Like any good mate, this one cost me money, lost me money and got me a bollocking from the missus.
A victim of a changing society, Auto Trader hasn’t done a full ‘Woolworth’s’ on us – in fact, Auto Trader claims to be fitter than ever despite eBay/Gumtree muscling in on the action.
Old-school rival Exchange & Mart threw its red top towel in four years ago in 2009 and now Trader Media Group is culling the company’s entire print division – not only the ‘Trader’ but also Top Marques, Truck and Plant, Farm Trader and Van Trader disappear as the last copies leave the newsagents shelves this week.
So why the axe? Simply, we’re not buying it anymore – bar the odd distress purchase, we venture online (just like this blog) to the website instead. In the good old days, the ‘Trader’ lottery was the work of cunning – figuring out landline codes to guess where the car might be, making a snap decision off a 1-inch square low resolution photo and the maximum word count.
I forget how many words your £10 small ad got you, but surely (and unwittingly) Auto Trader had actually invented Twitter first. Except Tim Berners-Lee hadn’t popularised the World Wide Web at that point. Nothing really is new under the sun.
From the circulation peak of 368,000 copies at the turn of the millennium to 13% of that, 13 years later, the website traffic is actually up 13% year on year – maybe 13 is lucky for some in this binary world? Personally, I’m as guilty as anyone else – the last car I sold by booking an appointment with the ‘snapper’ was in 1997 (and, of course, I got the traditional last thing Wednesday night and daybreak Thursday morning calls).
Rumours always persisted that the printers and paper despatch guys were on a ‘drip’ from local dealers for bargains – I don’t doubt it for a second either. Actually, my last ‘print’ Auto Trader purchase occurred that way…
Like all good banger buys, this was a Thursday morning (Auto Trader‘s traditional print date) 12 years ago. Our Scania driver and I had a drop-off and wire-up of a huge mobile generator, just off the A1 in Barnet (just behind the Bonusprint labs I recall). Anyway, sat out side at 7.00am waiting for someone to open up, we popped into the garage for two Maxpax cups of tea and a hot-off-the-press copy of the ‘Trader’. Right at the back sandwiched between £199 any-colour resprays and ‘unrecorded’ salvaged wrecks, was the car of my dreams:
A few column inches sealed the deal:
Mercedes 250 Limo, VGC, just out of TnT £250, Barnet
So we went back to the truck (the company mobile was plumbed into the Scania) and called. Yes, we could view now – follow signs to the council tip and call again. So we did. Now alarm bells should have rung when it transpired the Mercedes-Benz was actually for sale at the council tip. However, a not-as-crusty-as-expected Mercedes-Benz in metallic blue, missing all documents (obviously), awaited us. I found the seller (in Barnet Council overalls) and went for a test drive – a slalom on roll-on-roll-off skips and dustcarts in rather rapid automatic 18-foot long barge.
Well, of course, the inevitable happened – we left a deposit, did our job and went back for collection. The Mercedes-Benz didn’t look as VGC as I remembered and it seemed a little louder. Whatever… I thought about ringing my insurers, but they were closed ’til 9.00am and, in the halcyon days of no ANPR and youthful stupidity, I just chanced it back to the yard, which was ten minutes up the A1 and six junctions round the M25…
Using Dennis and his flatbed Scania, we re-enacted Smokey & the Bandit in reverse, with him as the ‘Bandit’ vehicle and and me tailing behind – which was kind of useful when the entire centre section of exhaust parted company at Junction 26 of the M25.
At that exact same moment I discovered the headlamps didn’t actually work either – on/off/dip or flash – I waved frantically – Dennis also waved back too. Like he was milking an invisible cow…
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.