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Shiny new wheel trims won’t prevent a GP pile-up

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Let’s hypothesise that you find yourself the owner of a car. Its name is the Grand Prix, but it’s affectionately known as GP. It’s been around for years but hasn’t been well cared for. The previous owners didn’t spend much money on keeping the GP running, relying on the dependable engine that has kept going regardless of neglect.

It is rusting round the edges, but still working, and you love it. It’s the only car you’ve got, and the only one you ever want. You finally find a dealer that specialises in the GP. It’s the New Handy Showroom Empire; I’ll call it NHSE to keep the wordcount down.

Now, the NHSE people are happy to see you. They love your car. It’s one of a kind, a super-efficient model that they know just runs and runs. The posters in the showroom promise they understand your needs, and that you can trust them with your GP.

You approach the smiley, sharp-suited salesman. ‘I’d like an engine service please. The bodywork is rusted through. Oil and fuel is low, and the headlights are on the blink.’

Why are they happy to give you the wheels, when what you need is the engine and bodywork fixing?

He looks at you, smile unwavering.

‘I understand entirely madam, we want to give you all those things, of course we do. And we recognise you need them for your car to keep running. It’s very important and we value your car… how about some new alloy wheels?’

‘Well, that would be great as well.’

‘Ah no, madam, you misunderstand. You see we can’t give you the other things, but we do have plenty of these shiny new alloy wheels. Look how new and shiny they are.’

You are start to frown, confused. Why are they happy to give you the wheels, when what you need is the engine and bodywork fixing?

Smile still in place, the salesman tries to explain.

‘Head office won’t let us provide the other parts I’m afraid. It doesn’t go down well with the board you see. But we do have plenty of shiny alloy wheels. Head office likes them but anything else, well, it’s frowned on.

‘We know these GPs – they’re very reliable, if a bit tatty. They’ll just keep running and running. You’d be amazed at the difference the alloys will make. The GP will look like new and people will barely notice it’s falling apart. Then we can take a nice photo and tell everyone how good the wheels are.’

You’re faced with a choice. Do you take the only thing on offer, because it might make a small difference and there’s nothing else on the table? Or do you decide that nothing is better than something you don’t want and won’t keep your trusty GP running.

The salesman notices your dilemma, and sighs. ‘The only other option is an air freshener I’m afraid.’

‘So my choice is between two things that won’t make any difference to my GP because you’re telling me the board won’t let you give me the things I actually need to fix it. Do I have that right?’

You stare at the alloys, wondering what the reaction will be when you get home. Another customer shakes his head sadly. He tells you you have to take what’s offered, otherwise you get nothing. The alloys are the best of a bad choice, and even if you get grief for it, something is better than nothing, right?

Dr Zoe Norris is a GP in Hull