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Guest opinion: test drives set to be focus of 'Dealer Elimination Agency'

Trading Standards officer

Despite being billed as the biggest change to consumer law for more than a century and with the spotlight well and truly on car dealers, why is the impending Consumer Rights Act barely raising an eyebrow?

Simply, it’s seen as nothing new, just a rebranding exercise, packaging the existing consumer laws into one, with the same old problems for customers facing an over-burdened court system, leaving the new law looking like a toothless tiger.

The reality is that the new law brings with it enhanced powers for Trading Standards, which like HM Customs are above and beyond the police and are more akin to a British FBI or DEA (Dealer Elimination Agency).

We’ve seen from the recent sting operation involving Halfords, how Trading Standards are mounting covert operations, placing targeted businesses under surveillance and making test purchases resulting in prosecution and significant fines.

But this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg with dealers potentially facing “mystery shopper” operations exposing over-zealous sales executives, spurious sales processes and the ever thorny issue of refunding deposits.

What’s more, test drives are likely to be a prime target, providing an ideal opportunity for undercover operatives to scrutinise the dealer processes and policies as well as to inspect the vehicle, with the power to seize and retain suspect vehicles.

Firms may be well advised to avoid showing and test driving vehicles that are “awaiting preparation” be they part exchanges or fresh off the transporter from the auction- if it’s just arrived don’t take it for a drive.

While the Government has been unapologetic in its determination to bring the as yet unregulated used car market kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, new car dealerships, dealer groups and car manufacturers are also firmly in their sights.

Retailers, repairers and dealerships are advised to take the opportunity to review and amend their policies and procedures in line with new law, including complaints, sales techniques, order forms, invoices and deal file accuracy. 

Author: Philip Harmer is a partner at Stormcatcher Business Lawyers based in Surrey. He is a lawyer, speaker and regular commentator on employment and business law

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