Consumer Champion: Not all used car salesmen are like Arthur Daley, but it's best to be protected
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Pre-loved, second-hand or just plain used - whatever term you prefer, a pre-owned car is the answer for most of us unable to afford a shiny new one.
But according to EU research carried out last month, 41pc of buyers reported at least one problem within a year of buying, with two fifths of the problems occurring within the first month.
Unfair practices, poor consumer guarantees and lack of redress were cited as issues arising. Thirty-nine per cent of Irish customers had faults ranging from electrics to tyres and suspension.
But what can you do? Surely the Arthur Daley image of the used car salesman is a hackneyed one?
Well, in terms of consumer rights, they are exactly the same with a car as they are with a broken toaster or ripped dress - you have the right of repair, replacement or refund.
But when it comes to such an expensive purchase things might get sticky and you may have to fight.
The first thing to do to protect yourself is to buy your car from a reputable garage, preferably one attached to the Society for Irish Motor Industry (SIMI).
They have an across-the-board rule of ethics for all members and an excellent dispute resolution process should things go awry with the garage.
Second hand cars should be thoroughly checked and inspected and sold for a price that reflects the condition.
Of course, you can't expect a 10-year-old car to have a perfect interior or not be scratched, but that doesn't mean the engine should fall off as you drive it off the forecourt.
The provenance of the car should be known and the mileage verified in writing. This is your right.
If you buy from a "roadside" operator, an auction or a private buyer on a website such as the popular Carzone or Autotrader, you do not have the same (or any) rights.
It's entirely your responsibility to make sure you're not buying a pig in a poke, and the best way to do that is to bring a mechanic to look over it for you and undertake basic checks and research (see table).
Never buy at a neutral venue, such as a car park or pub. Only visit the seller at their home - they won't mind if it's genuine. And as ever, if the price appears too low, it probably is.
One scam doing the rounds on cheap cars currently concerns the NCT. You're told the car (selling for under €1,000) has a fully up to date NCT - a great comfort on older cars.
When you turn up and hand over your cash, you realise the cert is missing. The seller apologises and says he left it at home and goes to get it, never to return. The car's a dud and you're down a grand and more to get it to NCT standard.
Another issue is car finance. Many cars are bought using hire purchase plans, only to be sold before the contract is up.
It's estimated that 20pc of cars sold have outstanding finance. There are sites to check for this, and it's money well spent.
If the car is a UK import (as 7.5pc are) you may not know it, and having the check extended is worthwhile.
The last thing you want as the new owner is to have a bank calling looking for repayments on a loan you didn't take out or find out your car is a write-off from a different jurisdiction.
While there's nothing inherently wrong with an import, it must have VRT (and sometimes VAT) paid on it within 30 days of landing in Ireland - a reputable seller will show you evidence of both.
Some unscrupulous dealers try to sell as private individuals, which they are not allowed to do. Via a newspaper ad, or online,they'll have their 'own' car for sale, but actually it's one of many they're trying to shift.
One way to check is to call and ask about "the car". If they ask "Which one?" you'll know the score.
If you're buying at auction, it's a good idea to visit one before you plan to buy to get an idea of the quality available and how the system works.
You may not get much time to check a car, so it's invaluable to have an expert on hand. AA Ireland provides them, and it's money well spent.
So, if you're planning on a new set of wheels this year, do yourself a favour and be protected. It can be an expensive mistake otherwise.
Brace yourselves - bills are on way
There have been protests, marches, U-turns and back downs, but the water charges seem here to stay and last week saw the first batch of the 1.5m bills going to households - a delivery that will take weeks.
The bill will look confusing: although it will mention volumes of water and what they cost, you will only be billed for one of two amounts: either €160 or €260 depending on whether you're a one or multi-person household. The bill will be paid quarterly.
Most people will have a passing glance at the actual usage (and cost), but since there's no longer a financial incentive to conserve water, it's academic.
The other complication is the €100 rebate, or Water Conservation Grant (which it isn't), which you are only entitled to if you've already registered with Irish Water (or do so by the ever-extending deadline, currently set at June).
Inexplicably, this grant is not being deducted from the bill - you apply for it separately through the Department of Social Protection which will demand your PPS number and a declaration about your house.
There's no need for this. Tax relief on mortgage interest and health insurance is deducted automatically, so why not this?
You can't even apply for it until the summer and it won't be paid until September - long after you've paid most of the annual bill. And that's without even mentioning the cost of the admin.
'Three' made the wrong call when it charged customer for FaceTime
Fair play to Dubliner Nick O'Brien for taking on the big boys at 02 (now trading as 'Three') over mysterious charges applied to the free FaceTime app.
Mr O'Brien was deducted 25c for every use, and given he was a pay-as-you-go customer his balance disappeared alarmingly quickly.
Turns out it was texting a UK number on his iPhone4 and he was being clobbered.
O2 faffed about and Mr O'Brien refused to settle, preferring his day in court.
He won and was awarded €672.49. It's a cautionary tale.