CONSUMER WATCH | Why selling your car can be a 'Weelee' eye-opening experience

Getting the best buck for your used car isn't always as easy as advertised

07 December 2023 - 10:01
By Brenwin Naidu
The author got the best price for his car at a VW dealership
Image: Brenwin Naidu LOOKING UP! The author got the best price for his car at a VW dealership

You heard the radio jingles and scrolled past cheeky video clips on various social media feeds.

There are a few of them — companies with different names, livery colours and taglines — promising a similar deal: to either give you the best price for your car, or help you get it.

They punt the least hassle, the biggest buck and removal of uncertainties involved with selling your vehicle privately.

Many people have probably had success using such providers. But my experience recently was a reminder you should not always take enticing promises at face value in the motor trade.

Before we get to that, let me give you some background.

I had been trying to get rid of my Volkswagen Up. Forgive me for avoiding the stylised Up! as marketed by the manufacturer. Why they were being so shouty, beats me.

No hidden reasons for ditching the car, other than it was hardly seeing use and that the capital extraction from its sale could be used for other things. A sensible savings account perhaps? Or, in motoring journalist math, a classic car investment. Something that predates my birth year, with the potential to become a financial liability. But I digress.

The Up was basically mint: a 2017 1.0 five-door (the Take model grade), with just under 56,000km on the odometer. I was the second owner, acquiring the vehicle from the MasterCars section of a Volkswagen dealership in 2021, for R159,000 excluding the other service charges dealerships often include.

At that point it had about 42,000km on the odometer. It still smelt new. Every service was done by Volkswagen. Every printout pertaining to the vehicle was kept in a neat pink file. Including the spare key.

Anyone who has ever owned a car in South Africa would have some understanding of the differences between trade value, retail value and the actual values at which vehicles are listed eventually sell for. Trade and retail values are guided by established insights firms such as TransUnion.

Sometimes, though, on seeing the disparities in amounts you might be offered come trade-in time, you might be forgiven for thinking prices were guided by mere whims. You would be right to have the impression that the dealership holds all the cards.

I know, I know. Values depend on various factors, including condition, market popularity of the vehicle and more. And I also get that dealerships are businesses that need to turn a profit, employ staff and contribute to the economy.

But among the various practices of these entities that often leave consumers feeling hard-done by, lowball trade-in values have to be the most frustrating thing about selling a car to a dealership.

And if your car is financed, chances are the dealership is not going to take your vehicle in for the settlement amount quoted by the bank. You might end up in that tricky position where the shortfall is “loaded” into the finance contract of the vehicle you are trading up into, if you do not have the means to settle the remainder. Countless South African motorists with car finance contracts can relate to this. But that is a column for another time.

Its interior still looked and smelled fresh.
Image: Brenwin Naidu MINT Its interior still looked and smelled fresh.

My first stop in the Up selling journey was WeBuyCars. I used their website. An agent got back to me fairly quickly saying trade value of my Up was R100,000. Shortly afterwards, the agent said they would be able to offer about R110,000 to R115,000. I decided to shop around a bit more.

I logged onto a widely used classifieds website to get a sense of what else is out there. There was a 2017 model like mine, but with more than 146,000km listed at R134,900. A 2018 example with 95,400km on the odometer was selling for R149,800. I also found a 2018 model with 42,000km going for R159,500. Realistically, a dealership would probably sell my car for somewhere in between those high-milers and the pampered 2018 car: say R145,000 perhaps.

I decided to go to a Volkswagen dealership to see what they would offer me. After inspecting the vehicle in person, they came in at R122,000. The sales agent noted the good condition of my vehicle, appreciated the documented service history and observed that there would be very little, if any reconditioning required.

It sounded good. But I felt I could do a little better. So I remembered Weelee, which punts a service that supposedly pits various dealerships against each other, bidding on clients' vehicles.

After uploading the details and a few images, an agent called me saying I would have feedback later in the day. The service was quite efficient in that regard. As promised, feedback came. On paper, an impressive R135,630 offer, from a dealership named Citton Cars in Gezina. Subject to a final inspection, of course.

I told the Volkswagen dealership about this offer and they responded that they would be able to go up to R126,000 from the R122,000. I told the agent I would get back to him after my appointment with Citton Cars.

Off to Gezina I went, about a 50km drive away. And this is where the experience starts to go south. I get to the dealership, my point of contact is running late. In the meantime, they got one of the technicians to inspect the vehicle. Out comes a staff member who starts opening and shutting doors with all the pent-up rage of a person who missed a Black Friday sale of a lifetime.

I thought it was some kind of joke — Leon Schuster would pop out of retirement to tell me I had been “Shucksed” or something. My technician then proceeds to get into the car, yanking each safety belt. Testing the inertia reels, I guess.

He is having an absolute field day, pressing every single button in the car, turning every rotary dial with conviction, reclining the seats, sliding them back and forth, clearly relishing the grating sound of the clip mechanism against those metal rails.

Time for him to drive the car and I am absolutely dreading the prospect. So I go along. At least, I would be able to offer some explanation to my insurer first-hand should something happen. The air-conditioner is cranked to full blast. Then he turns it off and opens the windows. Then cranks it back on again. Then closes the windows. Switches it off. Opens the windows.

As expected, not much mechanical sympathy shown for my Up. Snapping through the gears, accelerating harder than needed, yanking the wheel left-to-right. Some abrupt braking thrown in for good measure. You would swear he was torture-testing a pre-production mule at Gerotek. A drive around the block, but easily one of the most uncomfortable passenger experiences in recent memory.

We park and the assigned representative from the dealership saunters in casually. Maybe he got the Black Friday deal he wanted. He gives the car another visual inspection and then invites me to have a chat at his desk. He notes the vehicle is mechanically excellent, but there are other issues that he believes will require about R8,000 worth of reconditioning. The wheel covers have some scuffing, he says with a grave look, and there are little nicks, chips and imperfections that may require paintwork.

“We were going to give you R128,000, full retail, but unfortunately we can only do R120,000 today,” he tells me, as we both sweat in the thick midday heat. After all that hassle — imagine.

I politely declined and walked away. But wondered to myself how many other frustrated clients had endured similar experiences. Some, possibly in stages of desperation, might have just accepted anything after being worn-down by such an “inspection” process.

To offer R120,000 after an initial R135,630 — citing aspects that were not even identified as issues by an approved Volkswagen dealership — left a bitter taste.

So, I spoke to the Volkswagen dealership and accepted their R126,000. They did not treat my car like a stress ball during the initial inspection process. And there is a definite peace of mind, going through a reputed operation aligned to a major Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), where financial transactions are involved.

Interestingly enough, the reconditioning cost stated on the assessment sheet from Volkswagen was R850.

Being mostly parked, the mileage was low for the year.
Image: Brenwin Naidu PARKING OFF Being mostly parked, the mileage was low for the year.

Afterwards, I reached out to Albi Citton, MD of Citton Cars:

“On behalf of Citton Cars, we would like to apologise for the service you received from our consultant. We will be taking the appropriate disciplinary action in response to the service failure,” he said, adding that the dealership stood by its valuation report.

I also reached out to Weelee with these queries:

1: What percentage of Weelee users actually achieve the full amount or within at least R5,000 of the “subject to view” bid from the winning dealership?

2: Why are customers not able to have access to the top three bids rather than the highest, so that he or she may decide where to take the vehicle based on other factors? Such as location.

3: How does Weelee vet the dealerships that it refers clients to?

Weelee CEO Errol Levin commented on my experience and looked into my case, which included listening to the recorded calls between myself and the Weelee agent.

The company said it was sorry to hear about my interaction and took the opportunity to note that Citton had been in business for 30 years and was voted WesBank Independent Dealer of the Year for five consecutive years. Levin confirmed Citton was taking appropriate action.

“All our dealers’ customer service levels are constantly monitored and measured and should any trend be established, the dealer in question is either reprimanded, suspended or removed from the Weelee panel of approved repairers, Citton is no exception,” he stated.

“The initial offer is based on the vehicle details, [such as] make, model, year, service history, mileage and the customer’s own description of the condition of the car.

“During the call you had with our agent, you described your car as being 'in really good nick', you also said that 'there’s basically no recon that needs to be done on the car', Citton’s bid was based on the above description and as per our Ts&Cs, all offers are subject to inspection.”

Levin noted the final Citton offer took into account the cost of the work that would have been required for “dents and damages on the car's bonnet, front bumper and rear bumper”.

“The reason customers are not presented with the top three bids is because it would defeat the principle of an auction which is to get the highest offer for the customer, it would not be fair to have three dealers haggling with customers for the best price.

“However, and as explained, if a customer is unhappy with the final offer made by the highest bidder post inspection, Weelee would have referred you to the second-highest bidder and/or other dealers that specialise in VWs.

“Getting customers the best price for their cars is a promise we pride ourselves on, it’s what differentiates us. To ensure this, we stay in contact with our customers until that best deal/price is achieved.”

Levin said in the vast majority of cases, customers get the price originally offered by the dealer. He claimed the brand has positive feedback on platforms such as HelloPeter and a 10/10 TrustIndex rating.

“After you visited Citton, we tried to follow up with you to get feedback about your experience. Unfortunately, our call was not answered. We hear and understand your concerns, but if we had had the opportunity to speak with you after your Citton experience, we would have immediately referred you to the second highest bidder. This is our standard service protocol.”

Levin also said most of Weelee's dealerships are able to travel to customers' premises to inspect vehicles.

All is well that ends well, I guess. For me, keeping it local and sticking to the OEM-aligned dealership was a move that ultimately yielded the best result.

What experiences have you had trying to sell your vehicle using Weelee or similar platforms? E-mail the author: