Every year, about 40 million used cars are sold in the United States.
Unfortunately, a considerable number of used car buyers fall victim to car buying scams, sometimes losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. Indeed, used car frauds are so prevalent in America that you hardly need any warning to be careful when looking to buy a pre-owned vehicle.
Most inexperienced car buyers know little beyond kicking the tires and looking at the body. Few can identify an auto scam before it happens.
Scams involving pre-owned cars are different from new-car frauds in that they usually involve concealing vital facts regarding the car, such as major repairs and title history. Car sales scams, on the other hand, tend to involve manipulating and confusing the buyer.
So how do you avoid a scam before it’s too late? Well, you need to apply your common sense and pay attention to your instincts. More than that, you should get informed about the common methods unscrupulous sellers use to scam unsuspecting used car buyers.
In this article, we tell you about six of the top scams to beware of while shopping for a used vehicle. Read on to find out more.
1. Odometer Fraud/ Clocking
Besides make and model, the mileage of a used car has the greatest effect on its value. Naturally, car sellers want to make a decent profit from the sale, so the temptation to alter the mileage reading on the car’s odometer can be tempting. In fact, odometer fraud is among the best known used car scams around the world.
But how does clocking happen?
Initially, when cars had mechanical odometers, clocking involved raising a car’s back wheels off the ground and putting the gear in reverse, then rolling back the miles. The shift to digital odometers was seen as a solution to this scam.
Unfortunately, the advanced technology available today makes doctoring odometer readings on digital odometers even easier. With the right software, you can change the reading on the dash in seconds.
So how do you spot odometer fraud?
The first way is to use your eyes and best judgment. How much wear and tear is the car displaying on the seats, the steering wheel, and the brake pedal? Next, keenly go through the vehicle’s service history, title transfer, and Carfax report.
2. Car Buying Scams Involving Title Washing
Sometimes, a fraudulent car dealer may try to sell a car with a salvage title without disclosing that such a vehicle was once totaled. Salvaged cars were once destroyed by things like floods, fires, or collisions. To alert any potential buyers of these vehicles after their restoration that the cars have been destroyed, these vehicles are given salvage titles.
Scammers can go to great lengths to conceal the actual history of a salvaged vehicle, including registering it in another state. They know that DMV clerks in that state may not easily recognize the title marking and that they are likely to push a salvage title like a regular one.
No matter how well-restored a salvaged car is, it will never be as good as it was before the accident. It may run well for a while, but its components will most likely wear out rapidly or fail without warning.
Protect yourself by researching the history of the vehicle and the history of title transfers. Use its VIN to check the vehicle’s Carfax report. If something in the story looks suspicious, it most likely is.
3. Cloning and Ringing
Cloning is another common scam where someone sells you a stolen car bearing the identity of a similar, legitimate vehicle. In most cases, cloned cars don’t have all the essential registration documents. If they do, these documents are most likely forged.
Ringing involves stealing a car and giving it a new identity before attempting to sell it. The difference between cloned cars and ringed cars is that ringed cars assume the identities of cars that have already been written off. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with selling a written-off vehicle, but selling a stolen written-off car is downright illegal.
The moment you suspect that the car you’re about to buy might be cloned or ringed, contact the DVLA right away to verify whether the paperwork is authentic. Compare the chassis number of the vehicle with the one on the V5C to see whether they match.
Once you notice that the chassis plate has been tampered with, walk away fast. If you go ahead and buy the car, you’ll lose both the car and your money when the authorities catch you.
4. Cut and Shut
There’s hardly a used car buying scam more notorious and more dangerous that cut and shut. This scam involves selling a vehicle that’s in a severely unsafe condition to an unsuspecting buyer. The scammer buys two cars, cuts each of them in half, and welds the two halves together.
Such a vehicle has little structural integrity. In the event of a crash, the car would literally fall apart.
To identify a cut-and-shut vehicle, carefully inspect the door shuts, underneath the car’s seats, around the top of the vehicle’s windscreen, and across the underside for any visible signs of welding.
5. Fake Escrow Account
There’s no doubt that escrow accounts have played a huge role in helping buyers and sellers transact safely online. Your cash remains in the account of a third party until you’ve completed the transaction, affording both you and the seller a considerable amount of security.
Cases of deceitful car sellers using fake escrow accounts to defraud clients are not new. Once you’ve deposited money in the account, the vendor withdraws it and disappears. To avoid this scam, verify whether the escrow service you’re using for the transaction is appropriately registered with Companies House as well as Trading Standards.
6. Deposit Fraud
This type of scam involves the car vendor putting you under pressure to put down a large deposit so you can secure the car. The scammer then disappears with both the vehicle and your money.
A good way to avoid this is to give a small deposit and get a receipt. Even if the seller still does rip you, at least you get to limit your losses.
Spot Used Car Buying Scams from a Mile Away
With experts predicting that the market for used cars will continue to grow, aspiring car buyers can look forward to a greater variety of options to choose from.
But with all the reports of used car buying scams around, making the decision to purchase a pre-owned car can often seem scary. If you take the time to learn what trapdoors and pitfalls to anticipate, however, you can safely navigate through the process and end up with the right car for your needs.
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