How to Avoid Stolen Cars When Buying a Used Vehicle
Compiled with the help of police, car buying professionals, and even ex-car criminals, GAUK Motors used car buyer’s guide is probably the most comprehensive guide to buying a secondhand motor ever written…
Motoring Used Car Guide: V.U.it-check-list
A massive and growing problem faced today is that of car theft and scams especially with the relatively faceless proliferation of the use of site like eBay etc. I have personally sold only two cars in the last couple of years and both times I was subjected to potential scams and on another occasion I was inquired about a car that appeared on the surface to be an incredible deal.
All three experiences rang immediate WARNING BELLS
I had one guy who wanted to buy my car but leave it registered in MY NAME! whilst he drove it around France. Another wanted me to drive the car to the docks where he’d hand over the cash and another simply ridiculous story. These scams were fairly easy to spot BUT criminals come in a variety of guises, from the downright stupid (as in my examples) to the very sophisticated.
Anything, and I mean anything, that just doesn’t stack up needs to ping your caution button. Even something as subtle as your gut feeling about the person selling the car. Criminals who sell stolen cars are inherently bad people and even if everything about the car seems kosha, there may just be something you don’t trust about the seller.
The odds of buying a stolen car are stacked very high … against you!
AUTOINFOZONE have worked closely with the Police Force and interviewed criminals to learn what the car thieves are up to. In the course of our Information Service we will pass on to you, the car buyer, that very valuable knowledge. We feel that if you know how they work you know what to look out for.
TO BE FOREWARNED IS TO BE FOREARMED.
We all know how easy it is to steal a car these days and the chances are that at some stage you will lose yours. The criminal is only one step behind the car manufacturer; it never takes long before a thief has learned to bypass a manufacturers super new security system. Once they have learnt they’ll have that car away in seconds.
Thieves steal cars for many reasons. One of them is to sell it on to you.
Once handed over you’ll never see your money again. Even if the thief is caught you’ll be very lucky if he gives you your money back. The worst thing about the whole sad scenario is that the car is returned to its rightful owner so not only do you lose your money you haven’t got a car either.
A very determined criminal will go to great lengths not to get caught but thankfully most criminals are only out to make a quick buck – desperate people do desperate things!
To disguise a stolen car and pass it off as a genuine vehicle takes a lot of preparation, determination and costs money so you’ll find the average criminal will only disguise as much as he thinks he can get away with.
When buying a used motor what can we look for and how can we best protect ourselves – how can we be forearmed?
Before you even start to look at the car be aware of the person from whom you wish to make a purchase.
Always make sure you go to their home or place of business. NEVER, I repeat NEVER buy a car off a car park from a stranger, no matter how genuine they might seem.
If they won’t meet you at their home or give you their home number ask yourself why?
This is where you phone questioning comes into its own. Ask the owner about insurance, what group is the vehicle etc. If they seem vague then maybe they’ve never insured the car, maybe they’ve not had it as long as they say they have!
Maybe it’s not theirs to sell at all!
The first thing to do when you get to look at the car is take in its general condition for the year.
You already know what to look for when assessing the car’s mileage. Often a stolen car will have had its mileage altered as part of the disguise. If you can spot that the reading has been altered then you may not only be walking away from a ‘clocked’ car but a stolen one too.
If the condition is satisfactory take a closer look at the documents. Do they look genuine? MOT’s and Log Books carry watermarks, hold them up discreetly and see if it’s there.
Now, very importantly, we check the vehicle’s identification numbers. You checked them when you had your head under the bonnet (hood)!!
- Do they all match up on the paperwork? Is it the same number on the MOT as the registration and service books?
- Is the car the same colour as described?
A silly point you may think but it could save you thousands of pounds.
- Check that the service intervals tally with the MOT mileage also that the mileage between MOT’s is consistent with normal usage. Average mileage covered in a year is between 10 – 12 000 miles.
- Make sure the service book has no missing pages and bent centre staples. They are often forged so look closely.
- Look through the history. Check addresses on invoices to see if they tally with where the car has supposedly come from.
All cars have two places where the Vehicle Identification Number or VIN can be found.
The first place is on the small aluminum plate normally to be found in the engine bay. Sometimes this plate is in a different position, if in doubt a main dealer will tell you where it is.
Do not confuse the VIN plate with the other small aluminum plate that can be found, this is usually the paint code and bears no resemblance to a VIN.
Make sure the number matches the paperwork. Check the plate itself, two rivets hold it down.
If they are brand new or a lot newer than the plate, be on your guard but don’t walk away yet, you need to keep looking. Sometimes the plates are removed for paintwork if the car has been in an accident. Sometimes they have been swapped from another car. Spotting accident damage has been covered in full, in previous sections.
- Now check the VIN, which has been stamped into the car chassis. This stamp can be found on different places on different cars, again if you have trouble the main dealer will always help out.
Be alert and satisfy yourself that it hasn’t been tampered with. New numbers can be welded into stolen cars so be on the lookout for weld seams around this stamped number (sometimes up to several inches away). If, as in Fords the number is stamped in the floor, lift the carpet to get a good look at the area surrounding it.
The other important number to check is the engine number, this can often be difficult to find or in an obscure position but if you can find it check it.
- Take a quick look at the tax disc (UK) on your way round the car; making sure everything is in order.
The points we have gone through so far are the most obvious clues a criminal will disguise. As I said before the more a criminal disguises a stolen motorcar the more it costs in time, effort and money so they will draw the line somewhere. It’s the smaller clues that can often give away the big picture.
- Look at the security etchings on the windows; these are often carried over onto the lights and sunroof. Make sure they all match and are correct.
- Look at the locks. If they look like they’ve been replaced why is that?
- Look at the cowling around the steering column. Is it newer than the rest of the dashboard?
- Is the steering wheel original?
- Are the number plates brand new, if so why?
They could have been replaced because the old ones were cracked but take note, it is very rare for both number plates to be replaced at the same time. See if the plates still carry the dealer’s name.
- Make sure the car has the right specification for that model. For example a VW GTi has all the associated GTi extras.
- Make sure the motor is the right model for its registration prefix for example a Mark 1 Escort will not carry a G registration letter.
- Do the alarms work?
- Is the alarm remote missing?
- Turn on the stereo to see if it works. If it is one of the new coded types is it asking for the code to be programmed in? The owner should know the code if they have had it some time, if they don’t see what excuse they give and satisfy yourself that it’s a good one.
All the clues given are points to look out for. Each negative point on its own does not mean you are looking at a stolen car but if too many pieces of the jigsaw do not fall into place be on your guard.
Remember vehicle check organisations can only give you the information they have been given. They do not have the luxury of having the vehicle there in front of them.
Go through the checks you have learned and although the whole thing might seem a little daunting it really is very easy to spot the giveaways. You can always practice on your own car before you go out into the market place.
CUT AND SHUT
One last thing to look out for is the ‘cut and shut’. An extremely nasty and highly dangerous practise of gelding two halves of different cars together. Dangerous for the driver that is!
Recent crash tests on cut and shut vehicles produced some very frightening results – from ineffective crumple zones to the whole car tearing apart into its respective halves.
So how do you spot them if they are not on the write off register?
Firstly don’t think this is something that will only be done to expensive cars – if there’s a profit in it the criminal will take it.
The bodywork checks will reveal the first telltale signs – the car will have had a total respray.
Then you need to hunt for the weld seam – it will run right through the floor pan and pillars. Lift all the floor carpets and rear bench seat for starters. If there is no seam then get it up on the ramp.
- Go over the underbody and concentrate on the central section. Look out for fresh underseal. Don’t be put off if it’s old and look for the telltale ridge. If there’s a weld seam that runs from one side of the car to the other I’ll guarantee it’s not been put there by the manufacturers.
When buying a car privately you have virtually no rights within the law. LET THE BUYER BEWARE. Go through your checks and if everything is OK you have greatly swayed the odds in your favour of buying a good clean car.
The best advice I could give would be to treat every car as stolen, ringed, clocked and chopped – until proven wrong.
And if all that’s not enough you can always get a professional opinion.
Bring along a trained mechanic with you to the viewing. In many cases, they will have a very good idea of what a car is worth and will be able to assess it fairly quickly. They will also be able from their experience and knowledge to identify any major defects or faults quickly.
Many mechanics or trainee mechanics will provide this service to you on a part-time basis for a relatively nominal fee. This is money well worth spending and an outlay of £25-£35 can save you extreme grief later on, and indeed help you buy a better car than you might otherwise have done.