This is the story of the amazing, disappearing car warranty. It is a cautionary tale that all second-hand car buyers should heed. And it goes like this.
The amazing, disappearing car warranty began life as an apparently normal car warranty issued to a Volvo XC90 I bought for a very reasonable price after the builder boyfriend helped me negotiate by deploying his best south London geezer tradesman banter. What clinched the deal was the salesman telling the builder he was so sure we would be happy with the car, he would issue his ‘wife’ with a one-year Gold warranty.
‘She’s not my wife — thank god! Ha ha!’ bantered the builder, sparking much hilarity, ‘but that’s a great offer. We’ll take it.’
A leaflet from the warranty company, entitled Customer Protect, was then handed to me, explaining that: ‘All mechanical and electrical components are included against a breakdown during the warranty period.’ And there were three pages full of lists of parts covered including the gearbox, the engine, the torque converter and the head gasket. There was even a picture of a differential —‘the diff’, the builder calls it — promising that this was covered to the tune of £1,946.
That was a few weeks ago, and the Volvo has been driving like a dream ever since. But the other day I was filing the car documents and noticed that the warranty booklet didn’t have any papers inside it. There was nothing to say what my policy number was or who to call if the car broke down.
I rang the dealer and asked if the documents were coming in the post and they said the warranty department was closed and I should call another time. When I rang the next day, the ‘warranty department’ was closed then, as well. You will notice that I am now placing ‘warranty department’ in inverted commas.
After a few more days of ringing at various hours to discover that the ‘warranty department’ was closed, or that its staff had just popped out, I decided to go to the showroom. I turned up at 2.45 p.m. on a Wednesday and was told — you guessed it — that the ‘warranty department’ was closed.
When I asked where the ‘warranty department’ was, physically — ‘I mean, point me to it’ — they admitted that there was not a department so much as some ‘warranty people’ who came and went, but were at another branch at that moment.
‘I am going to sit here,’ I said to a man who appeared to be in charge, ‘until you issue me with my warranty papers.’ The man, who was sitting at a desk covered in Customer Protect leaflets in display units, started visibly pouring with sweat. I don’t mean he was a bit sweaty. I mean he was having to wipe away sweat as it gushed out of his pores.
He told me to come back in an hour. On the way out, I noticed that every car on the forecourt had a Customer Protect sticker on the windscreen, exhorting people to feel good about how protected they were.
When I returned, the sweating man gingerly set down a warranty document in front of me, with a start date of that day. ‘You mean to tell me I have been driving the car without a warranty for weeks, and would have gone on doing so if I hadn’t come in here to confront you?’
He was now sweating so profusely I feared he might at any moment venture into cardiac arrest. Other salesmen were crowding around the desk to watch the spectacle. I got the distinct impression that I was the first customer who had ever come back to ask them to issue an actual warranty, instead of an empty document holder. I scoured every word on the paperwork, and soon found the key phrase: ‘Claim limit: £1,000.’
‘So I’m covered for absolutely everything that could go wrong with the car, so long as it comes to £1,000?’
‘Yes,’ said the man, who had given up trying to wipe the sweat away and was now simply blinking the sweat out of his eyes as it ran down his cheeks.
‘That’s not very likely, is it?’
‘Volvo very good car, madam.’
‘True. But this one is second-hand. And I can’t think of any major mechanical failure that would cost £1,000. To sum up, therefore, this warranty gives me the total peace of mind of knowing that if the worst comes to the worst and the car falls to bits, you will buy me some new tyres.’
‘You need to leave now, madam,’ he said, and I believed him. If I had pressed the issue a second longer, I truly believe he would have melted into a pool of liquid at my feet.
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