When is a new car not a new car?

X-Ray looks at the Ford dealership in Barry,
where new cars may not be all that they seem.

Episode 13, series 6 - 13/11/2006

   

Everyone knows the kinds of questions to ask when buying a brand new car; "Can I get a discount?", "What's the warranty like?" But, how about, "Is it really brand new?" - is that something you should have to double check?

Ford Ka

Sam Urrutia was coming up to her 18th birthday two years ago. So, mum Maria and solicitor dad Stephen decided to buy her a brand new car to take her to and from university. Dad Stephen is a self-admitted 'over-protective father' and knew specifically the kind of car he wanted for Sam.

 

"I'd looked at nearly new cars and I didn't feel that they met my standards. I felt that they were going to be more short term in their reliability and perhaps the cover that you were getting with a newer car."

Local Ford dealers, PW Millar Ltd in Barry, were advertising a new Ford KA Collection in the newspaper which was exactly what Sam wanted. She went down to take a look at it and decided it was the car for her. Sam & Stephen both say they had no reason to suspect it wasn't new as advertised.

So in March 2004, Stephen handed over £6,985 for the KA and as far as he was concerned it came with a three year manufacturer's warranty, standard on new Ford cars in the UK . He says:

"I think the fact that you buy a car with the warranty gives you peace of mind. If something did happen unfortunate, it would be dealt with speedily."

Sam clocked up 25,000 miles in the first two years, but then problems. Two months ago, the clutch went. Sam wasn't worried because she thought the car was only about two years old and felt safe in the knowledge that she had her warranty. So she gave Ford head office a call just to check that she would be covered.

However, her registration number wouldn't reveal anything on the customer service's computer, so she was asked to repeat the number on her car chassis again and again, and what she was eventually told shocked her.

"He said, 'Your car was actually built and registered in Spain in 2001'."

This means the car was already three years old when her dad bought it as new, and someone else had already registered it in Spain back in 2001.

A manufacturer's warranty kicks in when a car is first registered. So, Ford's warranty actually started back in 2001 in Spain and had run out by the time Sam had the car.

We spoke to Lyndon Millar who sold them the car, he claimed the car hadn't been registered in Spain and said the Urrutias would have been aware it was imported. But dad Stephen, mum Maria and Sam were adamant that it had never been mentioned by him in the showroom. Also, Ford head office has told us that Mr Millar would have had access to the systems which show previous registration.

Dealers are allowed to import from Europe . However, if a car has already been registered abroad you don't always get the same warranty deal.

Even though Lyndon Millar gave Sam a Ford warranty booklet he also claims to have told the Urrutias that they were getting a 'dealer's warranty' - instead of the manufacturer's one. But, Stephen says:

"I understand the difference between a manufacturer's warranty, an insurer's warranty and indeed a dealership warranty. I was quite particular that I wanted a manufacturer's warranty. If he'd told me it was a dealership warranty, personally I would have said that's not a new car."

We spoke to motoring journalist Mark James and asked him if he thought it was reasonable to sell a 2001 car as new in 2004.

"Absolutely not, everybody should have been made aware of exactly what this car was and the dealer should have had a signed bit of paper to that effect that would have been clear to everybody. This is a UK car, UK registered, or this is an import from Europe that was first registered in Spain - that would be clear to everybody and there would have been no comeback on either side.

"It looks on paper as though the car is brand new; it's only done 10 miles. But it's sat in a field, I guess somewhere in Spain , for the best part of three years. It's also got a lot of fluids in the car that are corrosive, brake fluid for example. The oil has possibly degraded; it's not designed to be sat in the car, it's designed to be pumped around the car."

X-Ray spoke to other customers of PW Millar. James and Christine Doyle bought two new cars from there back in March. The warranty documents came through on one car but not the other. And when James rang Ford head office to check where they were, he was in for a shock.

"They asked me the chassis number of the Ford Focus. I gave them the chassis number and that's when I found out it was a Maltese import."

It turns out one of their cars had been registered in Malta , five months earlier. The Doyles, who've now sold the car, say they were never told it was an import, previously registered, and that five months had already gone on the Ford warranty when they bought it because of its foreign registration.

Stephen Urrutia feels the car was mis-sold to him and says he didn't get what he paid for - a new car for Sam.

"I promised her a special present for her 18th birthday. That special present included me and my wife getting her a new car and we haven't delivered."

X-Ray spoke to Lyndon Millar of PW Millar, the man who sold the KA to the Urrutias. We wanted to know why he hadn't informed them about its history. At first he denied he said they would have known the cars were imports but after we told him the Urrutias and the Doyles claimed they'd never been told he came back with a statement.

He now apologises to them for any misunderstanding. He says there'd been no intention to misrepresent the vehicles. He says they do source vehicles from various suppliers and try to give their customers comprehensive information. He admits customer service on this occasion seems to have fallen short and he's investigating to make sure this doesn't happen again.

He also offered Mr Doyle a three year warranty, albeit on the car he's no longer got. And he's offering Sam an "entirely new car", which this time means really, really new. We went along to give Sam the good news.

"Brilliant, now finally he's come out with a good offer, all thanks to X-Ray that he's done it so quickly, hopefully I'll finally get what I paid for at the very beginning."

We have spoken to Ford about our investigation; they thanked us for bringing it to their attention and have said they're taking the allegations very seriously. They say they will now be carrying out a thorough investigation with PW Millar to establish why the Urrutias and the Doyles were not informed abut the origins of their vehicles and warranty.
 

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