AM Online

'Niggling' squeaks and rattles plague new cars

“I don't know whether it is just me, but recently I seem to have been inundated with people having a moan about the number of problems they are having with their vehicles. If it isn't the neighbours knocking at the door, it is friends in the pub asking what action they should take next to try and get their problems sorted out. These range from niggling squeaks and rattles to complete failure in the most dangerous of places.

Once the car is back at the main agent solving the problem should be easy, but it appears not. The most frequent complaint is the number of times the vehicle has to return to the garage. As cars get more technically advanced there is potentially more to go wrong and training technicians to be fully conversant with all aspects of the vehicle's electrics, computers and so on, is asking too much. If they were to have ongoing training they would hardly spend any time in the workshop. Dealers also have a moan about the standard of some components. As manufacturers strive to keep prices low the issue is whether quality from the suppliers is being compromised. Most of the problems that cause failure could be picked up on pre-delivery inspections at dealers, but due to time constraints they can be missed.

One leasing company I visited last week is seeing a rise in roadside breakdowns compared to last year. Of those, fewer could be repaired at the roadside and had to be transported to a franchised dealer with either a loan car provided, or time wasted in the service reception area. Roadside assistance companies are going overboard with their training but even with vast experience some of the failures are beating them. However with the highly technical and sophisticated systems around in cars, it is amazing just how many they do manage to fix at the roadside.

The decision about what happens to a car that seems unfixable is often made by the dealer, as the manufacturers put the ball in their court. If a car has to be replaced the dealer has the problem of putting it on the forecourt and finding another customer. And if the potential buyer 'phones the last owner the chance of selling the car is nil.

But it is not all bad news. Manufacturers are confident that service departments are getting better, that standards are nearly there and that mechanics and service receptionists realise the importance of customer satisfaction. And well they should. The car has been on the road for over a hundred years - how long do they need?

I was at an auction last week and was surprised at just how few of us were in the hall - five of us, with nothing selling. At one stage the auctioneer threw the paperwork up in the air, in disbelief rather than rage. All the cars were from one leasing company and it has to be said that they were not prepared and looked dismal. It was like going to the cinema and sitting through the adverts waiting for the main feature, with the auctioneer like the projectionist – going through the motions but knowing that no-one is really interested.

But a few minutes later the auctioneer was joined by the disposal manager from another leasing company on the rostrum and how things changed. People moved into the hall to actively bid at well prepared cars, with somebody there to make an instant decision on whether to sell or not. The cars were there to sell and sell they did, with an 80% conversion. The high mileage ones suffered but the more unusual, lower mileage ones did OK. The main thing for the disposal manager was that most of his cars had sold and within a few days the money would be in the bank, not sitting in an auction compound.

Things do seem to have picked up over the last week at auctions. A couple of weeks ago prices reached bargain basement levels which gave the trade a kick-start. It is difficult to say what is doing well and what isn't but the Peugeot 406 diesel has made a staggering comeback. Diesels from Volkswagen Group companies are still desirable if they have spec and the mileage is not excessive. The Ford Focus is still a great retail proposition and they don't last long on the forecourt.”

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