T and I have never been car enthusiasts. We can’t stand Jeremy Clarkson or Top Gear. All we really want from a car is for it to start reliably, drive well and not cost us too much to get through the MOT. Due to a series of unfortunate events, T has become the owner of two cars. But neither of them works. And we have been forced to enter the murky world of automobiles in more depth than we ever wanted.
For years T had driven a German car with a reputation for its engineering. She never really liked the car that much. The seats weren’t comfortable and it drove badly in winter, needing two sacks of sand in the boot to keep it on the road. But it was very reliable, until one day a couple of weeks back when the engine failed and it rolled to stop on the motorway. The car was dragged away at some expense and then taken back to her garage. After some delay we were told the timing chain had broken and had seized the engine. The options were to fit a new engine for £3000 or sell it to a breaker for £500. As the car was nearly seven years old, the latter was the only realistic option.
Fearing the worst, we had already started looking for another car. I sought the weekly magazine called Auto Trader, but was told that it was now all online. Checking through the site we realised it was a little like computer dating. You surf the possibilities, look at their shining photos, read the description of their best qualities and make a short-list. Then you arrange to see them. But this often leads to disappointment, as you find they weren’t quite what you expected. And when you test them you can encounter some unsavoury features.
Car salesmen are also very much of a type, whether at a main dealer or on a small lot somewhere on a country road. They are full of blather and would say almost anything to get you hooked. Despite wearing sharp suits, they would be fully at home at a country fair selling horses with nods and winks. You can well imagine them spitting in their palms to seal the deal.
In the end, we bought a Fiesta from a main Ford dealer; it was three years old with a Powershift automatic gearbox and low mileage. The car cost £7500 with a year’s warranty. We picked it up on Saturday lunchtime, just before they closed. On the way home the car began to judder and rattle alarmingly, this got worse on hills.
We rang Ford and complained. They asked us to bring the car back in for a check. We did so the next day. They confirmed a fault with the automatic transmission. We asked for our money back.
A manager came over and spoke to us gushingly. He offered us our money back, but pleaded for an opportunity to fix the fault at no expense to us. As T liked the car in every other respect, we agreed. He also promised that if the fault was not fixed then we could have our money back. I asked him to put this agreement in writing and gave him my email. He looked at me uneasily and gave me a half nod, then shrugged.
I drove T home and waited for the email. When it didn’t come, I summarised the agreement in an email to him. The next day, I had to take T to her local appointments in my car. At the end of the day I got a call from the manager, he said he agreed with my email. I again asked him to put this in writing, he replied to my email but carefully avoided confirming the agreement. The day after I took T to the Belfast bus and picked her up on her return. Then we had a call to say her car was fixed.
Again we picked it up on Saturday lunchtime. For a wee while it seemed to be going better, then the juddering and rattling began again. Exasperated and unhappy, we returned the car to them. They said that they would fix it for good this time and offered T a hire car for the week. As T still liked the Fiesta, we decided to give them a second chance.
This car problem really bothered me. It was the same week that I was waiting for my scan results. I didn't need another significant stress. I was afraid that we had bought a lemon and that Ford would do their best to avoid refunding us. Might we end up being stuck with it?
The following Saturday we again collected the car, hoping against hope that the fault might be fixed. But the car juddered and rattled, just like before. We raged and railed. It was over. We had reached the end of an unhappy road with this car. With regret at all the time we had wasted, we returned the car to Ford and asked for our money back.
Several managers gathered around us with serious expressions. At first they told us that the juddering was a characteristic of the automatic transmission. We refused to believe them, shaking our heads with disbelief. Then they offered to take the Fiesta back, but only if we traded it for another automatic from the lot. We flatly refused to have another Powershift car. Eventually they agreed to take the car and give us our money back.
We shook hands on the deal. It would take some days to process the documents and our refund. We walked away from Ford with deep relief. We were back on the dating scene again.