Car dealers and manufacturers are braced for potential compensation payments thanks to a tightening of rules by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on the concept of 'one owner' cars.
In a ruling on a case involving car dealer Glyn Hopkin Ltd and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles UK, the ASA ruled that a car cannot be advertised as being 'one owner' if the previous registered owner was a fleet operator or rental company.
The ruling came in spite of the fact that Fiat was able to provide evidence that the cars in question had indeed been only used by one person while on fleet duties, but according to the ASA “the ads did not state that the cars were previously used for business purposes whilst part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles UK’s fleet and for that reason the ASA concluded that the ads breached the Committees of Advertising Practice Code. Given that the ruling applied to ex-fleet vehicles that were used for business purposes by single users only, it is likely that the ASA would take a similar view for ex-hire vehicles to be identified as such in ads.”
It’s now expected that the ASA will issue an official warning to all car dealers and manufacturers that ex-rental and ex-fleet cars cannot and must not be advertised as being ‘one owner’ and that, potentially, compensation to the full price paid for the car could be enforced in cases of mis-advertising.
For Irish consumers, some level of that protection already exists, thanks to a case brought more than two decades ago. A spokesperson for the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) told The Irish Times that "the ASAI upheld a complaint, in 1996, in relation to a marketing communication for a second-hand car which was advertised as having one previous owner. This was upheld on the grounds that the marketing communication was misleading as the car had a range of different drivers during its time as a rental or fleet vehicle. The ASAI has not since received any complaints of a similar nature."
According to the original case notes, the car in question, sold in the Dublin area, was sold with “an advertisement with the headline “Huge savings on 1996 [redacted Japanese brand]” stated “Large Selection ... one owner .... Low Mileage”. The complainant suggested that inclusion of the description ‘one owner’ was misleading in relation to cars which had formed part of car hire fleets.”
The case notes continued, with the advertisers’ response that “they sold a large number of ‘nearly new’ cars which included demonstrators, staff cars, courtesy cars, cars damaged in transit, ex fleet user cars and ex car hire cars. The way in which they described the cars was the way in which the industry had traditionally described them. They said that all their 1996 cars were less than nine months old and some were even less than two months old. All were professionally maintained and were fully serviced prior to sale. Some of the cars advertised had had only one driver for the duration of their lease but others would have had a number of drivers. The advertisers maintained that the description ‘one owner’ was correct and to suggest that the cars had been owned by more than one owner would be incorrect and misleading. They added that they had been selling ex-car hire cars for many years and they were satisfied that they represented good value for their customers.”
The ASAI, though, “considered that the ‘one owner’ claim was potentially misleading in respect of cars which had formed part of self-drive fleets and had been used successively by a range of different drivers.”
However, car rental firms have defended not the mis-advertising, but the concept of buying an ex-rental car, pointing out that it could be a canny idea. George O'Connor, managing director of Enterprise Rent-a-car in Ireland, told The Irish Times that "from our own point of view, we don't sell directly to the public. We wholesale our vehicles to the motor industry. So our customers are essentially garages and dealers. Once they buy the vehicles from us, they would put them through a PDI process (Pre Delivery Inspection) so that they meet their forecourt standards.
“We have a name to keep and a reputation to uphold, as do the dealers we work with, so we tend to deal with reputable people, and just as we want to take good care of our customers so too do they. They build their business through word of mouth and by giving people good experiences, as do we. So there’s nothing in it for us, as a reputable car hire company, to cut corners or to in any way misrepresent a vehicle. If a new car is just out of your reach, then going down the nearly-new route can be a good one.”