This week I've changed my car: traded in the Renault that has served me well for twelve years in favour of a younger model ( though different marque, since Renault no longer makes the model I prefer.)
This nerve-racking experience ( if you only change your car once every ten years or so you don't get much practice) has been made worse by the following irritations:
- the initial salesman, mature and presumably experienced, advised me that the model I was interested in did not have reversing sensors, but they could be "factory fitted" for an extra £232. It turned out they were fitted as standard.
- this same "sales executive" told me that the minimum deposit required would be £500: when I went to seal the deal some days later it turned out to be £1,000. Fortunately my card could stand that, but it could have been embarrassing.
- the advertising blurb quoted a mileage of 3,971 (it is a "pre-loved" car, now the preferred euphemism for "second hand") which made it sound very attractive. When I clinched the deal and was given the MOT certificate, it recorded the mileage 4,631. Admittedly the car had been traded in in Huddersfield and was to be traded out by me in Leeds, but over 600 miles to cover the 15 or so miles between the two seemed excessive. It turned out the MOT certificate is wrong and the mileage on the odometer was a more reasonable 4,146.
- the younger salesman who supervised the final handover, and who seemed to know quite a lot more than his more mature colleague (he justified his title of "product genius"), told me that when he unveiled (literally) the car I would receive a nice surprise. This turned out to be leather seats, which was no surprise at all as they were mentioned in the advertising specification. Nor am I too enthusiastic about this embellishment. In the Tropics leather car sets were the bane of our lives. They got so hot in the sun that we had to wrap towels round them to avoid scorching the backs of our thighs.
None of these gaffes are really serious, but if our international salespersons are no more on the ball it is no wonder that our balance of payments accounts are in the red by nearly 6% of GDP.
Since I change cars so rarely the above, if not exactly a "one-off" experience, doesn't come round very often. Much more serious is an annual irritation, the renewal of my house and car insurances, both of which fall due in June/July. I have come to dread this time of the year, as I am inundated with different offers, most of which are unsolicited, and two of which, from RIAS, are identical. (Given that my bank claims it costs them around £20 to write me a letter, how can such profligacy be justified? Or maybe the bank exaggerates.)
So each year I am forced to go through the tedious pantomime of seeking and comparing quotes, then getting Saga to match the most reasonable, which they usually do. Admittedly this only takes a couple of afternoons, but it is a chore which I could do without, and I'm sure many others feel the same.
The Tories and triangulated New Labour assume that this "choice" is what we want, but I suspect that what most of us really want is a company, be it insurance, bank, building society, energy provider, or whatever which is not necessarily the cheapest, but which we can trust to treat us fairly.
At the local level I have managed to find such small firms for plumbing, joinery and car repairs.
The big national and international firms, and the government, should take note.