Car buying


The week before last, in a moment of (not uncharacteristic) impatience and inattentiveness
D drove into the back of another car. It was in stop-start traffic. Ironically, he says he was looking at a damaged car on the side of the road when he failed to notice that the car in front had stopped moving.

No one was hurt, but the other car was much more robust than my little VW Golf, which crumpled up at the front. The driver’s side front lights were broken, the front bumper parts smashed, you couldn’t open the bonnet without tools and the driver’s door only opened with a most tremendous crack.

It’s a 14 year old car and registration was due in mid-March.

In moments like this, we turn to Av, husband of my old friend U, for advice. He is an avid buyer and seller and do-er up of second-hand cars. (Last year U had the first new and first comprehensively-insured car of her life, only because it came with a lease deal from Av’s work.) “Put it up on Gumtree. Ask for $600 and accept $500,” he said. He took a few pictures with his mobile phone and posted the ad for us. I went to Elektra.

We sold it on Sunday morning for $500 to the first callers, who’d driven all the way from Penrith. We didn’t tell them about the various things that were wrong with the car – the occasional tendency to stall, the cantankerous electric windows and central locking, the funny smell like ironing that we’ve recently noticed. When they asked, we just got a bit vague and simply said “It’s an old car.” I had had it for 11 years.

The nominal buyer was a young woman born in 1995. It may really have been being bought for the younger of the two men who came with her, who had forgotten his licence. As the older man handed over the money I half-joked that it would just about do for my scheduled trip to the dentist the next day. He replied “You don’t want to know about my teeth.” As he laughed a bit I could see just enough of one tooth to see that he was probably right. He looked a bit rough, but that was just appearance: D remarked after they left, they were very polite and in fact quite well-spoken.

We hoped they got back to Penrith without the car coming to the attention of the police and that they would still be happy with the bargain when they got to know the car better.

Now I’m out to buy a car myself. I haven’t got far. Amongst other things, it’s hard to buy a car once you haven’t got one. It makes it especially difficult to seek out private sellers. On the Saturday when Av came round, D asked Av if he could recommend any trustworthy car dealer. Av just laughed.

In a way it’s the situation rather than the person. True honesty would require a dealer to volunteer defects in the car being sold.

I can’t be bothered searching out all the cases, but when you study contract law you realise that a lot of the cases about warranties and misrepresentations in the nineteenth century and earlier are about people buying horses. It seems that horse dealers had the same reputation as used car dealers have today: after all, they were selling something quite expensive and necessary with a history known to the seller which could be critical.

In the meantime, I have resumed my Chinese studies, more in an attempt not to forget than to improve. The character above is one which I revisited recently.

As is well known, Chinese characters contain idiolects. Commonly, one part of the character represents the sound of the word (which may itself include some clue as to its original meaning) and another part of the character bears some relationship to the meaning. In the character above, the right hand side is the clue to the sound. The left hand side is therefore the clue to the meaning: it means “horse.”

The word means “cheat.”

6 Responses to “Car buying”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Remarkably my partner and myself were just discussing our car situation now he is no longer working. One car or two? Get rid of my old one? Trade both in a better one. How to keep my partner’s and sell mine which is nearly worthless? Gumtree. Thanks for the tip.

    • marcellous Says:

      Andrew, from my present position I’d say just this: if you are planning to buy a used car privately, then it’s much better still to have a car yourself. That’s where we are really in a bind at present.

  2. Victor Says:

    Until this post I had assumed you did not possess a car. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the periodic cycling references.

    • marcellous Says:

      V, I wish I were so virtuous. I went without a car from 1984 to 1992 and from 1995 to 2000, at which point, living in Perth, I succumbed. Then I made the mistake of choosing a place to live back in Sydney when I was driving a car, which makes it almost inevitable that you will find a place which assumes for its viability that you have one.

      As I work in the CBD I don’t use a car to go to work. Sometimes, though, if I have cycled in and the weather has changed or it is very late and I am tired, D will come and get me and the bike. If I lived just a little closer to the city, I could definitely get by on a “Go-get” or similar basis, and rent a car for the relatively rare excursions I make further afield. I’m sure I would be ahead financially if I did so.

      I would be prepared to wait a while before getting another, but D is most definitely not of that opinion. He complained on Mardi Gras weekend that my lack of one precluded his going to Oxford Street because he feels unable to go on public transport with the kind of outfit he would like to wear. And yesterday, as we tramped the car-yards of Parramatta Road in the heat, he stated that if I had a car he could have gone to the beach. Not that he actually does that all that often.

  3. David Tennis Pro Says:

    Hi Sir

    Love reading your blog. Any chance you still tutor law?

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