Dealer wheelers

A family member was recently involved in a traffic accident when a minibus taxi decided to test the integral safety characteristics of her Honda Jazz by ramming the little hatch from behind at around 100km/h. The Honda handled the challenge most admirably, considering the rear door landed up where the rear seats used to preside. The driver had to be cut from the wreck, and using the jaws of life, the emergency personnel effectively cut the roof off, severing the vital A-pillars in the process. Amazingly though, the driver suffered only whiplash and minor bruising.

Since all motoring matters in my extended family normally get referred my way, the task of finding a replacement vehicle, by default, landed on my doorstep. Not that I mind too much: I like the thrill of hunting for that special old 4×4, buying it, going through the custom and restoration processes and, eventually, reselling it. But this was the first time I had to hunt for a small, economical hatch with an automatic gearbox, for a very limited budget. Internet searches on pre-owned car sites established two things: firstly, there are a lot of small, economical hatches for sale at reasonable rates. Second: there are very, very few small, economical hatches with automatic gearboxes for sale at reasonable rates.

By utilising what is supposedly the country’s premium pre-owned car site, I quickly found two suitable prospects, and for all money it looked like this hunt would be over in a fortnight.  The first dealer I phoned confirmed the car was still avail-able and I said I’d swing past the next morning for a look. The next morning I arrived at the dealer in the south of Johannesburg, and found the locked hatch on the floor – but no dealer (or anyone) who could even open the car for me.
The dealer later phoned and apologised, saying he was at a funeral, but also said we could meet up somewhere so I could see the car. I’m still waiting for his promised call.

Next I found what seemed like the perfect deal… the right car, the right price, great condition, relatively low mileage, full service record. So off I went to see it, in the Johannesburg CBD. But when I saw it in the flesh, I knew straight away that the advertisement was a ruse. The car’s body was banged up and iffy, the interior tacky, dirty and patched in places. I asked about the full service record, as advertised. “This is an old car, you can’t expect a service record!” said the abrupt salesperson, who apparently took offense at my question.

Really? Maybe you shouldn’t mention that it has a service record in the ad then? Slightly ticked off, I tried a different mainstream website and found another suitable candidate, available and at the right price from a private seller. After establishing that the vehicle was still for sale, I phoned the seller as soon as I had finished my shift to tell him I was on my way. But alas, it was not to be. “Sorry man, a guy just bought the car, he’s standing in front of me.” So I missed that deal by about 30 minutes. I found another suitable vehicle in a town quite a way from Joburg. But by that stage, a road trip was a minor detail.

I phoned and… the car was also sold.  Now, almost two months down the line, I’m still looking. There are a couple of prospects on the horizon at least. Amazingly, I have yet to drive an actual small automatic hatch in this process.
I have learnt a few valuable things over the past seven weeks, which include:
1) If you have to drive a small, economical hatch, drive one with a manual gearbox;
2) If you see a deal that looks too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. If you suspect a snake in the grass, rather ask the dealer or seller to send you some photos of the claimed ‘full service history’ before you spend two hours in the traffic on a hiding to nothing; and
3) Second-hand car dealers have an image of dubious repute. Unfortunately many of the ones I’ve dealt with so far seem intent on reinforcing that image.
The hunt continues.