Ex-Motability cars – should you buy one?

Ex-Motability cars are commonplace on the UK used car market but what are the pros and cons when it comes to buying one?

Caddy vs Berlingo

Motability is the largest car fleet operator in Europe and it buys around one in ten of every new cars sold in Britain. That means it is a massive supplier of used cars too, selling around 200,000 of its ex-fleet vehicles every year. 

If you are looking for a used car which is around three years old, the chances are you will come across an ex-Motability car. And yet you might never have heard of Motability at all. Should you be worried about buying a car which has come from the scheme? What do you need to know and look for? We’ll aim to answer all of your questions right here. 

Motability was set up in 1977 and has provided over 4.5 million vehicles in Britain to disabled people, their families and carers to help them become more mobile and independent. 

It works by allowing them to lease a brand-new vehicle at a discounted rate. They can use all or some of their disability benefits (Personal Independence Payment) to fund the lease, and can top up the payment using their own money if they want a more expensive model.

There have been a series of crackdowns recently to prevent abuse of the Motability scheme, with a cap on the list price of the cars purchaced and a limit on the distance carers can live from the disabled person they are looking after. Despite these, Motability is such a massive player in the new car market that car makers work closely with the charity to work out deals to make models more attractive. 

Exchanging keys in dealership

Slow-selling models will be incentivised to make them more affordable, with smaller or even zero up-front fees (called advanced payments). Cheaper models, such as the MG3, even allow the user to keep some of their weekly benefits as the monthly lease cost is less than the payment.

Motability cars explained

Most cars from Motability (around three-quarters) are returned as planned after three years. The payments include insurance and servicing costs, so the car should have been well-maintained and repaired if necessary. However, the charity will only pay for two services on a typical 36-month lease, so check the third service has been done by the dealer you’re buying from or budget to do it yourself if you buy from another source such as an auction.

While it won’t pay for a final service unless the car goes over three years old, Motability will have made sure the car was given an MoT at around 34 months by the dealer who will be supplying the new car to the customer. A detailed report is sent to Motability so they can get an idea of what sort of condition the car is in ahead of its return. You won’t be able to see that report, but the government MoT check website will let you see if the test threw up any fails or advisories.

From Motability scheme to used car market

Once the car is at the end of its lease, that dealer gets the first option to buy it. This saves on transport costs, as the customer will have driven it to the dealer to collect their new model. The dealer will generally snap it up if the car is ‘prime’ stock, with low miles and in good condition, which can be sold easily on the forecourt.

Most reliable used cars

If this dealer isn’t interested, the car will be collected by Motability and, if necessary, refurbishment work is done to repair scratches and dents. Once these are completed, the car’s details are put onto a special online ‘portal’ which is only open to dealers who have an account with Motability.

This website allows the dealers to see the specification, mileage, history and cost of every vehicle being offered. The prices will change according to the market conditions, but all the cars are inspected to a certain standard so the trader can be confident that they can buy it without having actually physically seen it themselves. If they choose to purchase, the cost is charged to their account and the car will be delivered to their forecourt. 

Some large dealer groups will promise Motability that they will buy a certain number of cars a year in exchange for a bonus, so tend to buy at this stage and are likely to have a large number of the charity’s old cars on sale at keen prices.

If the car doesn’t attract a buyer on the online portal, perhaps because of oversupply, excessive mileage, a strange specification, poor condition or a patchy service record, Motability will then feed it into a mainstream public car auction which is open to any buyer. Most of the big auction houses (such as BCA) will hold special Motability sales every week. 

In theory, anyone can bid on a car there - but be careful and make sure you know what you are doing before you raise your hand. Also bear in mind that there will be the auction’s buyer’s fees to pay on top of the hammer price. These are substantially higher for private customers than trade account holders.

Most of these auctioned ex-Motability cars will end up at independent dealers who are prepared to do a little more refurbishment or accept these ‘non-prime’ vehicles. These will include car supermarkets and other traders outside of the franchised dealer networks. There’s no need to be scared of these cars, as long as you are willing to accept the reason they were not considered good enough by the franchised dealers in the first place. While that could be obvious, such as a shabby interior or missed service, it could also be just a case of oversupply with too many similar cars already in the market.

While the cars at the auction will be clearly labelled as ex-Motability, dealers won’t always publicise where their cars came from. Now data protection rules have dictated that the previous owner’s details are no longer shown on registration documents, you may never know you’re buying an ex-Motability car unless you actually ask the salesperson to tell you.

Ex-Motability cars:  what should you look for?

Mileage and condition

Although the Motability scheme allows drivers to cover up to 20,000 miles a year, many don’t do anywhere near this - in fact, many cars will be very low mileage. But this can be a double-edged sword, meaning that the vehicle has been sat unused for long periods of time, or that it’s only been used for very short journeys. This can damage components or cause them to wear out faster.

Car dealer forecourt shopping

You also need to think about how the car might’ve been used by its Motability custodian. With 650,000 users, you get a great cross section of society, including people who will cherish their cars. In fact, there is an incentive for Motability drivers to look after their cars, as there is a £250 bonus on offer at the end of the lease if it passes its inspection.

But other drivers will abuse them. Bear in mind that you are also allowed to smoke in a Motability vehicle because it’s classified as a car for private use; this will detract from the value as it damages the interior and makes it difficult to sell on to non-smokers.

Modified Motability cars

While the vast majority of cars are kept completely standard, around 5% are adapted to make them suitable for the driver’s disability. This can vary from a simple steering wheel knob to a full adaptation to accept a wheelchair, complete with access ramps.

30 blue badge holders per disabled parking space with numbers set to grow

Cars with major structural changes such as ramps tend to be kept on lease for longer – usually five years – as the conversion expense is so great. This equipment will be left in place for the next owners, but other small adaptations will be removed before sale. Check carefully to make sure they’ve not left holes or damage to the interior. Other bulky equipment such as wheelchairs of breathing aids can also leave damage to the boot, so factor this into any negotiations.

General checks

Some cars also have service histories, spare keys or sat nav SD cards which will have been lost in the system somewhere. Spare wheels and other tools can also go missing. Generally, the dealership where the car was serviced will be able to check from its records and will send you a replacement service book with the right date stamps in it – for a fee. Spare keys and SD cards (or discs) can cost many hundreds of pounds and need to be programmed by a dealer, so factor this into any deal.

So if you find an ex-Motability car that ticks all the boxes and seems to have been looked after, there’s no reason to be scared of it. Unlike daily rental cars, they will have been driven by one family from new and will generally be looked after and serviced well. As with any used car, you will need to check it over and make sure it is right for you and the right price.

Have you ever bought an ex-Motability car? Let us know how it went in the comments...

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