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Second hand woes.

Good news for car buyers searching for that special second-hand bargain.

A drop in the price of new cars has led to a glut of used cars and there are some real bargains to be had.

But be careful, is Watchdog's advice, especially after hearing Julian Ellis's cautionary tale.

Late last year, the 30-year-old company managing director from Marton bought an Alfa Romeo GTV.

That's a rather nice looking sports saloon made by the Fiat Group.

But breakdowns led to the Alfa being out of action and Julian even had to buy another car.

When he bought the Alfa, it was less than three years old, so it still had a manufacturer's warranty.

Watchdog has highlighted the issue of warranties before. There can be lots of exclusions and strict service schedules.

The warranty conditions always insist on a dealer service, in Julian's case, Fiat.

The Office of Fair Trading has recently announced an investigation into motor vehicle warranty sales.

This is all very relevant to Julian Ellis and his problem because in January his car broke down.

He took it in to his local Fiat dealership, Reg Vardy in Darlington, and the problem was soon diagnosed. It was a broken cam belt - repair estimated at pounds 1,800.

But, not to worry. Julian's car came with a manufacturer's warranty.

Now as Reg Vardy quite rightly points out, this vehicle did not have a full service record.

Sometime in the past, says Julian, another garage (not a Fiat dealership) had serviced the vehicle. The service book had been stamped, but by the strict letter of the warranty, that probably doesn't count.

Reg Vardy's agreed to contribute half the cost of the repair. Julian had to pay more than pounds 900, but at least, in return, he got an itemised invoice showing that this was a very substantial repair.

He got his car back and didn't actually drive it again for another six weeks - because he was forced to buy another car.

But Julian put everything down to experience, albeit a very expensive one.

That should have been the end of this sorry episode, but alas it is not.

On July 11, Julian loaned his car to a work colleague.

It came as a bit of a surprise to discover the Alfa Romeo was making a loud "clonking" noise.

Naturally, Julian's colleague pulled over and the first thing he checked was the oil. It was low, so the car was taken to a garage and checked over, rather appropriately, by a former Fiat engineer.

He diagnosed the crank shaft as "knocking". Clearly there was a problem.

The car had travelled no more than 350 miles since its pounds 1,800 repair and now there appeared to be another problem with the engine.

The initial response from Vardy's was that because it had already contributed half the cost of the original repair, it was not willing to do so again.

Watchdog started to sniff a problem.

It seems remarkable for any garage to undertake a major repair on an engine and not to replace the oil and filter. So the first question to ask is, why wasn't the oil filter replaced?

According to Reg Vardy's Sarah French, the technician did not consider it necessary to replace the oil filter The oil, apparently, was replaced, but there was no mention of it on Julian's pounds 1,800 invoice.

With the fault diagnosed and the crank shaft in need of replacement, Julian faced another very expensive job.

As to why the oil was so low, presumably a contributory factor, a Reg Vardy service assistant told Julian there must have been a leak.

Yet in the six weeks Julian had the car garaged, he did not notice a single drop of oil on the floor.

So why was the oil so low? According to Reg Vardy, this is a performance engine that consumes a lot of oil - and they can't vouch for the history of the vehicle.

But Reg Vardy, after Watchdog's intervention, has agreed to resolve the problem.

Says Sarah French: "As a gesture of goodwill, we have agreed to meet the cost of replacing the crankshaft."

But she added that there may be a more serious underlying problem causing excessive oil consumption.

Resolving this would require a complete engine replacement, which falls outside Reg Vardy's responsibility.

Watchdog thinks she may be right.

Why the crank-shaft broke within 350 miles of the first Reg Vardy repair is open to speculation.

So let me speculate. Would you expect, after a major repair to the engine, that a simple task of replacing a filter and renewing the oil would be carried out? I would.

Could this have been a contributory factor? Yes, I think it was.

But credit to Reg Vardy, which is, as a gesture of goodwill, going to repair the engine.

Thanks to Reg Vardy from Julian and from Watchdog.

But the comment about an "underlying problem" is interesting.

I made a few phone calls and it seems as though there is an inherent engine problem with Alfa Romeo's 2 Litre GTV.

I gather the oil pump can cause oil starvation, often resulting in engine seizure and "big end" failure. Doesn't this sound familiar?

So I'm not quite sure where the problem lies. Perhaps this is a generic problem with all Alfa 2 Litre GTV models? Or maybe it was a case of not changing oil and filters.

Julian Ellis is just glad the saga is at an end.

He says: "Watchdog's involvement undoubtedly led to my complaint being taken more seriously by the garage's service department. Thank you for your help."

If you have had a problem with the Alfa Romeo 2 Litre GTV, let me know, as it seems there may be an underlying problem with the vehicle.

* BEEN a victim of a rogue trader? Had a raw deal from a store? Want us to fight for YOU?

Send letters or an e-mail ONLY to: Watchdog, Features Department, Evening Gazette, Borough Road, Middlesbrough, TS1 3AZ, fax 01642 232014 or e-mail features@eveninggazette.co.uk
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Title Annotation:Watchdog
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Sep 17, 2003
Words:1011
Previous Article:Who's made the difference?
Next Article:Tried and tested.
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