Pre-registered cars vs ex-demonstrators

Hi, Graham Hill here, thank you so much for visiting my blog, I hope you learn a lot and as a result end up driving a great car. In order to do so you can get all the information you need by buying my book, An Insider Guide To Car Finance or use me to finance your next car. Happy driving.

Over the near 30 years that I have been in this industry I have seen and done many things, seen some of the most crooked activities carried out by dealers, brokers and car supermarkets, amongst others, as well as fraudulent attempts to acquire cars by crooked customers.

For many years I was an expert witness for the Crown Prosecution Service in cases of vehicle and asset finance fraud so I’ve seen most things crooked that go on in the automotive industry, some of them revolving around so called pre-registered cars and ex demonstrators.

Whilst I won’t bore you with all the fraudulent things I’ve witnessed, you’ll have to buy my upcoming book for that, I’ll share a couple of things with you as I’ve had a couple of potential clients who have recently avoided contract hiring a new car in favour of a so called pre-registered car or an ex demonstrator on HP or PCP. First of all I should point out that it is possible to get a good deal on an ex demonstrator but it’s the luck of the draw and I’ll explain why. But let’s start with ‘pre-registered’ cars.

First of all let’s be quite clear, there is no such thing as a pre-registered car in the way that it is advertised by dealers. Even the head of CAP HPI refers to pre-registered cars when referring to cars that are registered then sold when they include huge discounts. The pre-registering of highly discounted cars is an illegal act made illegal by Stephen Byers when he was Labour Trade Secretary in 2000. He was concerned that the practice carried out by manufacturers who forced their franchised dealers to buy cars, albeit at heavily discounted prices, was skewing the new car registration figures. So as part of his Supply of New Cars Order 2000 it was made illegal to pre-register cars, here is the excerpt:

This order was made under the monopoly provisions of the Fair Trading Act 1973. It prevents new car suppliers from:

  • discriminating on price between dealers and fleet buyers
  • providing bonuses and discounts to dealers on pre-registered cars
  • imposing on dealers restrictions on price advertising

Now let me be clear, dealers can pre-register cars but not as a result of increased incentives applied by the manufacturer on individual cars. However, some dealers and manufacturers have found a way around this. As an incentive and across the board, a dealer will be set a sales target for the month/quarter/year and he will be paid a Volume Related Bonus (VRB) by the manufacturer if he can achieve the target. This money is paid retrospectively on all cars sold during the month, quarter or year.

As the bonus is not specifically on the ‘pre-registered’ cars they kind of get around the regulations. As an example let’s say the dealer is offered a VRB of £2,000 per car provided he hits his target of 100 cars for the month. With a few days to go he has sold 90 cars and he is aware that if he doesn’t sell the 100 he will lose £200,000 VRB. So in order to hit his target he pre-registers the 10 cars in the name of the dealership and pays his normal purchase price for the cars – keeps him onside with the Supply of New Car Order.

He now factors in the £2,000 per car that he will receive as additional discount then adds in the normal discount that he would include in the deal making the car a cheap car. I’ve heard of some dealers preregistering cars and selling them through auction just to recover a reasonable proportion of the money spent out rather than have the cars sitting on their forecourt.

 

Whilst the above may sound like pre-registered cars are a great idea there are other, far more shady, methods used to heavily discount cars and sell as new cars even though they have already been registered. Some, not all, car supermarkets have been known to use this method as well as some dealers. The cars are diverted from where they were intended – daily rental companies, driving schools or insurance company/bodyshop courtesy cars.

When supplying cars to these companies the manufacturer uses part of his marketing budget to heavily discount cars that either get them seen on the road more or are driven by potential buyers. In my experience a daily rental company can buy cars at up to 45% off the list price with 20 – 25% being very common. In order to get around the Supply of New Car Order dealers started to set up their own daily rental companies and bought their ‘pre-registered’ cars through the new operation at huge discounts then sell them on to buyers, having never put them out on hire, with just delivery miles on the clock, on big discounts as ‘pre-registered’.

Nothing wrong with that. Of course the extra name in the log book will affect the resale value of the car – but only marginally. But this is where the 3 month rule comes in. If you have ever bought a pre-reg. car you will sometimes be told that you won’t receive the V5 log book until after 3 months. This is because in order for a daily rental company to qualify for the extra discount they (normally) have to keep the car for a minimum of 3 months or say 5,000 miles, whichever comes first. Now if the manufacturer wants to carry out an audit the dealer needs to be able to show the auditor that he still has the car.

Whilst he may argue that the car is out on hire, so can’t be inspected, he can produce the copy of the V5, supposedly proving that he still has the car, and everyone is happy. Again, whilst this is shady, is this something that a buyer should worry about? There are also some dealers who will keep the cars in stock for 3 months to avoid this situation. But here’s the crunch. Remember that I said these cars were intended for daily rental companies and they are then supposed to be sold as used cars after 3 months? Well, many years ago I became involved in this process.

Before realising exactly what was going on, I had been arranging stocking finance for wholesalers who would arrange to buy batches of brand new cars from daily rental companies and sell on to car supermarkets for a small profit, similar procedure to the operation following the Stephen Byers order. This allowed the car supermarkets to sell new cars at less than main dealers could buy them for. The daily rental company would order say 100 cars that would be funded by the wholesaler.

The cars would be diverted, at the time of delivery, to the wholesaler who would pay the daily rental company £100 per car for their trouble – they never actually saw the cars. However, as the cars were intended for daily rental I had calls from dealers, and one comes to mind, who would say that the manufacturer had produced a batch of cars using up old stock of parts, for sale to daily rental companies. In this particular case the interior trim was lower grade, items were missing in the car such as cup holders and front fog lights were missing, all part of the standard spec. of the model badge on the back of the car. In return the dealer knocked off £250 per car.

The wholesaler agreed but do you think he explained this to the supermarkets who were selling these cars as brand new but pre-registered cars? Of course not! It would be fine to sell the cars in their sub spec. condition to the daily rental company who were supposed to rent them out. A customer is hardly likely to refuse a rental car because the interior trim didn’t match the manufacturer’s brochure for the model he was hiring. And of course they were to be sold as used cars at the end of the 3 months or when they had covered 5,000 miles so the buyer would be buying not a new car but a used car as seen.

There is another way that you can achieve a big discount on a ‘pre-registered’ car. When there is a new model coming out or a facelift on the current model the dealers need to make way for the new model and get rid of the old model cars so he practically sells them at cost but they don’t always tell you about the new model. I’ve also heard of cars turning up at the customer’s house only to find that he has bought or leased an old model car when he thought he was buying the new model.

So check the spec. very carefully if you are going to buy a pre-registered car – it may not turn out to be what you thought you were buying. Oh and some of the cheap lease deals are cars as illustrated above so make sure that you check the spec. meticulously. You sometimes get what you pay for. By Graham Hill

 

Moving on to ex-demonstrators. There are two points to be made here. First is the discount. Demonstrators are taken by dealers not just to demonstrate the basic car. They will often have a mass of options fitted, clearly so that they can be demonstrated to potential customers. So when they tell you that they will knock 8 grand off the list price of the car that’s the list price including the options that may still make this used car, having had multiple drivers, more expensive than the brand new car with the standard spec. which is what you were originally looking for. Their trick is to compare the cost of the demo with the full list price of the new standard car – but you’d not have paid full list on the new car in the first place. Balance up the desire of the options and the fact that the car is used against a new car without the options and with a discount.

 

Secondly we have perception. When you call into a dealership and take a demonstrator out with a nice salesman beside you, toodling along at 30 mph you believe that this is the way that all ex-demonstrators have been treated. Well, let me correct that perception. Many years ago in industry as general manager in one of the UK’s most successful PLC’s, I had a fleet department report into me, responsible for around 700 vehicles. With a fleet that size we were signed into the manufacturers’ demonstrator programmes which meant that every day transporters of brand new cars would turn up, with virtually every make of car on board, that we would have on loan for anything up to 3 months, often 2-4 weeks. I would allow our sales and service staff to use these cars. As they weren’t their own company car they would proceed to ‘burn rubber’ out of our depot and treat the cars like rallycross cars till they were returned. As we didn’t own the cars I wasn’t worried but at that point I thought to myself I will never ever buy an ex demonstrator as I know how many of them are treated. Oh and often dealer sales staff get to use the demonstrators for personal use and I’ve seen the way they drive them away from the dealership so I strongly recommend that you give ex-demonstrators a very wide berth or you may end up spending more time waiting for repairs to be carried out than actually driving the car!  By Graham Hill

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