4 common, awful used car scams and how to avoid them
Buying a used car is not an entirely safe exercise; we highlight some of the scams to watch out for and save you heartache and money.
Hundreds of thousands of vehicles are on sale across the UK from used car lots, private vendors and auctions among others. However, not all of them have a clean record – in fact, one in three used cars has something to hide, according to HPI Check.
In the first part of this series, we looked at some of the scams and pitfalls to watch out for including deals that are too good to be true and vehicles with unpaid debt. In this part, we look at some other scams to be aware of.
By appointment only
You should be particularly wary when you see the phrase “by appointment only” on any advert for a used car. This can often be spotted on private sellers’ advertisements.
It may just be there to give the seller time to make themselves available so you can view the car. But on the flipside, it could also be a sign of a scam. Why does the seller want you to view the car “by appointment only”? It may be that he or she does not have a car to sell and wants time to make available a vehicle matching the one being advertised.
Having seen it and even test-driven it, you may just like it enough to want to buy it as soon as possible, only to end up losing your money – so be particularly vigilant when dealing with private sellers.
‘Legitimately’ clocked cars
Car clocking is “a practically untraceable and perfectly legal, activity”, according to HPI Check. The activity involves unscrupulous sellers essentially turning the clocks back on the mileage readings of their cars to mislead buyers into thinking they are much younger and have covered much less distance.
“Winding back just 1,000 miles on a car can add an estimated £100-£400 to its value, so a seller would only need to take 2,000 miles off a £2,000 car to almost double its value – offering a profit many unscrupulous sellers can’t resist,” explains Kristian Welch, consumer director of HPI.
Six out of every 100 vehicles checked by the company show a mileage discrepancy and with dodgy sellers increasingly coming up with new ways of clocking in recent years, it’s going to be harder to identify such vehicles.
Although altering a vehicle’s mileage is not illegal, the seller has to declare to any potential buyers that the mileage has been changed. There have been increasing calls for mileage correction companies to be regulated or even banned as a recent Office of Fair Trading report found there are very few legitimate reasons to alter a vehicle’s mileage.
Insurers routinely write-off cars that have been involved in an accident because the damage caused is substantial enough in relation to the value of the vehicle. This means the insurer finds it cheaper to declare it a total loss, rather than repair it.
But some of these cars find their way back onto used car lots. While some of these cars can be legitimately repaired and returned to the road, others should never be allowed back, but this is not an issue for dodgy sellers.
Nicola Johnson of HPI explains: “A vehicle that has been declared a write-off by an insurer is not straightforward – category C and D damage can be repaired safely and represent a possible bargain, but those in categories A or B should never reappear on the road.
“However, it can be tempting for the criminal to gloss over the damage and try and sell on these potential death traps which have been disguised as a dream buy.”
Buying a stolen used car is very easy, especially if you do so without carrying out any history checks. HPI says it uncovers more than 19 stolen vehicles every day through its checks which use information from the Police National Computer.
Criminals use tricks such as ‘cloning’, which involves disguising the identity of a stolen car using the identity of another legitimate vehicle, making it easy for unsuspecting buyers to be deceived.
Buying a stolen vehicle can be costly – once the car is discovered, it will be impounded and you will lose your money whether you knew about its history or not. So it’s important to ensure you are fully aware of a car’s background before buying it.
An HPI check will reveal whether the car is stolen, written-off, has a discrepant mileage reading or has outstanding finance
- When buying from a private vendor, meet the seller at their home rather than a pub car park or lay-by
- Be wary of a vehicle that appears considerably cheaper than the going rate for similar cars of the same age
- Ask for the V5C registration document of the car to make sure the seller is the registered owner
By Robert Adungo