May 28, 2009

The Times has been warning its readers about the hidden perils of buying a second hand car. “Cloned cars and forged documentation are all too common in the second-hand car market,” the paper claims.

Stolen cars are top of the list. The Home Office figures suggest that 170,000 cars were stolen last year. Anyone who has unwittingly forked out for one of these can end up badly out of pocket if police find the vehicle and return it to the previous owner or their insurance company.

Cloned cars create problems for the owners of the original vehicles with the same plates and vehicle identification number (VIN), in the form of unexpected parking fines and speeding tickets. But having either a stolen or a cloned car creates problems for new owners when making an insurance claim.

While third-party costs may be covered, insurers are unlikely to pay for damage to a vehicle that is not legally the policyholder’s property.

Potential nasty shocks for second-hand car owners making a claim include discovering that outstanding finance owed by the previous owner means the vehicle is technically the property of the finance company.

“If a vehicle has a number plate starting with Q,” claims the Times’ article, this means “the identity of the vehicle is unknown or it has been built using several used parts,” and “it will be very difficult to obtain car insurance.”

Owners are also warned to check whether their car has been written off previously by an insurance company. If a vehicle has been declared a total loss, or a category A or B write-off, it may have sustained serious structural damage in the past and potentially be unsafe. The AA’s Ian Crowder suggests purchasers pay for a mechanical inspection.

If buying privately, the paper suggests cannily, say you are calling about  the car’ and be wary if the seller asks which one; make sure you view the car at the seller’s home, not a public place; and check the seller’s phone number does not appear in several advertisements.


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