WE’VE been buying a new car. Well, not brand-new. Used, let’s say. I’ve been keeping it quiet because it’s taken me two months to get over it.
On balance, I’d rather move house than replace a vehicle. And given that my last house move ended up as a loss-making 18-month-long trauma, that’s saying something.
However, it became clear at the start of the summer that our ancient VW Polo –- bought three years ago as a ‘stop-gap’ in the middle of that house-moving trauma – was no longer fit for purpose. The MOT was looming and I knew in my heart it was going to cost at least £300 to fix all the faults.
Also, my 17-year-old son is now six foot four inches tall and he was finding it difficult to actually get his legs folded up in the back. So, my partner and I screwed our courage to the sticking place and started looking.
Although we had to swerve a too-good-to-be-true model for sale in Mirfield – it had been in a shunt – it proved pleasingly easy to find the model we wanted and for a price we could afford to pay; a nearly-new Kia Sportage at a large car saleroom not far away in Doncaster.
We took it for a test drive and agreed that the price was fair. We also stated very clearly many times that we had the funds to pay for it - a mixture of carefully calibrated hard-earned cash and a top-up loan from peer-to-peer lenders Zopa - and didn’t wish to entertain their in-house car finance. We respected the right of other people to take it, but it wasn’t for us.
The young sales team seemed incredulous at this. In every conversation we had with any one of them, they asked if we would reconsider. No, we kept saying, we like to be independent and to own our own car. Call us old-fashioned, but it’s just the way we are.
In the end, on the day of handover, the sales manager himself came over. He was all of 30. “Are you absolutely sure?”, he said. “Our finance is very competitive - I’m guessing that you want any monthly repayments to be as low as possible.” No, we reiterated, we want to pay off our loan as soon as possible so we don’t have to be tied into your deal (which you’ll be making commission on, of course) and stung with interest.
He was beginning to annoy me. “If you’re worried that you can’t keep up with the finance payments,” he wheedled. “It’s fine, we’ll just come and take the car away.”
I managed not to lose my temper, but only just. Did any sentence ever sum up the spiralling attitude to money, spending and debt than that? Is it any wonder that the average UK household debt now stands at a record £15,400, according to the TUC, and that people less cynical than me are being cajoled into taking out finance products that could do them more harm than good?
Also, this idea that a car really is so disposable? We’d agonised over our decision for years and took such a major outlay so seriously. It made me feel quite sad to think that an item I prize and value is so easy to get rid of these days.
This particular company prides itself on putting the customer first. But how can it justify this when what it is really doing is trying to hook in the customer to a car finance deal which might cripple them - and end up with their car being towed away without recourse?
I’d just got over this when the time came to renew my car insurance policy. A relatively simple telephone call procedure with a company which, ahem, specialises in the over-50s.
Until I received a text, an email and the next day an automated letter warning me that my car insurance was about to invalidated.
As soon as I saw the text, I rang the company and it turned out I’d made a simple error - giving them the number of our savings account rather than current and the direct debit wouldn’t work.
However, the attitude of the young woman on the end of the phone would have led a casual observer to believe that I had committed a serious financial crime.
She warned me that this dereliction of duty on my part would go down on my credit record. Naturally, I asked her why she couldn’t have just rung me up? Why did they have to send me such alarming correspondence? What if I had been an (even) older person or someone not used to challenging customer service?
Her response was that she was just following the rules laid down by the Financial Conduct Authority. I gave up in the end and sat quietly for a while, pondering how credit can cause so many problems – and how we should be able to trust those who offer it to treat us with respect.