Sales Talk : Only needs a re-gas!

Mike has pony burning a hole in his pocket for the next project car… the chase is on!

Maestro of doom

Well… the chase… is on. But this time I don’t have the talents of my favourite Alvin Stardust look-a-like Bradley Walsh to guide me on against the Governess or the Beast. In a snap decision, I sold the project 214 to a fellow Rover sympathiser, and armed with last month’s sales commission and the money received from the aforementioned car sale, it’s time to sniff out the next project.

The Chase, of course, is trade speak for finding another vehicle and there is nothing I love more than reading the small ads or trawling through the thousands of on line adverts on eBay and other outlets of automotive misery. Just like the way ‘er indoors ploughs through the fashion magazines and the waste paper catalogues that drop out of the Sunday Mail, Many a wasted hour for me is spent doing the same with a copy of the Friday Ads or going square eyed at the computer.

Personally, I find all this entertaining as I read the most poorly informed or horrendously over worded spiel trying to big up the most low rent of jalopy. Recently, I tried to read through about 1000 words in a jolly multi-coloured italic font an advert of one of the most heinous of automotive horrors – a base model 1.6 Vauxhall Zafira. My sanity came to a climax, as I almost reached for the bleach as the seller went on to list almost everything he had repaired or replaced on the car.

To put it mildly, his reason for auctioning his car was a simple one – the bloody thing needed torching as he spent seemingly hours and hundreds of pounds on this dreadful Vauxhall kiddie coffin. All the catchphrases and groan inducing words were there along with wheel bearings, new cat, pads and discs, head gasket – and on it went. So… what was the asking price for his/her war and peace description of this 1998 five-door of doom? Yours for a snip at just £650 – oh, it was a resplendent Royal Blue as well.

In the end I had to close the advert as my mind was full of images like discarded KFC litter, Opal fruits stuck to the seats, a carpet that looked like the inside of a Tandoori House hoover bag and a faint aroma of damp mattress. At the end of the day it’s all in the wordage and by keeping to the time honoured method of being brief, upbeat and brutally straight to the point, even the most miserable motors can sell quickly enough. All the important blurb should be in the first two lines – tax, test, service history and location.

One of the popular reasons a car won’t sell is because of, and surprisingly enough, is the vendor. Only just this weekend I trawled all over London looking under every unturned stone for the next project car. After viewing a Rover 75 KV6 that was a Cat’s whisker away from blowing up and a Saab that actually munched its turbo on road test (I wasn’t driving by the way) I found myself sitting in a spit and sawdust café in Northolt. In a Wheeler Dealer style with a fry up and mug of strong tea I was jabbing away at the iPad when I found myself pondering over a 1.3 Maestro Clubfoot.

According to Autotrader the car was 15 miles away from my bacon sausage and bubble and squeak. Ringing the seller, I found him to be quite obstructive on the phone, and almost reluctant to answer my simple fact finding questions. In my 25 years of floating around the trade, I’ve learnt that if the owner is crap – the car tends to be as well, but a little voice inside me said that a 26,000 mile Maestro has to worth a pop at £460. So after a miserable trek through the Western end of the metropolis and a staggering 20 minute queue of traffic to cross Putney Bridge I eventually arrived at the vendor’s location of the very picturesque Wimbledon village.

We met in the car park of a small block of flats where I was greeted with the sight of a beaten up and poorly re-sprayed Cowley clunker that didn’t have a straight panel on it. Pretty much right away my mind was focussed on going straight home after listening to it cough, splutter and misfire. Extra misery points were added for the spitting and blowing manifold gasket and an overflow tank that contained nothing but rusty brown water – even the gearbox was four speed.

Yet on the phone I was told how good and well serviced it was so despite asking the questions. It makes a mockery of how all dealers are tarred with the dishonesty brush when so many buyers are liars too. One of my favourite phrases heard so often is ‘only needs a re-gas’ when it’s discovered that the aircon wont work. This old chestnut was heard everyday when appraising part exchanges. Considering one of leading fast fit centres will service and gas up your aircon for under £50, there’s no excuse really.

Air conditioning is one of the most vital and expected toys in a modern vehicle and if the system doesn’t function or hasn’t done for some time – expect a massive bill to sort it out that includes replacing the pump, condenser and pipework – or in many cases… all of the aforementioned. I like reading adverts that mention engine management lights glowing too. One such recently spotted mentioned how his mechanic had said ‘just needs the fault code clearing’ – okay, so why didn’t he do it then?

Another one that sticks in my mind was a chap selling a Saab 9-3 TiD a few years back who mentioned in the advert, on the phone and more than once in the flesh, ‘I don’t really want to sell the car,’ while I was crawling over it with a lead lamp. With a friend holding the brake pedal down whilst rocking the steering I watched the servo and master cylinder bob up and down like a message in a bottle at sea – a sure fire sign the bulkhead had cracked pretty much rendering these cars as scrap.

But I knew the vendor also knew. All the signs were there the moment I started looking around the steering rack – he was shuffling his feet and his earlobes went red. Things like the aforementioned become harder to avoid with the latest MoT certificates, testers are now encouraged to advise everything they spot that’s not quite failworthy at the point of test. In days of old the advised items were written on a separate sheet, not now, its all there on the pass certificate – VOSA can get things right sometimes.

So there we have it – beware of the phrases and old stories of how it only needs a little TLC or first to see will buy. In fairness I love the chase and tip toeing through the mine field of crap used cars for one sole reason… the private seller can be more crooked than Swiss Tony or Athur Daley could ever be – and it’s this that makes me love the trade so much!

Mike Humble


  1. Heard all those stories a thousand times! It delighted me knocking the Saab convertibles for the cracked bulkhead whilst appraising them for Carcraft’s

    Any we sourced from auction was sent to Saab for dash and engine out and repaired for free as Saab knew full well the problem. Another gem I had a keen eye for was engine management lights covered up once the instrument pack was opened up. If I check a car for a mate I always take my scanner with me and do a global scan.

    Same goes for buyers-my mates a mechanic (qualified by taking four wheels off a car) when I sell the odd car myself, telling me this is wrong or will go wrong whilst trying to half the price I either close the door in their face or show my IMI card and ask if they have one. Never be rich in this game…..

  2. The big difference for buying & selling these days is all the lovely pictures that we can see or post, only a few years ago all we had was one lousy black & white picture in Autotrader & back then you really did have to ask lots of questions before going to view. Now things are much easier & how people write their adverts helps, as soon as I start reading “It as ad” I know that the person selling is an utter fool. A few months ago I found a nicely written advert but with only 3 pictures, the lack of pictures probably but other people off but there was just enough to see that it could be ‘the real deal’. My hunch proved to be correct & I bagged myself an absolute mint box of a Mk5 Ford Escort Harrier for a bargain price!

  3. Private buyers are an absolute nightmare.
    In my experience of banger running, private sub-3grand sales are because something is wrong with the car and they need to offload it.

    The ad for the suspiciously cheap Accord, with the mysterious “Definitely no engine management lights” – went to look, starts it up, “Oh no! The engine light has came on – but not to worry – I know a fella round the corner can clear it!”
    Engine lights don’t need cleared, the underlying fault needs sorted! Having briefly read up on Accord diesel engines (Honda’s first non-AR diesel engine if I recall), I walked.

    The X type I looked at, nice car but fairly basic spec (windy up windows in a Jag?!). The steering wheel sat at 2 o’clock to go straight. Corner of the bumper looked like it wasn’t on straight. Test drove it anyway, sure enough the glow-plug shaped engine management light – “Oh it’s never done that before! Must just need new glow plugs!”.
    Someone else had turned up to look at it and gave a deposit as we returned, I gladly let them have it.

    The other X type, which despite having less mileage than the previous candidate, was worn inside like a well-taxi’d Bluebird. A wheeler-dealer, a quick glance into his shed and the sight of some dials, a drill and a toughbook laptop and I scarpered.

    The 407 – “One thing before you test drive it, the brake warning light appears when you brake, but it’s just a common fault, ignore it” hard to ignore the disconcerting ‘ding’ and huge fault on the info display any time you dab the brakes.

    The C5 – to be fair a decent enough car actually, good service history, drove as a big Citroen should, was about at the stage of discussing price. “What was it on for? 1500? I’m going to have to ask 2000 because I put a new headlight on for MOT”. Chancer.

    Now, if you excuse me, I’m off to tap the bulkhead of my Saab….

  4. Mike
    interesting comment that ‘general public’ can be far worse than much maligned motor traders. A colleague of mine in Rover left to manage a Rover dealership, and I went to interview him for the Rover dealer magazine after he’d had a year to settle in. The one thing that shocked him most was the sheer dishonesty of so many of his customers ! Things like trade-in cars being stripped of everything portable (spare wheel, tools etc.) after they’d been given a value against the new car. Media coverage always takes the punters’ side against the trade, but , as always, there’s another side to the story…

  5. Been there, done that…

    Highlights include a brace of Humber Super Snipe series cars that were more rust than bodywork and more filler than either and handled ‘approximately’ – in that everything you did (even in a carpark in Wales in the rain) was approximate. It was like trying to maneuver the RMS Oceanic, in low range on a Siberian skidpan in winter.
    Then theres the traditional – if course we’ll service it – cue sparkplugs that snapped because they were welded to the head, oil that bore more resemblance to blancmange, and a battery so flat that made the average garden wall look like Sam Fox..
    And oh god – people carriers. A recent one (the other day) – a nice black, well looked after Vauxhall Zafira – full to the gunnels – slight problem, no brake lights whatsoever bar the LED one in the tailgate thats smaller and slimmer than David Camerons grasp on reality. I flashed him, I flashed him again, and eventually pulled in behind him when he stopped to tell him that Colchester police would have his nuts in a vice tout suite if they saw it (bear in mind carrying an entire family) “oh yeah, I knew one was out months ago…!” – think the UK version of Cletus the Braindead Redneck and you have him to a ‘T’.
    The worst was a female friend of mine, who will remain nameless. A Single woman with no family, who picked of all things a Hyundai Tragic, which is sad and depressing enough… but the state of the interior, you wouldnt believe it if you didnt see it – the fast food bags were up to the seats, the floor could have been used by the German aircraft industry as an adhesive for wooden skinning (Hyundai carpets and 8 years of spilled coke and the like, it was like the La Brea tar pits – with attitude! Step on the wrong place and you’d have been found 1.9 million years later preserved in coke syrup like a Norwegian bog body..). And the smell, think a cross between a condemned MacDonalds and a morgue after a 2 week powercut. I’ve only been in one place worse, and that was a former friends home that had sewers that backed up every second week, and a toilet that hadnt been cleaned since Jesus retired and we suspected was partially sentient by that point…
    The most depressing is that for every 9 unprincipled little git you get selling second hand cars you get one dealer whos staff (male, would you believe it) who actually burst into tears when they entirely accidently damage a customers car! Guess which ones will be remembered.
    The public are the worst because quite simply theres no comeback on them. If a garage sells me something thats lethal due to faults or is the result of 2/3rds volvo, 1/3rd SAAB, 3 hours and a welding torch – theres laws against it. A member of the public does that and you are high and dry unless you live in the US (the correct procedure being to identify some female relation, nothing whatsoever to do with the situation, preferably young talented and pregnant, and shoot her – of course you’ll have to wait in line behind the Whiny Former Facebook Friend with Mac 10).
    But far more terrifying even than that are the people who own cars who should be supervised 24/7 when using travel cutlery… “I can smell petrol…” why? “well I wandered off while the pump was filling my car up and did something else for half an hour and came back and there was a lake of petrol and it was all inside the car and surch…”. Do you “really” want to buy a vehicle previously owned by this guy?

  6. Its true, customers in the main are lying chancing bastards, once had a E61 five series in that somehow a pedal bike had pushed the o/s/r sill in a couple of inches, and somehow went right round the back of the car and bent the tailpipe on the offside (been stood on because the chrome was corroded) the insurance did not argue but I was incensed.

    Three weeks later the car is back with the common mechatronic sleeve leak in the gear box, stating it was ok till we repaired the body damage. He was given robust travel advice- we photograph the clocks and every inch of the car prior to repair so he had no legs to stand on.

  7. Classic one, one of my schoolfriends wanted to buy a BMW 3 series to impress the ladies, but as he was hard up and couldn’t afford a decent one, saw what he thought was an ultimate bargain, a 17 year old 3 series for £ 500. Obviously a BMW selling for this much is an absolute lemon with no service history and probably on his last legs, but he went ahead and bought it.
    Surprise, surprise, after a week the engine blew up and the car had to be scrapped as it was too uneconomical to be repaired.

  8. Dealers at least have some comeback (even if they try and fob you off with ‘sold as seen’ – it has to be reasonable and drivable unless it is explicitly sold as ‘for parts’ with faults listed, or similar).

    The Hyundai I once looked at with the rear bumper insert painted body colour, rather than grey as the rest of the car, and the wonky bootlid – “Just needs adjustment”… hmmm…
    The V5 carefully hidden away too “lost”, as the “damaged repaired” note would give the game away…


  9. I was about ready to reach for the bleach while driving a 10 plate 1.6 Zafira. What a mobile road block! Having seen yet another Citroen C1 sprint off into the distance as the traffic picked up on the M1 I decided to stick with the HGVs in lane 1.

    Mind you, that car was positively sprightly compared to the 1.6 (naturally aspirated) Opel Insignia I was lumbered with for a week.

  10. Private buyers take the piss too. Usually come along and make some derisory offer which they think you should accept as though they are doing you a favour. I sold two cars recently and the process was a pain with timewasters and idiots.

  11. ^^Russell^^

    You are so right!

    I sold a SAAB Turbo a while back via autotra*** and a chap whol lived nearby was on the phone asking anything and everything about the car. “It is what it is” I said… a tidy usable 1998 SE Turbo. 35 minutes he was on the phone… so I said come and view it and if its not for you… just walk away.

    “I`m hardly going to view if its not the right car” said he… “Your`e hardly going to know that without seeing it first” said I … a pregnat pause followed.

    Anyway… he turned up with a clearly bored wife… minced about walking round and round the car… opening and closing doors… more walking around in circles.

    The test drive lasted 15 miles (fair enough) and getting back to mine, he clearly was stuggling to find any real objections. So he then tried to bid me down for stone chips, a minor parking rash on the bumper and a non working front fog lamp (a bulb I had forgotten about)

    During all this he mentioned a few times about how he knew everything about SAABs but failed to check the steering, rack security, the lower front suspension bushes or fully check the trip computer – they were all okay mind you!

    A truly dismal bid was put in and while I got my breath back he said “oh yeah… when was the cambelt changed?”

    At that point I plipped the lock button, turned round, and went back in the house without muttering a word!

    F*** em!

  12. Buyers! They’re worse than sellers!

    I sold a Xantia once, only had 75k on the clock but I had decided I needed an Alfa Romeo in my life (quarter life crisis)…
    Anyhow, some bloke phones up, asks about condition, asks about the mileage, then says “Nah, don’t believe you that that’s a genuine mileage..” then puts the phone down!
    Sold a cheap ZX estate, high miles but drove brilliantly. The buyer had a long test drive, was bouncing up and down on the door sills to check the suspension etc. then made a ridiculously low offer (ie. less than 4 tyres would cost). I told him where to go.


    Saab expert and timing belt?
    Should’ve given him the key and asked him to start it… (cue bafflement and sniffing round the steering column from armchair ‘experts’)

  13. Sold a Year 2000 Merc E320 once on Ebay, nice straight car, high miles but looked good and drove well. At the time they weren’t fetching much so sold it to a buyer 200 miles away in Manchester at a loss which I was kind of pissed about but honored the sale anyway. The buyer contacted me and said he would like to collect the car on Saturday which was a week ahead roughly (I did say collection within 3 days but I bit my lip), and all was agreed. Wednesday comes and I was just getting ready for work in the evening when the phone rang, it was the buyer, he said he’d be there in about an hour and would I get the car ready for him! I told him that we’d agreed Saturday and I was on my way to work so no. He then quite sternly told me that he had been on the road for two hours to get to me and I needed to be in as he wasn’t turning back!!! Gobsmacked I thought about telling him to F*** off and relisting the car but being a softie I agreed to ring in sick and wait in for him. 4 hours later still no sign of him I was furious to say the least, no answer on his mobile either. Eventually at 10pm he turns up at the door, short fat bouncer type with a face covered in scars and a black puffer jacket on, I felt intimidated as he also had two other friends waiting in the car. The bidding had ended on £895 and as he looked around the car he (in a matter of fact way) said that he’d be giving me £100 less than the agreed auction price to cover his petrol home!!! I lost my rag and told him if he wanted the car he;d have to pay the agreed price or drive away, he then started a painful bartering process than wore me out, picking tiny faults as if to try to justify his lower offer, I eventually reluctantly agreed to knock off £50 and sent him on his way, but to ad further insult to injury he made in clear before he left that he expected me to give him positive feedback on the sale and that I would need to give it THAT NIGHT! I ignored it and simply didn’t give him feedback in protest. For the next 4 months he made threats on my life, said he was going to smash my car, kill my kids and have my house torched (threats the Police were not willing to take seriously) from him for not giving him feedback!!!! So yes, I agree buyers CAN be scum at times!

  14. @ 14

    Blimey! Thought I’d heard about some bad buyers but that is something else. Reinforces my doubts about ever selling a car privately. Why weren’t the Police willing to take it seriously?

  15. After recently failing to sell our old 306 privately, we traded it in against the new car we purchased. The dealer was appraising the car with me and asked me about the aircon.
    “It doesn’t work” I said and then he came out with line “it probably only needs a re gas” I assured him it didn’t and showed him the punctured pipe with fluorescent die all around and told him that’s why. He kind of insinuated I wasn’t a mechanic and should know about it. It then dawned on me this guy must have tried to re gas all sorts

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