Buyers' advice, industry, Motoring News, Vehicle sales

Buying a car? Watch out – and act on – these danger signs

BUYING a used vehicle is a dodgy business. ”Scammers” abound and have no conscience about taking you money for a stolen, fraudulent or damaged set of wheels. So, take five to read this sensible advice – even though it is from the UK.

HPI CHECK is a company that identifies that there is a one-in-three chance of encountering some kind of hidden problem.

Barry Shorto, head of industry relations at HPI, commented: “Buying a used car can be stressful enough without having to worry about whether or not the seller is trying to rip you off.

”There’s a wide variety of potential pitfalls: the car might have been stolen or carry a previous owner’s finance debt or it may have been ‘clocked’ (see below)at some time. Despite many ways for a buyer to be caught out there are also many ways to ensure they you’re prepared and protected.”


HPI has assembled a list of scams and problems to watch for – at least in the US – when hoping to buy a good used vehicle…

Clocking – One of the simplest and most common, especially if the car being sold has a digital odometer (a car’s lifetime distance covered). If digital, it may have been altered by simply hooking up a laptop with the right software, pressing a few buttons, and changing the kilometerage to a significantly lower figure.

Always go through the car’s service history and check the kilometgres for each year – see that it goes up steadily and that it doesn’t suddenly drop. Finally, make sure that when collecting the car it shows the same reading as when it was first viewed.

It’s not unknown for the kilometres to be reduced for a viewing, then to go back up once the car is being collected.


Cloning – This is when a stolen car is given the identity of an identical, but legitimate, car. It probably won’t come with a vehicle registration document but, if it does, make sure it’s not a forgery. If you’re suspicious contact the licensing department to check authenticity.

Ringing – Ringed cars are like cloned cars: stolen and with a new identity. The difference is that the stolen car assumes the identity of a written-off car. This in itself should arouse suspicions but selling a written-off car isn’t illegal; selling one that’s been stolen clearly is.

To avoid a ringer, make sure the car’s chassis number matches that on the registgration document, look for evidence of the chassis plate having been tampered with, and ensure you’re viewing the car at the address on registration certificate.


Buy a ringed car and, eventually, you’ll lose it, along with your money, if the police catch up with you.

Cut and shut – Perhaps the most dangerous scam: it’s the only one where the car is definitely sold in a dangerously unsafe condition. It works by buying two cars, cutting them both in half, then welding the halves together. Such cars have no structural integrity and even a small collision could cause the vehicle to fall apart.

Avoid buying a cut-and-shut by looking closely at door alignments, around the top of the windscreen, underneath the seats, and across the underside of the car for signs of welding.

The rental-car scam – This hinges on hiring a car then selling it: obviously illegal, but people do it anyway. The key is to make all of the usual basic checks, including analysing the car’s registration document. If that’s not to hand, walk away.

Fake escrow accounts – These accounts allow buyers to deposit cash with a third party until a transaction has been completed – it gives sides a level of security. The buyer deposits money into the account and the car vendor will then disappear – with your money.

Even though it looks professional, the escrow service is fake. The key is to see if the escrow service is a registered company.


Deposit fraud – Some vendors put buyers under pressure to leave an unnecessarily large deposit to secure a car for later delivery. However, a small deposit will show that you’re equally serious, but always get a receipt. There is still a danger of being ripped off but this is a good way to avoid a major loss.

Shorto added: “It’s easy to be taken in by some scams, but it’s also easy to protect yourself by doing taking a few simple precautions such as those above.”

These four simple steps will also help you to avoid being scammed…

  • Always pay with a bank draft, not cash. Criminals don’t like bank drafts as they’re traceable – cash isn’t.
  • View the car at the address on its registration document and check that the car matches in details.
  • Don’t rely on a cellphone number to communicate with the seller. Get a landline number – though it’s still easy for a scammer to disappear once they’ve given you one of these.
  • Ultimately, if you have any doubts about the vehicle or the seller whatsoever, walk away.
  • For more information go to the HPI website.

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