Buying a caravan: Check your terms and conditions
A recent survey revealed that only 1% of people check terms and conditions! OK so that’s for online purchases, but even so, how many of you have bought a new caravan?
Words by Rachel Stothert
We recently received word from the National Caravan Council about a change to the guidelines on terms and conditions for member dealers to reflect updates in consumer law. But what does this mean for the end consumer? We recently spoke to the NCC’s Jo Chubb and Peter Stonely (the NCC’s Trading Standards consultant) to learn more about these changes and what we can expect.
In a perfect world, you will buy a caravan, or an accessory, nothing will go wrong and you will carry on along your merry way. But, unfortunately, it’s not a perfect world and sometimes that small print will define your journey from thereon in.
So, it’s really important to read the terms and conditions in any contract, especially for expensive purchases, such as a new caravan. Jo told us that terms and conditions are a little like a prenuptial agreement.
“When you commit to a big-ticket item, it is crucial you read the small print. You don’t want to think the worst; however, they are essential if things go wrong later down the line.”
Reading The Small Print
Peter, as a caravanner, also understands the excitement of buying a new model, but says the law is primarily there for the consumer. “There is a level of protection for most people, even if they sign an unfair contract, but it is best to avoid problems in the first place.''
The advice from both Jo and Peter was very simple. Read the Ts and Cs carefully. If you don’t understand anything – the legalese can sometimes be hard to follow – make sure you ask for clarification at the point of signing or before.
Also, you can ask for a copy of the terms and conditions to review prior to purchase. Jo stated, “Any reputable dealer should not have a problem with that.”
The other thing to note is that terms are not set in stone. It is possible to negotiate on points with the dealer, but get any changes made in writing, preferably on the sales invoice, ensuring these are signed and dated by both parties.
Keep A Copy
Even if there are no changes, it is essential to keep a copy of the terms and conditions, in a safe place, along with the sales invoice. It may sound ridiculous to emphasise this, but you need to remember where you put this paperwork. Keep it in a file with all the other caravan paperwork, just like you would a classic car.
The NCC prepares example terms and conditions for its members. Approved dealer members are expected to adopt them and use them. They can change them but only to make them more favourable to the customer. They cannot change them so that they are less favourable – this would not be acceptable under the NCC approved scheme.
Jo told us that, “Dealers often instruct a commercial solicitor to draw up their terms and conditions but because consumer law is not a commercial solicitor’s area of expertise, they are often not aware of the latest consumer legislation.”
The example terms and conditions put forward by the NCC for its member dealers have been prepared by the organisation and a Trading Standards expert, then reviewed and approved by its Primary Authority partner – Bucks and Surrey Trading Standards.
The current NCC Ts and Cs take into consideration the fundamental idea of fair terms, particularly regarding the tricky subject of deposit returns. Consumer law states that if the customer cancels their order, the deposit may be refunded in part, wholly or not at all. How much depends upon how close it is to the delivery date when the consumer cancels.
If all this sounds vague, it can be. However, if a dealer has suffered monetary loss due to a cancelled order, it is fair to assume that part of the said deposit should be retained. If there is no monetary loss, then you may assume the return of the deposit.
"Consumer law states that if the customer cancels their order, the deposit may be refunded in part, wholly or not at all. How much depends on how close to delivery date the customer cancels"
This is where the word ‘fair’ comes into play and where a court will decide whether the terms of the contract has been breached. Jo adds that an “unfair term is anything that attempts to take away a customer’s rights under consumer law.”
Dealing With Dealers
If you are buying through a website, this is called distance sales, whereby you are not seeing the person you buy from. Buying at a show is classed as an on-premises sale, with the same rights as if you were buying at a dealership. That makes it simple.
The NCC recommend its dealers adopt a five-day cooling-off period when buying at a show, so check if this can be built in when signing a contract. We’ve all been there and done it, getting carried away by buying a new caravan when all you wanted to do was look at some new pans.
Peter adds, “With caravans there are two key areas of dispute – when they’ve changed their
mind and don’t want to go through with the deal and when there is a problem the dealer fails
Discuss The Details
Trade-in prices and currency fluctuations should also be considered. Take trade-in values, for example. These are often agreed but conditional on the dealer seeing the caravan. If the condition is worse, the dealer may offer less money and expect the consumer to put in more money. This is fair, but Peter confirms that “a bad term is one where you can’t walk away from the deal.”
The same goes for fluctuating exchange rates, where dealers cannot guarantee a sterling price until delivery. “If you are accepting a variable price then ask for a potential walk-away clause to be built in,” says Peter.
Jo’s final bit of advice, “If you are not happy with the terms and can’t negotiate any changes, there is always the option of taking time to go away and think it over. Don’t rush into a decision, especially if you need more time to be sure about the terms and conditions.”
Final Word of Advice
There is a lot of simple advice on consumer law out there. Simply type ‘Consumer Rights Act 2015’ into your internet browser and the government’s own page should come up, as well as Which? and Citizens Advice – both of which also offer helpful resources.
The NCC Approved Dealership scheme embraces respective tourer and motorhome Consumer Codes of Practice. It establishes a benchmark for industry best practice and minimum standards that must be followed by NCC Approved Dealerships when selling new and used tourers, motorhomes and providing associated services.
For more information on the NCC Approved Dealer scheme or to find an approved dealer near you, please visit: approveddealerships.co.uk