Press releases

Young drivers warned of hidden dangers in second-hand cars

Young drivers' lives are being put at risk by dealers selling unroadworthy second-hand cars, The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) has warned.

A test purchase exercise by Trading Standards revealed five out of eight second-hand cars bought during a recent undercover operation were not safe to be driven - an issue which will be highlighted at the TSI's annual conference in Bournemouth on Tuesday 24 June.

Officers from Hertfordshire Trading Standards posed as members of the public to buy lower-priced vehicles - the kind a young, first-time motorist may purchase - from various small, independent dealers in the county. The vehicles were then transported to a specialised location where they could be inspected by a vehicle examiner from Hertfordshire Constabulary's Collision Investigation Unit.

Of the eight cars purchased, five were deemed unroadworthy under the terms of the Road Traffic Act.

Some of the dangerous faults unearthed during the study included a Seat Toledo which had a wire to its brake fluid sensor cut. The same car also had leaking rear suspension dampers which affect the handling and control of a car. A Nissan Micra had the same fault and also had a defective constant velocity joint gaiter which has a damaging impact on steering.

Two cars also had under-inflated tyres which are one of the main causes of road traffic accidents. Under-inflated tyres can have severe consequences as they affect the steering, braking and handling of a vehicle.

Dick Light, manager of the Hertfordshire Constabulary's Collision Investigation Unit, said: 'Three vehicles - a Seat Toledo, a Ford Fiesta and a Nissan Micra - were seriously defective. The faults included defective steering, defective brakes; defective tyres and defective suspension. In all cases the control and stability of the vehicle were likely to be seriously affected.

'The defects my examiner found were shocking - the cars were unsafe to use and had no place on a road and, therefore, no place on a trader's forecourt.

'It is a serious offence to sell or to offer for sale a vehicle that does not comply with the laws that govern the construction and use of motor vehicles. There is no element of 'buyer beware', and no circumstance that ignorance of the law is an excuse.

'Since some vehicles purchased had no defects, it is clearly possible for responsible traders to sell low price, legal vehicles.'

Guy Pratt, head of Trading Standards at Hertfordshire County Council, said: 'No matter how much or little you pay for a vehicle, you are entitled to expect that it is safe, roadworthy and complies with the law.

'Test purchasing exercises such as this one are vital to protect the consumer against buying dangerous vehicles. I would like to thank Hertfordshire Constabulary for its assistance with this project.'

Trading Standards officers are urging all young motorists to get a car checked by an independent engineer before buying it or insist on a full MOT before purchasing it.

Peter Stratton, TSI lead officer for the motor trade, said: 'The poor condition of vehicles is a common contributory factor in road traffic accidents and this new survey shows that there are a lot of death-trap vehicles on the market.

'For every accident we can prevent by urging drivers to get cars checked before they buy, the better.

'Consumers should buy from legitimate businesses that will have inspected the vehicles before putting them on sale - people should be advised that they are taking a greater risk when they buy cars from the roadside.
'The best advice we can give is always insist on a full, new MOT certificate as this gives basic safety protection and an indication of engine function.

'If motorists find any problems with a vehicle they have just purchased, they should contact Consumer Direct.'

One young motorist who has had a bad experience of buying a second-hand car from an independent dealer is 20-year-old Roxanne Barnecutt.

Roxanne, from St Austell, Cornwall, bought an S registration Peugeot 106 Quicksilver in February for £1,500 and experienced problems with it almost straight away.

She said: 'I saw the car on the internet at a dealership in Somerset and it was advertised as having 12 months MOT, tax and warranty. I asked the guy over the phone if there were any faults with the car and all he said was there was a dent in one of the doors.

'When I arrived at the dealership, the car did not have tax or a warranty as advertised but I decided to buy it anyway. A few days later I took it to a garage to have the cam belt replaced and the mechanic discovered a whole host of dangerous faults with the car.

'The suspension joint bars were as bent as a banana which the mechanic said could only happen if the car was in an accident, there was a rattling noise in the gear box and it needed a new tyre.

'Shortly after I was driving the car and it broke down completely and the brakes failed. The car is completely unsafe and should not be on the road. I have spent around £600 on it so far and it is going to cost hundreds more to put it right.

'I checked everything I could have checked on the vehicle when I viewed it but I would have had to be a mechanic to spot all the things that were wrong with it. This experience has completely put me off buying cars.'

Ray Holloway, of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, said: 'It is imperative that consumers use a reliable trader when buying a used car, as the study by Hertfordshire Trading Standards shows.

'Although the majority of businesses that sell used cars ensure that vehicles on offer meet all legal requirements, and rigorously check to ensure roadworthiness, there are still a few rogue traders operating at the bottom end of the market.'

Latest figures show that in 2007, complaints about second-hand cars bought from independent dealers topped the list of complaints received by government advice service Consumer Direct, with nearly 42,000 people having a grievance with a vehicle they had bought.

Officers at Hertfordshire Trading Standards have been helping to educate young people about the potential pitfalls of buying a second-hand car by teaming up with the Megadrive campaign.

Megadrive is an educational workshop programme run by various agencies including Hertfordshire Constabulary, Hertfordshire Fire service, Driving Standards Agency, St Johns Ambulance, RAC, and BSM. These organisations run courses aimed at pupils who are just about to leave school to equip young motorists to effectively handle any situation as a driver or as a passenger.

The next Megadrive event is set to take place on Friday (June 26) at Hatfield Fire Station, in Hertfordshire.

People can contact Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06.

Notes to Editors

Roxanne Barnecutt can be contacted on 07964 146978 to arrange interviews and photo opportunities

Eight vehicles were purchased by Hertfordshire Trading Standards during the survey. Of the eight cars examined two were faultless, one had minor problems and five were considered unroadworthy by the examiner.

The failure rate in terms of non-compliance with the Road Traffic Act was 62.5 per cent.

The total amount spent on the purchase of the eight vehicles was £5,564. The cost of the individual cars ranged from £495 to £1,100. The average cost of each vehicle was £695.50.

It should be noted that information captured by Consumer Direct is provided as given by the consumer and that no opinion on the truth or verification of facts has been made by the Consumer Direct service.

The national Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Conference 2008, organised by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) - a 'must' for consumer journalists!

The TSI-hosted annual Conference and Exhibition is the leading consumer affairs and trading standards event in Europe.

Conference 2008 is being held at Bournemouth International Centre from Tuesday 24 to Thursday 26 June. The conference press office will be open from 8am on Monday 23 June (the day before the event starts) until 2pm on Thursday 26 June.

Journalists and photographers are welcome to attend but should contact the press office on 0845 608 9430 to arrange passes.

The conference is hosted by TSI chairman Bryan Lewin.

Almost 2,000 people are attending the conference, including representatives from local and central government and those interested in fair trading, representatives of business and commerce, together with consumer organisations. This makes it an ideal place for consumer affairs journalists to mingle and make contacts!

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.

Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.

TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.

They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.