someone to explain…