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Car Clocking – To undertake or not undertake!

[This article refers to TopTips.ie which I gave up as no longer necessary – instead, you can click on the ValueIreland Top Tips page.]
In the last few months, the fuckers* have pursued three garages for the offence under the Consumer Protection Act of car clocking – technically a misleading commercial practice. For those not familiar with the term, car clocking is the practice of reducing the mileage on a car in order to make it a more attractive purchase for consumers.

In March 2008, instead of being convicted of an offence under the Act, Orange Motors in Limerick “gave an undertaking” not to sell clocked cars as well as to compensate consumers who had purchased 4 clocked cars from the garage concerned.

This month, Arch Motors in Galway gave a similar undertaking in lieu of a conviction. As part of the National Consumer Agency investigation, Arch Motors had been found to have sold 3 clocked cars to consumers. Again, as well as the undertaking, compensation was provided to the consumers concerned.

According to the NCA press release, compensation can be “reimbursement of money received from consumers in connection with the sale of clocked cars, or taking back the cars.”

However, in June, also in Galway, Kilgarve Cars in Ballinasloe was convicted of selling a clocked car. Following a consumer complaint, the owner of Kilgarve Cars was fined €2000 (though the maximum is apparently €3000).

According to Ann Fitzgerald of the National Consumer Agency, undertakings are preferable to convictions for the following reasons:

  • Puts a stop to this misleading practice by the dealers concerned
  • Ensures that consumers get redress, and
  • Sends a clear message to other dealers that they cannot mislead consumers by selling them clocked cars and expect to get away with it

But obviously this isn’t working. Since their first press release and media coverage earlier this year, two further garages were caught clocking cars – clearly not putting a stop to the practice and obviously the garages concerned in Ballinasloe and Galway aren’t getting the message.

I’m intrigued though as to how one garage was convicted for selling only one clocked car, but the other two essentially got away with (giving an undertaking for) selling three and four clocked cars. Are there two different ways in which this same Consumer Protection Act is being applied?

Or did the garage in Ballinasloe simply refuse to give the undertaking not to do it in the future? I can’t imagine a garage not giving such an undertaking if it meant that they could avoid a conviction and a fine.

According to this RTE article, Ms.Fitzgerald had the following to say after the most recent “undertaking”:

Chief executive Ann Fitzgerald said this was the second such undertaking from a car dealer this year, and sent a clear message to other dealers that they cannot mislead consumers by selling them clocked cars and expect to get away with it.

And according to this RTE earlier story:

The National Consumer Agency says it believes the practice of altering mileage readings on second-hand cars is widespread.

Yet they don’t prosecute the garages that are caught cheating their customers in this misleading fashion. No wonder the practice is still widespread – if you’re not going to get prosecuted and fined when you break the law, where’s the incentive to abide by it, especially when the profit incentive exists if you keep breaking it.

I wonder did the garage owners who gave Ms.Fitzgerald the undertakings have their fingers crossed behind their back.

P.S Our TopTips.ie Top Tips on How to Identify a Clocked Car are now available by clicking on this link.

3 comments On Car Clocking – To undertake or not undertake!

  • It is a tad harsh to assume that “the garages concerned in Ballinasloe and Galway aren’t getting the message”. It is more likely that the investigations against these other two garages were already in train at the time of the announcement of the first clocking case this year, so it couldn’t be expected to have an impact on such cases.

  • It’s the same with implementing price labelling in tesco – the NCA prefers (or so they said to me in response to a complaint) to “work with” the shop.

    We’re not talking about a small shop in the middle of nowhere but are talking about one of the largest retailers who know perfectly well what their responsibilities are but who know that no-one will bother their barney presecuting them.

    Undertakings, agreements, working-with – all weasel words designed to let the guilty off and make a mockery of the consumer…

  • Fair cop serial, the cars concerned were sold in February this year, and in August 2006.

    I’ll hold further fire to see if there’s any further “undertakings” or convictions.

    However, my overall point is more reflected in the comment from Des – “working with” businesses (http://valueireland.blogspot.com/2008/03/useless-nca-are-at-it-again-or-not-if.html) rather than working in defence of consumers – their primary aim and reason for being.

    Thanks for your comments.

    editor, http://www.ValueIreland.com

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