Earlier this year, Sarah and I spent my bonus pay on a second-hand car from The Cheap Car Trade Centre in Gloucester.
Sadly, they neglected to buy it a tax disc before I picked it up, so I couldn't drive it (other than the quick trip) home for a couple of weeks while the papers went through to make me the registered keeper. However, even on the trip home, the engine started to overheat, and the engine started to run badly; as the car had been stationary for a while, and had been almost entirely out of fuel, I was suspicious but it might have just been sludge from the fuel tank washing into the engine; I looked into the cooling system and found a syphon tube had become disconnected, so the engine could blow out excess coolant into the reservoir when the pressure was high, but could not suck coolant back in. Sure enough, although the reservoir was full, the cooling system was very low, so I flushed it out and filled it up after replacing the syphon hose.
All was well for a few days, but then it started overheating again. I was dropping Sarah off in Cheltenham at the time, so I stayed in the car park to let it cool down before heading home; however, it quickly overheated again, and again, and started to emit white smoke from the exhaust, and steam from under the bonnet. I pulled in another car park, and rang the RAC, who came and told me the head gasket was leaking badly.
So I rang the warranty company, who said that head gasket failure wasn't covered. So I rang The Cheap Car Trade Centre and explained the problem, but they disavowed any responsibility, so I informed them that the Sale of Goods Act made them responsible for the goods they sell being fit for the advertised purpose, which includes a reasonable life expectancy, even if they are second-hand; and this car was sold to me as "ready to drive". They told me I'd have to take them to court in that case.
So I sent them the required two warning letters, then tried to take them to court. This was hampered somewhat by them refusing to say who owned the business, which is an obligation under the Business Names Act, so I rang Gloucester Trading Standards, who pointed me at:
Office of Fair Trading Investigation into The Cheap Car Trade Centre
Which led to:
Formal Undertaking against Adrian Brown, Sole Director, Adrian Brown Limited
So Adrian Brown was the man behind the business, using his limited company, Adrian Brown Ltd, company number 04831719, which is registered as being at The Cheap Car Trade Centre's premises.
A look on the Companies House web site reveals:
REGISTERED OFFICE CHANGED ON 16/09/09 FROM:
SUNNYLEA ASH LANE
...that's five days after his "formal undertaking" with the OFT. I suspect he changed it from his home address to his premises to divert unwanted attention at home. However, Companies House remembers all. I wonder if he still lives there. I would discourage my loyal readers from jumping to the conclusion that he does and inundating the address with junk mail or any other forms of harassment, in case he doesn't.
Anyway, knowing who to sue, I proceeded to activate the county court system.
They answered my claim with a defence (stating that it must have been me driving the car while overheating that broke the head gasket), so I was waiting for a date for the hearing when I received my last letter to them returned unopened, with "THE LTD CO THAT TRADED AS 'THE CHEAP CAR TRADE CTR' HAS CEASED TRADING AND IS INSOLVENT WITH NO ASSETS, AND HAS VACATED 333 BRISTOL RD GLOUCESTER".
I got back in touch with the Trading Standards folks, who said that they knew the company was closing, but that this action was suspended as there were county court cases in progress, so my case would probably still proceed, even though I might never be able to extract any money if the company was truly insolvent.
However, I'm still going to try. Limited companies protect their shareholders and directors by limiting their liability; the company is sued, not the people. But there's a limit to the limit. If a director can be shown to have acted fraudulently or incompetently, then they can be personally liable.
It looks like I won't get my money back, which will leave us carless until I get another bonus or something - but I'm hoping that, perhaps, the courts might find Adrian Brown personally liable. Given the involvement of the Office of Fair Trading and Trading Standards, it would appear that I'm not alone in having suffered from his business practices (the OFT judgement explicitly mentions him attempting to avoid the Sale of Goods and Business Names acts).
After all, I have little choice but to pursue this - I am scraping by with buses (which run once an hour, and don't run at all after about 5pm), being bankrupted by taxis, and begging lifts from people. This is seriously hampering my ability to live my life.