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Buying a converted unit? Don’t get scammed!

dont get scammed

At NCASS, we’re regularly contacted by traders looking for advice on where to purchase a great mobile unit or trailer in order to set up or expand their business. We have a number of reputable suppliers to whom we refer them, and many of our members get their hands on some excellent-quality converted units that help secure them more work and impress customers.

Unfortunately, that’s not the story for all would-be unit owners. There are a growing number of companies across the UK that are shipping in dodgy units from abroad and selling them online at hugely reduced prices. They may look like the real thing, and sellers may tell traders over the phone that they really are legitimate, but chances are, if the price seems too good to be true, it is.

Converted units must be legal and safe to be used in the UK. If you buy one that isn’t, it will be impossible to insure and you’re highly unlikely to get hired for work at events. Here are some things to look out for when purchasing a converted vehicle for trade.

Check out the price

Do your research into the type of unit you are looking to buy. If you see a variety of horse boxes or airstreams for a similar price, the chances are, the one or two that are much cheaper are not going to be fit for purpose without a hefty bit of additional work. This may be what you are looking for, if you want the bare-bones of a unit that you can convert yourself, but if the seller says that the unit comes with all fixtures, fittings and wiring, ask yourself, why are they not selling it for more?

Find the seller’s website

A reputable seller will have their own website that shows contact details, customer reviews, a gallery of different unit conversions and warranty information. If they are good at what they do, they will be shouting about it online. Even if they do have these things, it might still be a scam. Does the gallery only show images of one or two units? Chances are, this was a one-off job done for a friend or relative, or even themselves, and the seller has very little experience in converting units to safe, legal standards. Read the reviews and decide whether they sound like they’ve been written by real customers. A legitimate business will have a few neutral or negative reviews as well as good ones.

Research the company history

If the seller is part of a limited company, you’ll be able to look them up on the Companies House website. This will provide the name of the business owner and the date that they began trading. If they have not long been in the business, they could still be a reputable company, but be sure to do extra research. Ask them questions about the work they've done and ask to see proof that they're company is legal.

Assess the whole unit

If you can’t view the unit fully before handing over cash, this is an immediate red flag. However, many dodgy salespeople will use cheaper fittings to make a unit look as similar to a legitimate one as possible. Make sure to thoroughly assess the unit and don’t be pressured into a quick sale. Look at the wiring and electrics – are they safe for UK use? Remember it is not safe to use adapter plugs for a large number of appliances for longer than a few minutes as they can overheat very easily. Does the shape and size of the unit look similar to others of the same type? Every unit will have its own differences, but if it seems out-of-shape or strangely small, it’s unlikely to be real and therefore, safe.

Ask for written evidence

If the seller has told you that the unit is safe for use in the UK over the phone, ask to see the documentation to prove this. Ask for a contract or written warranty information. If they don’t offer a warranty, ask why. The chances are, it’s because nothing in the unit is going to work properly after you purchase it! Along the same lines, if you purchase a unit and pay for it to be converted, be sure to take an invoice for the work done and the money paid, otherwise you cannot prove that the unit is worth more than the original amount you paid for it, no matter how much you have invested into improving it.

Hold fire on booking work

Some traders will begin booking events into their calendar from the moment they purchase their unit, and though it is easy to get carried away thinking you need to get in as much work as you can, this is an almost certain way to lose money. Make sure the unit has passed all checks and is legal for use before paying pitch fees to trade at events with it. If you find out too late that the unit is not fit for purpose, you will not get this money back, or the organiser may not be keen to hire you in future if you need to cancel. You will also find it extremely difficult to get the unit insured without evidence that it is legitimate, or proof of exactly how much you spent on it.

Make the right investment

When it comes to equipment or small appliances, we often say to traders, if you buy cheap, you buy twice. However, when it comes to a unit or trailer, you could be handing over thousands of pounds for a completely useless product. Often in these cases, traders have to give up on their dream of mobile catering as they have lost all their savings to a dodgy seller. We never want to see this happen!

The only safe option is to do your research and spend the extra 25-30% to secure yourself a legitimate, safe, legal unit that will require little work or repair. It may seem like a lot upfront, but if you risk purchasing a cheaper unit, chances are, you’ll be spending that 30%, if not a lot more, in getting it to a useable standard anyway.

You can always get in touch with NCASS for more information about buying the right unit and equipment for your business. Give us a call on 0121 603 2524, Monday – Friday, 9:00 – 17:30.

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