They make us buy bananas in kilograms instead of pounds, they want to re-label British chocolate " vegelate " and they’re threatening to regulate the great British banger out of existence. Now the Brussels bureaucrats are at it again – but this time they’re trying to change the way we buy bikes.The good news is that, unlike other unfathomable Euro laws designed to standardise the way goods are sold throughout the EU, the legislation due to come into force in January could actually have some benefits for us, such as warranties which cover minor parts like headlight bulbs plus 12 months dealer back-up for secondhand bikes – even if it’s a 15-year-old RD350.Unfortunately, no-one knows precisely what the effect of the legislation will be yet because its wording is so confusing after its progress through the EU’s labyrinth-like corridors of power. But bike industry experts have a pretty good idea about some of the changes to expect – and many of them would be welcomed by buyers.Rob Hobson, editor of bike dealers’ bible the CAP Green Book, reckons alterations to warranties will be the major benefit. He says for the first six months after we buy a new bike, dealers may have to rectify even minor faults, which aren’t covered now. Under existing legislation, if you notice a fault on the bike which you believe was there when you bought it, it’s up to you to prove that fact before the dealer is legally bound to rectify it. But under the new legislation, the ball could be in the dealer’s court – it will be up to him to fix the fault unless he can prove it wasn’t there when he sold it.
Hobson said: " The wording puts the onus on the dealer to prove that any defect did not exist at the time of sale, rather than for the buyer to prove that it did. " It means that even if a bulb blows six months after the bike is purchased, the dealer may have to pay for it. If the customer claims the bulb has blown because of an electrical fault which was there when he bought the bike, the dealer will have to repair it unless he can prove him wrong. " But it’s the length of warranties on secondhand machines which Hobson thinks could have the greatest effect on the way we buy bikes. He believes one aspect of the new legislation is that dealers may have to guarantee all used bikes for a minimum of 12 months.That may sound like the perfect recipe for peace of mind, but it will come at a cost. Replacing the usual six-month deal with a 12-month one could add £200 or £300 to the price of a newer bike such as a three-year-old Yamaha R1. However, that won’t seem like much if you’re forking out several thousand pounds. Hobson said: " At the moment, many dealers offer the option of an extended 12-month warranty for an extra £200 or £300 pounds, anyway, so it shouldn’t be much of a problem. " When it comes to older machines, Hobson thinks the new legislation could have much greater impact. He said: " At the moment, if a dealer sells a 1980 or 1985 bike, it would normally have a three-month warranty. But a customer might say: ‘I’ll give you £200 less without a warranty.’ Under the new legislation, the dealer may no longer be able to do that. He’ll have to offer a 12-month warranty and build in a price margin to cover his costs. "
That could be a slap in the face for customers of firms like BAT Motorcycles, in Biggin Hill, Kent. It has a bargain basement department which can offer great deals on bikes imported from Japan on the understanding that they’re sold as seen. The company’s Glenn Appleby reckons the new rules could mean it has to close the bargain basement section down and only sell bikes from its more expensive " Premier " selection. He said: " It could mean it’s no longer economically viable for us to buy those bikes from Japan and sell them at those prices. The only way we could adapt would be by charging more for them. It wouldn’t affect our Premier range, but it could wipe out our bargain basement sales. " Appleby reckons it could also make it more difficult for us to part-exchange bikes that are a few years old.He said: " It’s not necessarily good for customers. They like the deals in our bargain basement. But it could also make dealers more reluctant to accept some bikes as part exchange. If they’re not confident they can warranty it for 12 months, they may not want to touch it. " That means we could have to sell our shed privately – unless the dealer is prepared to take it to pieces. Frank Finch, motorcycle director for the Retail Motor Industry Federation, said: " The only way a dealer could get round having to sell the bike with the warranty would be to sell it as a box of parts. " And Finch reckons such changes could be just the tip of the iceberg. He said: " It could drastically affect the whole motor industry. There’s a whole raft of changes which the new legislation could bring about. "
One other effect of the new rules which we might appreciate, but which some dealers may grumble at, is that bikes could have to be repaired or replaced more quickly than they are now. At the moment, there’s nothing in UK consumer law to say how quickly a dealer should fix faults. But the new rules say they must be sorted out within a " reasonable time " . Otherwise, according to the new legislation, the dealer should offer extra compensation for the inconvenience of being without our bike. And that could mean an end to stories of dealers taking months to repair bikes under warranty.Tom Waterer, spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Association, said: " What happens will depend on the definition of ‘reasonable’. It’s something that will have to be determined. " It’s not just bikes that will be affected by the legislation – accessories will also come under its umbrella. And it could mean an end to trying to decipher instructions in a language that bears only a passing resemblance to English or are just plain wrong when you’re trying to bolt on that luggage rack and top box.At the moment, if the kit breaks because you fitted it wrongly as a result of dodgy instructions, it’s tough. But the new rules insist that instructions must be " without shortcomings " . That means retailers could also have to replace or repair kit which came with inadequate instructions.
Even though it’s only a few months until the new legislation comes into effect and the implications for both buyers and dealers are so far-reaching, no-one really knows where they will stand in January 2002. Even lawyers are baffled by the complex Euro-speak in the new rules, saying they will have to wait for legal test cases in this country before they can say for certain how the law will work. Dionne Cunningham, senior solicitor for the Retail Motor Industry Federation, said: " It’s likely that dealers will carry on operating the way they are and adapt when the implications become clearer. " Some dealers will oppose the changes, others will accept them without any quibbles. But many buyers will welcome the extra peace of mind the new rules offer, even if they have to pay a bit extra for it.