Sunday, 17 May 2015

Nissan, not caring for 'Cared 4'

"You wrecked that car! No, you didn't. Oh, yes you did! Oh, you didn't..."

We have your money, leave us alone

About 18 months my daughter was just starting out training to help teach in a pupil referral unit. This is a place where some of the most challenging of Britain's schoolkids are sent, when mainstream schools are unable to handle them. She recently discovered that there should be a similar place for Britain's rogue car main dealers.

One of the requirements of teachers in these units is that they have a car so that the naughty boys and girls can be driven in comfort to school when they don't turn up because they can't be bothered, their parents can't be bothered or someone has found 'alternative' work for their idle hands. So, having owned a few small Nissans before we knew they were reliable and we got a Micra, a dependable car from a main dealer, with a 'good' guarantee scheme (Cared4).

Dodgy Micra
When I test drove it the steering angle was about forty-five degrees out. "The tracking is well out on it mate, I'll 'ave a word," said the salesman, as if fixing a jaunty steering angle were a paid-for extra. It struck me at the time as odd to let someone test drive a car in that condition, especially one that has apparently gone through: "...a rigorous multi-point check by a qualified Nissan technician. When it has cleared every check, it's at this point when it can be called a Cared4 vehicle." Anyway, though older than we wanted it had done minimal mileage so we bought it, subject to the tracking being repaired.

After a few months we took it back as it had chewed through a set of tyres; the tracking had 'gone' again. The dealer replaced the tyres at its cost and 'fixed' the tracking, again, as it was still under warranty. A few weeks ago my daughter took the car in for a service (another 'rigorous multi-point check') and MOT to be told that the tracking was out and the car would again need new tyres. I listened for a while as the service chap patronised my daughter with man-mechanic talk that suggested, despite the car having been purchased subject to tracking being repaired, it was her fault as women hit the kerb roughly every 15 yards on the way to nail bars and the shops.

Once I became involved things took a different turn. My daughter had been presented with the naughty-garage list of things that need replacing for MOT, basically a list of everything attached to the car. Most intriguing was that the very, very yellow indicator lights were now 'white', according to the 'qualified Nissan technician'. However, what happened next was even more intriguing: the service chap who translated between us and the qualified Nissan technician, whom we were never allowed to set eyes on, was summoned away by his enigmatic colleague.

When he returned, triumphantly, barely able to control himself, he told us that we had had the suspension replaced: "With non-Nissan parts..." Now this was a surprise to us as we hadn't replaced so much as a drop of water in the radiator (as from our inspection it didn't need it). He said that we must have done it and that's why the tracking kept going. My protests about not having replaced the suspension were waved away by Britain's most smug man at that point, who seemed like he had achieved a career pinnacle.

Anyway. What does one do at times like that? One refuses to leave their vehicle with people who hope you'll self-combust for the entertainment of the sales smoothies hanging around the service desks for laughs, and departs with one's tail between his legs ready to fight again another day. Or in this case, I left my shell-shocked daughter to be comforted by her mum at home whilst I took the Micra to a National Tyre Centre.

Dodgy coil spring
Within minutes of putting the car on the ramp, the technician at National called me out to have a look at the suspension coil spring, which was completely snapped in two. This had not been noticed in Nissan's 'thorough multi-point check' in its service, minutes before, which presumably covers only easily-replaceable-at-a-profit items. The National technician confirmed that the indicators and windscreen wipers were as nature intended and would not fail an MoT (in fact the car did pass its MoT once National had replaced the shredded tyres and fixed the tracking, with no changes to other parts as recommended by the Nissan main dealer).

But more curious than this, my daughter, seething, did some detective work and tracked down the previous owner. They confirmed that they had had the suspension replaced at an independent garage but had no idea whether Nissan parts had been used or not. She contacted Nissan UK, which like most car makers wishes that buyers would simply go away if they have problems and bother main dealers. It agreed to a further inspection at another Nissan garage, which advised that it was actually not possible to tell if parts are genuine or not! Nissan then 'closed' the complaint and says that its customer service director "Does not deal with customers."

So, Nissan's 'Cared4' scheme? Would we have been better off buying a second-hand car from a dodgy welder working from under a railway arch who only let us see his cars in the dark? No better or worse I would say; the replaced suspension had not been noticed until after the Cared4 inspection, and then only when it could be used against us. But in the 30 years I have been buying cars customer service in this industry has not changed. Main dealers consider the customer is at fault, manufacturers consider, well nothing at all really, they just want to be left alone.

We're left with a car now that needs its tracking adjusted every couple of months so we don't need new tyres every other week and a feeling that we have been taken to the cleaners (preferably by public transport) by a scheme, for which we paid a premium, that is is not worth the website it's written on.