Steer Clear of Automobile Fraud
When a used car deal seems almost too good to be true, it probably is. Since this is a major investment, it’s important to do your research to verify the car is safe and the dealer is trustworthy.
If you’re considering buying a used car, be aware of these types of automobile fraud:
- Air bag fraud: Will your air bag protect you in a crash? Dishonest auto shops bypass the high cost of repairing deployed air bags by installing salvaged or stolen air bags, or by filling the airbag compartment with trash. Determining whether a car has a dummy air bag system is nearly impossible—and unsafe—on your own. Only a certified mechanic using computer diagnostics can ensure your air bag system is installed and in working order.
- VIN cloning: ID theft for vehicles. According to the National Crime Bureau, 773,139 vehicles were stolen in 2018. A thief masks a car’s identity by replacing its vehicle identification number (VIN) with that of a similar vehicle. Buyers become victims by purchasing the stolen vehicles. When the police catch up to them, the cars are impounded, leaving perplexed victims with loan payments and no car.
- Not disclosing damage from accident or flood: In most states, used car dealers must disclose whether a car has been damage, but private sellers aren’t required and may not even be aware of damage done by prior owners. Due to the many flooding disasters in the U.S. in the recent past, millions of cars have been damaged. Used cars are transported from all over the country, so even if you don’t live in an area hit by flooding, your local used car lot may be selling cars from flood zones.
- Odometer rollback fraud: The lower the mileage of a vehicle, the more it’s worth—and for unscrupulous sellers, it’s tempting to tamper with the odometer. Rollback fraud hurts victims because they end up paying more for vehicles than they’re worth, and they may have to pay for costly repairs to keep the car running.
An informed buyer is an empowered buyer. To protect yourself when shopping for a used vehicle, consider these tips:
- Take the vehicle to a reputable mechanic for a thorough inspection, including a check of the air bag system.
- Don’t purchase a vehicle without a vehicle history report. Most major dealerships will provide one for free on the detail page of the vehicle you’re interested in. If you’re buying from a private dealer, you can purchase a report yourself from CARFAX or AutoCheck using the vehicle’s VIN.
- Obtain a title report from your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to find out the car’s ownership pattern.
Taking the time to conduct a thorough investigation could mean the difference between a smart purchase and one that could cost you unnecessary frustration or even your life.