Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – “Banger” by Ken Dunn

There are two things in life which I hate being involved with. They both reduce perfectly ordinary people to devious, cheating, lying disreputable sub-life. One of these is selling a house and the other is selling a car. Having had the experience of both I’ve now come to the conclusion that selling a car privately, without using a dealer, is the most hateful process by far.

It brings out the very worst in people and anyone selling is made to feel almost like a criminal. The buyer always approaches without looking you in the eye and then by innuendo and body language makes it perfectly obvious that you’re not to be trusted and that there has to be something wrong with the vehicle. And that’s just the beginning.

Having gone through that awful process and I never want to do it again. I’d rather drive a car until it falls apart under me or trade it in with a recognised dealer. Living in a very rural area public transport is thin on the ground so having a car is not a luxury. It’s essential and now we’re a two car family but it wasn’t always that way. About four years ago we decided to buy our second. The competition over the car we had at the time was becoming to be a bit of a pain. My wife and myself found ourselves needing to use it at the same time and our daughter, now coming up to driving age, would be just as keen to get into it prior to her test. There was only one solution and that was to buy another, but with limited funds that wasn’t going to be so easy.

We didn’t want any old heap, there were plenty of them being advertised in the local press, and buying something fairly old might just bring with it expensive repairs. The ads we did look at were all very much the same. You know the sort of thing. ‘Good little runner’, ‘Tidy clean motor’, ‘Immaculate condition’. We played a safer game by checking out the more reputable car dealers in the area. We didn’t need anything fancy. No, just something which would give us all another set of wheels when we needed them.

We took our time, buying a car is not something to rush into, and eventually found. and bought, a little runabout, a ‘trade in ‘ job, from one of the local dealers. At just over eight hundred pounds it was just about right for our limited finances. Economical and reasonably ‘tidy’ it ran fairly well. My wife christened it ‘Ruby’. Ahh. Sweet! This was just one of her little ways, a means of bringing it into the family, as it were, and initiated by the registration which began with ‘RBY’ before the number.

Over the years it needed a bit of attention from time to time, but for all that it served its purpose well. But as these things do, it began to cost us more every time we put it through the M.O.T. It was still perfectly road worthy but we had the feeling that there would come a time when the cost of repair just wouldn’t be worth it anymore. So, before that happened we decided to sell it and the proceeds of that could go towards another. That was the plan and we placed an ad. in the local press. We were asking for three hundred and fifty, but we knew that we might have to negotiate and accept a little less. Such is the way of selling cars.

With a new tax disc in place and a full M.O.T. on it, it was worth all of the price we were asking so we waited confidently for the phone to ring. Within half an hour of the paper being ‘on the street’, on the Friday, the phone didn’t stop ringing. Yes we had a car for sale, yes it was three fifty, yes it was still here and so on and on. No sooner had the phone gone down than it would ring again, and again. One bright spark asked me to drive the thing over thirty miles so he could have a look at it! Cheeky sod!

We’d stated in the ad. that we were available at any time after six in the evening but well before that we had three separate couples outside the house crawling around all over the car. The ‘For Sale’ note, taped to the inside driver’s window, had not been a good idea. They hadn’t bothered to ring the door bell or knock to say ‘Hello. Have you a car for sale?’ Nothing like that. No, they were happy to tap it, bang it, poke it underneath with screwdrivers as if it was open season on any old car they came across. My wife stopped one chap, and presumably his spotty, gawky son, scraping at the underside of each wing with some kind of tool. By the time she walked out to see them the man was on his hands and knees poking something up the wheel arches and along the underside as if he’d lost something. They shuffled off without a word being spoken.

‘Poor old Ruby,’ my wife said, patting the bonnet. ‘It’s not fair.’

Then I saw another pair, a man and a woman, walking round it and he disappeared from view. By the time I got out there he was yanking at one of the rear wheels.

‘Pull any harder,’ I said calmly, ‘and it might just come off in your hand!’

They slunk off without a word just as the others had done. I was beginning to regret this whole affair. How much more of this would there be. It was obvious that we would have to stand guard over the damn thing until a sale was made. I began to wonder how long that might take. I still cannot understand how the basic rules of courtesy go out the window when a car is being sold. Most of the prospective buyers didn’t bother to announce their arrival at all, being content to fiddle around with the thing, being slightly miffed that it was locked until we appeared. We had the distinct feeling that we were being seen to be difficult and, as far as they were concerned, we even had the cheek to ask them what they wanted.

Another three couples pulled up in their cars and walked over, again without even thinking beyond the car in front of them. They began circling it, bending and moving sideways, as if it was going to evaporate at any moment. It’s funny but they all did that. As they were looking, other cars drove along the street then slowed almost to a stop, with one or more people craning the necks to look before driving off again. They obviously didn’t like the look of it. We hadn’t had so much activity in the street for a long time. The phone was still ringing and my wife went back into the house to see to that while I tried to talk to the gaggle of would be buyers who were still faffing around the car.

In situations like this there is something which brings a kind of intermittent invisibility to anyone selling a car privately. If you say something it’s ignored but if they say something to you you’re suddenly there again. I walked around amongst all of them but not one of them responded to my attempts at conversation or ‘can I help you’ noises. I gave up and sat on the low wall in front of the house. Then one of them came over looking worried. He had a question and I was asked something about the mileage. With hunched shoulders and a pained expression, he was looking intently at the car and not me as he asked. There were lots of sideways movements like this going on. I gave the answer, which was just what the car showed on the clock, and wondered why he couldn’t read numbers.

As this was going on one of the couples walked away, climbed into a car and drove off without a word. I waved cheerlily at them as they disappeared round the corner. So much for courtesy. The other two couples were now in deep conversation with each other at opposite ends of the car and eyeing each other slyly. I just sat on the wall and waited. Then my wife came out and told me that another two people were on their way to look at the car. This animated the others standing there. They all turned to us, concerned about other punters arriving, and all of them moved towards me and then hesitated, seeing their ‘competitors’ doing the same thing.

I just sat there turning my head left and right, smiling and wondering who would come forward first. A few seconds went by and then the couple on the right plucked up their courage and came over. They were still muttering to themselves so I just sat there, still smiling. They were just about to say something when the other lot shot a sudden question over.

‘How long have you had the car?’

I turned to answer but the pair closest to me got in first.

‘Just a minute!’ said the man. ‘We arrived here first!’

‘I don’t think so!’ snapped the other woman. ‘We arrived just before you!’

I tried to get a word in but too late. A full scale argument had erupted and neither side were listening to me anymore, not that they had to begin with. I left them to it and wandered into the house, made myself a cup of coffee and sauntered back out again.

They were still at it and both men were almost sparring with each other, egged on by each of the women. It was pathetic. Just before they came to blows I managed to get in a word.

‘Well?’ I said, sitting on the wall again and smiling widely. ‘Are either of you interested or not?’

This seemed to cut through the fracas like a knife and silence descended, but only for a few seconds. Another bod, lurking on the edge of all of this, stepped forward and stuck out his hand for me to shake. I hadn’t noticed he was there at all and it took me by surprise as much as the rest of them.

‘I’m very interested!’ he said, grinning and looking back at the car. ‘What about three hundred, cash!’

All hell broke loose behind him as protests of who was there first began all over again. He ignored all of them and waited for my reply, but, just like the others, would not look me straight in the eye. Of the four behind him, two stomped off having their own private row. The remaining pair saw their opportunity and the man stepped forward.

‘I think that’s a fair price,’ he said. ‘And as we were here before this chap I think we should have the first chance of an offer.’

I was quickly running out of patience. I wanted shot of the car and couldn’t cope with any more of this mindlessness. I turned to the chap who had made the first offer and stood up, holding out my hand.

‘The price is three fifty,’ I said.

‘Three hundred,’ he said again, ‘Cash!’ and still without looking at me.

‘It’s yours!’ I said.

He took my hand and shook it. The other two were speechless and we left them there while I took this character into the house to complete the sale. A few minutes later he was driving it away with the registration document, separated and filled in with the new owners name, and the M.O.T. certificate in his pocket.

‘Bye, Ruby,’ my wife said, a small tear in the corner of her eye as she watched the car disappear up the street.

On the plus side we had a pile of notes on the table. That, we thought, was that. Wrong! The phone kept on ringing and we almost took it off the hook when the calls began to tail off. We were relieved to have sold the car and could now concentrate on finding another.

The following day, Saturday, my wife was off to the shops and I happened to walk out with her to our other car, talking about the arrangements for the afternoon, a tour of the local dealers. As we stood there, our old car rolled up and who should climb out of it but the same chap who’d bought the car the previous day. He didn’t look happy. He also had a suspicious looking ‘heavy’ with him. I didn’t like the look of this.

‘Problems?’ I said brightly.

That wasn’t the best of opening remarks. Looking only at the car, he launched into a list of defects which had miraculously appeared overnight. Brakes, lights, steering, pulling power and even the damned knobs on the radio were all called into question. Then he had the gall to say the M.O.T. might be suspect! I couldn’t believe my ears. What was this all about? This was a car which had just been sold for the barmy price of three hundred pounds, not three hundred thousand! My wife began to make excuses but I wasn’t going to be intimidated by this character or his minder.

‘Hang on!’ I said, loudly. ‘Just a minute! What the hell do you expect for a near fourteen year old car? This isn’t a bloody Roller! It’s a little, three hundred quid runabout that’s all! What you see is what you bought! It’s yours, you bought it, remember? So drive away, now!’

I surprised myself never mind them but nonetheless it had the desired effect. The minder began looking sheepish and tugged at his leader. They climbed back into it and drove off. I heaved a sigh of relief for the second time since yesterday. I didn’t want to go through this awful process ever again.

A couple of days later we had a call from one of the local dealers. I’d been cultivating this one in the hope of a better deal. He said he had just what we were looking for and before it was snapped up by someone else we’d better see it as soon as we could. That’s when we discovered the flat tyre on the near side wheel of the car, it must have been a slow puncture, and the prospect of a quick look at our next second car disappeared.

Our daughter, just home from college for the weekend, volunteered to have a look at it while we sorted the tyre out. That seemed sensible so off she went. Just over an hour later she was back and into the house, beaming brightly.

‘I’ve got it!’ she said. ‘It’s outside! It was only five hundred and I said you’d be up there later on to give them a cheque.’

It was too good to be true. Only five hundred this time! My wife and I went out to see it. There it stood, gleaming and waiting for us. My heart sankand I wondered about my daughters observational skills. My wife said only three words.

‘Ruby! You’re back!’

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