Fleet News

Ban smoking in cars and boost residuals

'I CADGED a lift in a friend's Ford Mondeo the other day and could not help but notice how strongly the car smelled of stale cigarette smoke. Too polite to comment, I decided it was his right to do as he pleased in his own car.

But it set me thinking about how I might respond if this were a car I was considering buying. I could not help but think that such an odour would put most people off – not just non-smokers – but that this was his lookout.

However, the Mondeo is not strictly his car because it is on lease. I then noticed a small burn in the back seat material and asked him if he knew he had a hole in the upholstery.

It was news to him but not particularly surprising since he remembered flicking ash out of the window and it blowing back in. It struck me as ironic that in most workplaces there is now a smoking ban and yet in company cars – which for many are only an extension of the office – people continue to damage company property with cigarette smoke and burns.

This encounter prompted me to seek dealer views on the issue of the impact of cigarettes and car interiors. Unanimously, they reported that they are increasingly cautious about taking vehicles in part exchange, or buying for stock, when they have clearly been owned by a heavy smoker.

Some told me they would simply refuse to buy the car, even if the bodywork and mechanicals were in mint condition. Although there are specialists who advertise total fumigation services, the majority of smoky car interiors end up smelling permanently, even after a good clean.

My dealer research sample was reporting that they will re-appraise a car once they learn it has been smoked in because it can be impossible to get a non-smoker to buy such a vehicle.

The question that arises for fleet or disposal managers is who should stand the cost of any shortfall in the expected residual value, caused by tobacco odour, staining or small burns?

Is it the employer, the leasing company or the driver? It might be controversial but I am inclined to advocate that the company car be subject to the same rules as the office, and that smoking should be banned in such vehicles.

There should always be opportunities to take breaks on the road and why should messing around with cigarettes not be considered just as dangerous as making telephone calls on the move?

The cost implications of this issue should not be under- estimated. Some dealers told me they will value a smoked-in car by up to £500 less, and worse if there are interior repairs needed.

One dealer told me he had a stained roof lining removed, steam-cleaned and reinstalled only to find that the yellowing had not been removed.

Fleets should seriously consider tackling such potential risks to the value of their cars as the overall impact of cigarette damage may well be bigger than they realise.'

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