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UPDATED (21/10/04): Update appears at end of review
Motoring is a very expensive game in the UK as I’m sure the drivers amongst us will attest to. But often the biggest cost to car owners isn’t the insurance, the servicing or even the fuel – it’s the depreciation in the value of your car. The amount of money that a car loses in value during the first three years of its life is usually more than all the other running costs put together. So you may be interested to hear of a way of buying cars that have already plummeted in value but are still in showroom condition.
Fords of Winsford is well known to many people in Cheshire and the surrounding areas, and the county’s roads are littered with cars bearing the famous ‘F’ emblem in the back window. But I wonder how many people from further afield are aware of this unique treasure trove, hidden away in one of the most unlikely of places.
The term “car supermarket” has now been coined by every Tom, Dick and Harry selling used cars in the back of your local paper. However, few of them genuinely trade under the supermarket philosophy whereby prices are fixed and not open to haggling. In fact, Britain only has a small handful of genuine car supermarkets. For some reason the British motor industry has a fixation with pushy, commission-based salesmen who sit the customers down, tap away on their large-buttoned calculators and promise to give a wonderful deal that can’t be found anywhere else. The trouble is, as a nation we hate that kind of thing. We like to see fixed prices which are already cheap in the first place. Cue Fords of Winsford.
Fords of Winsford invented the whole concept way back in 1959, long before the media ever coined the term “car supermarket”. (Despite the name, Fords of Winsford has no connection with the car manufacturer Ford but is named after the chairman Vernon Ford who started the company 45 years ago and still has a finger in the pie today). The company has grown and changed location several times before ending up in its current site next to a Morrisons supermarket on the edge of a dreary Cheshire town. It’s fair to say Fords of Winsford is stuck in the middle of nowhere and isn’t terribly easy to find for anyone unfamiliar with the area.
The site itself is basically an open air car park which spans the size of a few football pitches. The normal stock level is in the region of 1,400 vehicles and features everything from superminis to MPVs, plus a sports/prestige section and a small selection of commercial vans. The layout is orderly and easy to navigate; cars are arranged according to size and manufacturer, with a logical grid system of letters and numbers which are painted onto the tarmac in each parking bay. Stock lists are available to pick up from a pile by the main entrance; each one is a booklet comprised of 10-12 A4 pages, with every available car listed in alphabetic order of manufacturer. These daily stock lists are bang up-to-date and even feature cars which are currently in transit on their way to the premises.
The cars generally start at £3,000 and are no older than four years. Although there’s a very big selection, it’s often a lottery as to what’s available on any one given day. There is no predicting what might come in tomorrow, although it’s a safe bet to say that Fords of Winsford generally stock models which they know will sell. So generally speaking you’ll have a good choice of Fiestas, Puntos, Vectras, etc, but might be hard pushed to find something like a Hyundai Atoz. But then maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
What makes Fords of Winsford so different is what it doesn’t have: there are no “£99 DEPOSIT” or “LOW MILEAGE” banners plastered across cars, just a straightforward price in every windscreen. There are no salesman wandering around like vultures waiting
to pounce on you. There is a definite sense that you can browse at your leisure without being under any pressure.
When you have seen one or more cars that interest you, the next step is to ask at the reception for the keys to the car. Following your inspection of the car’s interior you can book a test drive which involves joining a queue and sitting in the waiting area. Be warned that during the weekends these waiting times can be quite long as the place tends to get as popular as Alton Towers. (Parents may also like to know that Fords of Winsford has a small outdoor play area for children). At this stage you are assigned to a sales consultant who accompanies you for the test drive. To take the car for a spin on the public road you need to be accompanied by the sales consultant and sign a declaration that you are licensed and insured. There is a fixed route of about two miles which you are required to stick to, and you are not allowed to exceed 50mph.
If you are still interested in buying the car after the test drive, you can sit down with your sales consultant and ask all your questions about the car’s history and discuss finance options. The sales area is modern, airy and quite prestigious and has toilets and vending machines (but no free drinks!). Oh, and they provide umbrellas in case you chose a bad day to browse around. Each sales consultant has their own desk area, with screens for privacy, on a large open plan ground floor.
A few weeks ago I purchased a Fiat Stilo from Fords of Winsford and over the last few years have accompanied a few other people who have bought cars there. In my experience the sales consultants have always been courteous and have never been in any way pushy. Here is where you really see the Fords of Winsford difference, as there is absolutely no room for manoeuvre on price. Any pleas to negotiate a discount will fall on deaf ears, even if you have spotted a minor knock or scrape to the car and are trying to use this as a bargaining tool. The price is fixed and you can take it or leave it. The price does not include any road tax, and it is the customer’s responsibility to sort this out.
Sometimes the history of the cars in stock is disconcertingly vague. When enquiring about certain cars I have found that basic items such as the car’s service book and spare key are missing, and unfortunately Fords of Winsford won’t try to obtain replacements for these items. Much of their stock is acquired from leasing companies and car hire firms so it often makes you wonder if the car was looked after or if it was abused by its previous driver(s). This is part of the gamble you take, although you are of course welcome to have your own mechanical inspection carried out on the car.
If you have a car to part exchange, Fords of Winsford will always make you an offer for your old car regardless of its age or condition. The valuations office is situated in the customer car park near the front gates. The price they offer will be the equivalent of what they would expect to pay for the car at auction. In other words, it will be low. Once again, their offer is completely non-negotiable.
If you have a car to part exchange, my advice would be to privately advertise it for a few hundred quid more than Fords of Winsford have offered you. This is what I did with my Renault Clio although I only ended up fetching £200 more than Fords’ offer – so maybe their offer wasn’t quite so bad.
All of the cars on sale come with a 30 day Fords of Winsford warranty. This may not offer the greatest peace of mind in the world but hopefully any major problems with the car would become apparent during that period. Since many of the cars are nearly new, you will also find that lots of them are still covered under the original manufacturer’s warranty which is at least three years from the date of first registration, depending on the manufacturer. However, exercise caution here as some of their stock is imported from Europe and is therefore not covered by a UK manufacturer’s warranty. The sales consultants will not advise on this and are under firm instructions not be drawn into any speculative chat about the legalities of any outstanding warranty on the car. It’s a straightforward case of ‘buyer beware’ – do careful homework and don’t make any assumptions.
Upon purchase you are expected to pay a deposit of £250 upfront, after which you have seven days to pay the balance and collect the vehicle. Fords of Winsford will not accept cash amounts over £250 which can be a nuisance if you have just sold your old car privately for cash. Credit cards are accepted but incur a charge of 1.5% on any amount over £1000, so I found the best way to pay was using my Switch card as there is no fee. Of course, Fords of Winsford offer a range of finance options which they claim are competitive; they offer to match the lowest rate offered by the cheapest lenders like Tesco Finance and Sainsburys Bank. Your sales consultant will explain all the options and arrange the finance. They also act as a broker for insurance services and will provide a range of optional extras such as fitted audio systems and alloy wheels. I was also offered an RAC-backed mechanical warranty for £300 but decided I could probably get one cheaper elsewhere.
You will be given a time and date for collecting your car, and the collection process takes about 15 minutes. Fords of Winsford claim to carry out a 78 point pre-handover inspection on every car. As you will read in my update, below, a large question mark now hangs over this.
So what’s the secret? The magic Fords of Winsford formula? Quite simply, it’s to pile ’em high and sell ‘em cheap. They obviously have a fixed profit margin on every car which is a trade secret to you and I, but at an educated guess I’d say it was in the region of £200. Because of the cheap prices, the turnover of stock is amazingly fast, and therefore business is good. If you’re looking for a bargain then Fords of Winsford offers the perfect halfway house between an auction and a car dealer. I got an amazing bargain with my Fiat Stilo; it’s two years old with a very high spec and below average mileage and cost me £4999. I hunted high and low and the nearest price I found for an identical car was £6399 from a Fiat dealer.
I hope this review has whetted your appetite if you’re looking to change your car. You can see what’s currently in stock by visiting Fords of Winsford’s website at www.fow.co.uk, or by calling them on 0845 456 3770.
They are open seven days a week: Monday-Friday 9am-7pm Saturday 9am-5pm Sunday 10am-5pm
The site is about eight miles from junction 18 of the M6, and you can download directions and a map from their website.
Within the first two days of owning my car, it became apparent that Fords of Winsford could not have possibly done the 78 points they promised.
Here's what I found with my car after I got it home:
• The windscreen wipers had been put on back to front. • The original factory-fitted oil filter was still on the car and the oil was extremely dirty. Fords of Winsford promise an oil and filter change “where applicable” before they give you the car. I find the ambiguous use of the word "applicable" slightly disconcerting, but by the standards of most reputable garages it should have been applicable on a car that had covered 19,000 miles on the original factory oil and filter. • The ashtrays and compartments were stuffed with chocolate wrappers and the interior was dirty; • The briefest of checks (or
Pictures of Fords of Winsford Car Supermarket
even a quick drive round the car park) by a competent mechanic would have identified a serious problem with the car's shock absorbers, which you will read more about below.
After owning the car and driving it around for a few days I became aware of a serious problem with the car’s suspension system. I made Fords of Winsford aware of this problem while the car was under their “30 day warranty” and I arranged for the vehicle to be repaired at the earliest opportunity at a Fiat dealership.
Fords of Winsford arranged payment to the Fiat dealership for new front shock absorbers to be fitted to the car, although the matter caused considerable inconvenience to myself (and taxi fares totalling £37.00), because the dealership were unwilling to provide me with a courtesy car or to deliver the car back to my address.
The Fiat mechanic who worked on the car told me that the condition of the engine and shock absorbers would suggest that the car was abused by its previous owner(s) – ie. that it was raced too fast in low gears and driven too fast over bumpy terrain.
The Fiat mechanic was shocked that Fords of Winsford didn't spot this problem before letting me drive away – he said that the shock absorbers were so far gone that the car was dangerous and unroadworthy.
After returning from two weeks’ holiday on 3 September (during which time the car was not used) I noticed two further problems had arisen with the car:
• One of the headlights was full of rainwater. • Upon turning the key in the ignition, the onboard computer displayed the message “ENGINE FAULT” and a warning light was permanently lit up whilst the engine was running. The owners manual states that the car should not be driven if this warning appears.
It was by now obvious that I had got a "car from hell" on my hands.
By now unfortunately the car was out of its "30 day warranty" given by Fords of Winsford. But I still felt they were responsible for the problems with the car, because these problems would been spotted before they sold me the car if they had kept to their word and done the "78 point pre-delivery inspection" which they obviously never carried out.
I sent a letter to Fords of Winsford by Recorded Delivery on 4 September 2004. I offered them the chance to put right the problems with the car. I gave them a choice and offered to be flexible over resolving the matter: I also said I would accept a replacement model or refund of the purchase price, with a sensible deduction for the usage I had from the car.
And what happened? Absolutely nothing. Jack Sh*t. They didn't reply. They didn't even have the decency to acknowledge my letter (but I know they received it, because the Royal Mail confirmed that they signed for it.)
On 23 September, 19 days after sending my letter and hearing nothing, I copied the letter in to an e-mail which I sent to Paul Campion, Fords of Winsford's Operations Manager. Later that day my partner received a phone call from Fords of Winsford while I was out at work. They said they would call back in half an hour, when I got home. They didn't.
While all this was going on, I couldn't hang around waiting. I had a life to live, a job to go to, and I had to get the car fixed and roadworthy. I therefore proceeded to make my own arrangements to have remedial work done to the car.
And then on 15 October 2004, six weeks after I sent my letter to Fords of Winsford, there was a phonecall out of the blue from their aftersales department, saying that they'd received my letter and would like to have a look at my car.
Sorry, guys. Too late. A response time of six weeks isn't good enough.
If you're thinking of buying from Fords of Winsford, I'd be the first to agree that they're cheap. It's hard not to be attracted by cheap prices. But my advice would be to go to a car auction instead, or to buy privately. Why? Because it will be even cheaper than Fords of Winsford. And you'll get the same level of protection and aftersales - ie. none whatsoever.
That's shocking! I hope you invoiced them the cot of the remedial work you had done and that they paid for them. Some car dealers are SO shifty - I test drove a Fiesta that had "just passed it's MOT love" and the thing had barely any brakes which made for a seriously scary drive right back to the dealership!
moo-cow 08.11.2005 20:16
Ouch! Nightmare experience. Sorry to hear about it, but a great read nonetheless. I, for one, will definitely be wary the next time I'm looking for a car. You just don't know who to trust these days.
luseantom 09.08.2005 16:32
I have never bought a car from fords, although i live about 2 minutes from it, I know alot of people who work there, think you may have put me off going there as im looking to buy a new Bettle at the moment....great review Lynz xx