Monday, April 22, 2024

Why smelling tyres in a new car is a good idea for buyers

A year or so ago, I withdrew my booking for a new car just short of the time of purchase, because the dealer staff referred to their stockyard as “dump”. 

It starts from there. Are you looking at buying a new car? Insist on going to see their stockyard first. Amongst all the mass purchase car brands in India, the only one that came anywhere close to being acceptable for me was Toyota, and they are not one of the biggest sellers of cars in India – as yet.

But more than the condition of the dealer or manufacturer stockyard, is the way they treat the new vehicles there, and it is not as though they can not do better. I have seen the condition in which the same cars are loaded on Pure Car Carrier ships and trains meant for export shipments, and why they can not do the same for the domestic market is beyond me. There are customers like me who shall willingly pay extra for a new car to be treated better when in transit.

Buying a new car is probably the second biggest purchase in their lifetime for Indians in India, after buying a house, and we have all seen how risky that can be lately when tall towers tumble down either by design or due to bad construction. “Clear title” is something that buyers understand the meaning of only when they try to sell an abode. 

But this is about buying a new motor car. Often, in these days, something that costs as much as a house. But a financial decision softened by the easy availability of loans. How a loan can lock you in for years is something else again, and releasing the title of the said car from the loan (hypothecation) is much more something else again.

“New car” in my mind means “just landed in stockyard ready for buyer’s inspection”. To understand this better, we have to understand the flow from manufacturer to dealer to customer. The manufacturer sells a new car to a dealer ex-factory or ex-manufacturer’s stockyard and the assumption is that it shall be transported therein to a dealer stockyard with full due diligences.

This movement can be by a mix of trailers, trains, ships and also to some extent – driven by paid drivers. In actual fact, this mix is a collection of lowest bids, and having carried cars on ships myself, the weakest link here is the road movement as well as storage pending delivery to end customer.

The “driver” operated part includes – factory testing on in-house tracks, movement to factory stockyard internal or external, movement to trailer or railway siding, trailer or train to stockyard, stockyard to ship or dealer showroom/workshop, assorted test drives—registration related or otherwise, any other – including vehicle loaned for marriage, political and similar duties.

In all this to-and-fro, which you, the eventual customer, must remember, is a collection of lowest bids, the way the brand new vehicle is driven is the last priority. Odometers can and shall be re-set (there is at least one factory re-set after testing, and dealers often have the codes for 2 more re-sets before eventual registration and delivery)

Checking the odometer reading, therefore, is hardly a fool-proof way of checking anything. My personal method is to feel the tyres of a new car for the vent spews (the little rubber “hairs” that remain on a new tyre as part of the manufacturing process, which are usually good for about 300-400 kms of normal usage) and get an idea of how much it has been used for.

I also “smell” the tyres to figure out if boot polish or similar chemicals have been used to make them look “fresh” again, because even grains of sand can now be washed away from the tyre treads to make them look brand new again, and the usage strips inside the treads re-applied.

The other methods to try to understand the life of a new car before it reached a customer include looking carefully at the documentation. Getting this flow requires co-operation from manufacturer and dealer, and can be done only before making full or even partial payment, or being locked in by some method or the other.

One of the best ways to ensure that you as a customer have the upper hand is how the new car is booked. Usually for a few thousand rupees, best is to book directly on the manufacturer’s website, some ensure automated refunds now in case you change your mind for whatever reason. Booking with the dealer means you may have to chase the dealer. A lot. Try to book any colour other than white, many reasons for this, the more unpopular the colour, the better the chances of getting a decent car, is my experience. You can always opt for another colour before delivery.

The dealer game usually starts with some minion using the word “allocated” at which point the customer is expected to jump with joy. Hold your horses.

New car is allocated. What does this mean? No clarity. Therefore, for me as a customer, it means that I should go or send my representative to the dealer’s stockyard to do a physical inspection. For that, I shall need VIN Number, engine number and chassis number. Maybe the dealer does not give this, great, customer should not release payment. Simple.

Points to note for the inspection- vehicle should have arrived very recently at the stockyard, if possible, unloaded from trailer in front of you. Stockyard should be at the very least covered and hard-floor, not an open field – with heavy monsoons, open fields on low lying areas are often the lowest bid option, they can and do become lakes because all the higher spots have been taken for buildings. Getting a drone video is also not difficult.

Don’t like the stockyard? Don’t buy. 

There is an excellent new vehicle purchase checklist available on a website known as team bhp. They also have a pdf. Actually they have more than a few threads on the subject in their forum. Take time out to read them. At this juncture, you should not have paid the full amount for the car as yet, beyond the booking amount.  If the dealer tries to force you to pay anything other than the booking amount, look for another dealer or even another brand, simple. 

So now you have inspected the stockyard – wet fields, open to the sky, huge negative marks as far as I am concerned. Being interested in motoring, I have usually got the stockyards already scoped out, and I also usually try not to buy any new car that has been manufactured, transported and then sold during the monsoon period.

However, since the festival period in India follows the monsoons, it is very important to ensure that you as the consumer are not saddled with stock that was lying exposed to the elements at any point in transit from during the monsoons.

The way a car company, manufacturer or dealer, treats its stockyards is the best way to arrive at a reasonable conclusion on how they will treat you as a customer. Simple as that.

Visit the dealer stockyard first. Then their workshop. And then finally their showroom. In that order. It’s your money.

(Veeresh Malik was a seafarer. And a lot more besides. A decade in facial biometrics, which took him into the world of finance, gaming, preventive defence and money laundering before the subliminal mind management technology blew his brains out. His romance with the media endures since 1994, duly responded by Outlook, among others.)

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