Thinking about buying a used motorhome?
As threads frequently highlight, there is a need for caution when purchasing a second-hand motorhome, even where a dealer is involved.
A second-hand motorhome may be offered for sale for a number of reasons, many of which are perfectly reasonable. For example, the owner may have suffered medical issues that mean having to give up motor-homing or downsize, or simply migrate to a larger vehicle to reflect changing needs.
Conversely, there may be other less acceptable reasons, for example, the engine or gearbox may be suffering from costly wear, the habitation unit may have failed annual checks or the vehicle may have suffered from damage.
Buying any used vehicle is a often described as buying someone else’s unwanted problems. This is not always the case, but common sense suggests that you need to exercise extreme caution before you part with any of your hard earned cash (often your life savings) in buying what will probably be the second most expensive thing that you will ever buy in your lifetime.
This does not suggest that all dealers are rogues, far from it, but the first goal of any salesman is to get you into their showroom to look at what’s on offer. The potential buyer therefore needs to research the dealer a little before committing their time and money traipsing around the countryside looking at one lemon after another.
Where a dealer is involved in the sale of any motorhome, their conduct is regulated by law. These laws are enforced by the Trading Standards Officers (TSOs) employed by local authorities. Examples of consumer protection laws include the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, the Consumer Protection Act 1987, the Consumer Credit Act 1974, the Food Safety Act 1990, the Price Marking Order 2004 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that Trading Standards are only interested in weights and measures and policing markets from selling dodgy DVDs. Amongst their many duties include investigating misrepresentation of vehicles, mileage “clocking”, forged service histories, the sale of insurance write-offs as serviceable vehicles, etc.
As I write this, one particular example has just surfaced, where an unscrupulous motorhome dealer has been convicted at Hereford Crown Court by Worcestershire Trading Standards for offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, the Fraud Act 2006 and the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981.
The original prosecution brought by Worcestershire County Council followed an investigation by the Worcestershire Regulatory Services Trading Standards team into the sale of a motorhome by the company that had previously been subject to a category C insurance write-off. The investigation revealed that not only had the company (Alpine Motorhome Ltd) failed to declare that the motorhome had previously been a category C insurance write-off, but that the sole director, 48 year old Birmingham based Richard Anthony Cooper had subsequently supplied a forged document to cover up the initial offence.
This episode cost the owner of this business a serious criminal conviction, a 6 month suspended prison sentence and £20,798.87. Unfortunately the attempt to disqualify Mr Cooper as a director failed, and he is free to set up another business. He would not be the only convicted criminal to do so, so beware.
Contact details for Trading Standards are listed under your local authority in your local directory, and usually reached via the local council offices
The purpose of this is not to target any one individual rogue trader, but to make everyone aware that there is a remedy available if you feel you have been misled or facts have been concealed by an unscrupulous trader, ideally before you have parted with any hard earned cash.
So far I have dealt with buying from a dealer. But what if the person selling the motorhome is not a dealer, but a private individual?
It is not unknown for a dealer to masquerade as a private seller, many have commented that a popular online auction site is full of them. To prove that a person is a trader you will need to show that he sells several vehicles a year (usually defined as 5 or more by HMRC/DVLA) and advertises them online or with For Sale boards. So you would need to print off any ads you come across or take pictures of his other vehicles. If he is telling you he will fill in the yellow trader/dealer section of the V5C this is a warning that he is most likely a trader. Once you have that proof, then Trading Standards will be able to help you. They may even help in researching the seller for you, if you have a problem.
Alternatively, if you can prove there has been a criminal misrepresentation (“clocking”, false MOT, etc) or any act of fraud, then the Trading Standards Officer is likely to involve the police. Otherwise if there has been what is termed a “Negligent Misrepresentation” - where a statement is made carelessly or without reasonable grounds for believing its truth – then you can have the contract dissolved and sue for the return of your money.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Obviously an ounce of prevention is worth far more than a cure, and those considering the purchase of a used motorhome would be wise to concentrate their search of reputable dealers, in the knowledge that they are well aware of both the value of their reputation and their obligations. Even so, take nothing at face value, and insist on having an opportunity to check all original documentation for yourself, ideally having a knowledgeable friend or an independent hab, systems and engine check.
And if all else fails, remember that payment with a credit (and now, often a debit) card gives you considerable additional consumer protection, and that your vehicle/home insurances often provide some form of legal protection element for dealing with consumer complaints. Citizen’s Advice or your own solicitor should be able to help.
Above all, remember that what you do as a consequence of your experiences will help others. Posting in a forum is not an appropriate way to handle your grievance, it could even harm your prospects of recovering your losses if it ends up in court! More often than not you will find that any reputable dealer will usually bend over backwards to resolve problems if you approach them reasonably. And you will be doing them a great service in giving them a positive review in a rating site (e.g. Trust Pilot).
For those few that don’t, the best thing you can do is to complain to your local TSO and then give publicity to any outcome, thus helping others.