In the market for a new car or expensive renovation? 6 tips on becoming a smarter shopper

Finland’s Consumer Authority reports hearing the same complaints year after year, but many are easily avoided.

Deals involving used cars are one of the most complained about to the Consumer Authority. Image: Mårten Lampén / Yle

Finland’s Competition and Consumer Authority (KKV) receives approximately 65,000 customer complaints every year, with the largest number related to motor vehicles, renovations, and home sales and rental housing.

Martti Suhonen has worked for over 40 years in the consumer affairs industry, and says that at least some of the most common problems can be avoided by following a few simple tips.

1. Budget for repairs when you buy a used car

You should always assume that a used car, for example one with over 200,000 kilometres on the clock, will require some repairs.

It is also worth remembering that a car's normal wear and tear is not against consumer law, nor is it an acceptable reason for breaking the deal.

“It is not advisable to spend your last euros to meet the car’s purchase price, as there may also be repair costs associated with car maintenance that remain with the buyer,” Suhonen says.

2. Carefully consider what suits you

Consumers should always carefully consider what they are buying and at what price - even if the seller comes to the door.

"For older people in particular, expensive pipe renovation or painting jobs may be marketed to them in their own homes. The buying decision may be rushed, ostensibly on the grounds that prices will rise in the near future, for example. However, the consumer always has the right to take time to consider the decision, even if the sales transaction takes place in their own home,” Suhonen advises.

3. Don't pay in advance

If you are buying a used car online, you should never pay in advance, because there is always a risk involved.

Furthermore, when shopping online, you should avoid using a debit card, instead use a credit card if possible. In a situation where the goods do not come or they are incorrect, credit card companies are responsible for ensuring that the consumer gets their money back.

Banks rarely compensate for losses caused by distance selling, such as telephone or online sales.

"Paying in advance is always a risk. The consumer is in a weak position, for example, in the event of bankruptcy if he or she does not pay by credit card. When dealing with more unfamiliar companies in particular, it is advisable to search the web for the experiences of others, whether the goods have been delivered as agreed and as described. It is not advisable to pay for expensive goods with a bank card in advance," says Suhonen.

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The Consumer Authority advise paying for products in advance with a credit card. Image: AOP

4. Write it down in black and white

Consumers should always record key contract matters on paper. In the case of a home renovation for example, there should at the very least be a price quoted for labour and supplies, as well as the completion time of the work.

"Failure to complete the job on time should have a contractual penalty, which can be, for example, 500 euros per week from the date the repairs were due to be completed. If the customer does not initially get a price, but a price estimate, it is also worthwhile to record it in a document signed by both,” Suhonen suggests.

5. Be critical

If an online offer sounds too good to be true, then it usually is. Such scam offers often come directly to people's email inboxes.

"The offer may be, for example, a smartphone for a euro. These are very rarely genuine," Suhonen cautions.

6. Find out about the return policy

Not all goods or services have an automatic right of return, even if the purchased product is lost. The right of return applies to home and distance selling, but when you buy from a store, there is no statutory return time.

“When you shop, there is no shipment time unless the store specifically gives it. Some companies do provide one, however.”

How to proceed with a consumer complaint

If you suspect you have been cheated or are dissatisfied with the deal, your first step should be to make a direct complaint to the other party. If the complaint is unsuccessful, you may want to contact a consumer advisor for further guidance.

Consumer Authorities generally aim to secure a settlement between parties to a complaint. As a result, fewer than 10 percent of all cases filed with the Consumer Disputes Board advance for consideration.