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Buying a second hand car

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 19:31 UK time, Wednesday, 17 June 2009

If you spot a car for sale on the side it may look in pretty good condition and the seller may be keen to reassure you it's had one careful lady owner.

But an increasing number of people selling cars like this are not actually private sellers but traders.

If you purchase the car and think you've bought from a private seller - you'll assume your rights are very limited if things go wrong.

In Blaenau Gwent, Trading Standards officers have been pursuing one scamster whose cars you certainly wouldn't want to buy.

Steve Jones heads the team who ran the investigation which began following a call from someone who had just bought a Ford Ka.

Steve explained: "The main things wrong with the car related to the wheels and tyres, basically the wheels and tyres were too big for the car."

The driver was unable to turn corners because it was rubbing against the wheel arches. Officers advised her to get an MoT and the car was condemned as dangerous.

The buyer had specifically asked the seller if it had been in an accident and he'd said no. The reality was it had been written off in an accident just months previously.

Trading Standards were keen to learn more about the seller - 30-year-old Martin Phillips, from Brynmawr.

They discovered he was regularly selling cars on the roadside and spent months carrying out surveillance - checking to see if his mobile number was appearing on cars for sale.

He was selling through the local classified ads which is where Michael Thorpe, from Newport, spotted a Ford Escort.

Michael said: "I wanted to get a car for work because I'd just had a new job and to take the kids back and for to Barry and Porthcawl or for a day trip somewhere."

Michael rang Martin Phillips who said it was his wife who was keen to sell the car, as she was having a baby. Michael had no reason to suspect this was not a private seller.

Michael's father loaned him the money and he bought the car.

Michael said: "After about two to three weeks things started going wrong with it. I had oil leaking from there, the brakes started leaking, the underneath cover actually came off all together. I took it to a garage... it was just one problem after another after that."

Trading Standards discovered Michael's car had been written off by an insurance company just eight weeks before he bought it - so much for Mr Phillips' claims that his wife had owned it for three years.

Officers were able to build a picture of Mr Phillips' car selling activities. Steve explained: "He was buying cars predominantly certainly from salvage operators, in England, doing them up.

"They had been write offs, he sold them on to local people. Some of those cars were dangerous."

Steve said going on the information from the people they had particularly spoken to, he would estimate around 90% of the cars were write-offs.

Officers learned Mr Phillips had a favourite selling spot at a roundabout in Brynmawr. That is where one woman bought a car whose evidence proved crucial in bringing him to justice.

He sold her a Vauxhall Corsa that was in a dangerous condition with a bent and fractured steering arm. But there was yet another twist to this tale.

Steve explained: "He had two bites of the cherry with this particular car. He sold it originally after buying it as salvage, did it up sold it to a Mr Lewis. Mr Lewis then wrote it off for a second time, so he bought it back off Mr Lewis and then sold it to our consumer."

Martin Phillips also failed to tell her he was a trader. The receipt proved vital evidence of his deception - as Phillips was posing as the car's previous owner.

By the end of the investigation, officers had evidence that Mr Phillips had been posing as a private seller in Brynmawr since May 2006, but believe it could have been going on a lot longer. They discovered he had been buying salvage vehicles since as far back as 2001.

Nine charges were brought against Mr Phillips for selling unsafe cars, posing as a private seller, falsely describing a car and writing "sold as seen" on receipts.

At Abertillery Magistrates' Court he pleaded guilty to all nine charges. He was later sentenced to nine weeks in prison and £1,000 for the two most serious charges.

Steve said: "It certainly put occupants at risk, at the very least, and we are not just talking about occupants, we are talking about other road users, maybe pedestrians, they were dangerous vehicles."

Blaenau Gwent Trading Standards are now determined to track down other success.

Steve said: "On the strength of this case, we were putting resources in but we're upping the ante and putting a priority to concentrate these case determine. Already uncovered another four people who are under investigation."

We asked Martin Phillips for a response. He wrote to us and said he didn't want to take part in the programme, but he denies any wrongdoing.

Top tips

We asked our driving expert Mark James about what to bear in mind if you're tempted to buy a car at the roadside.

  • DON'T buy it from the road side. Do your homework, call the person back and arrange to see the car at the seller's house. Make sure the address is the same as the V5 log book.
  • MAKE sure you see all the paperwork.
  • MAKE sure you talk to the person and get a feel for why they are selling the car and something of the history.
  • ORGANISE a HPI check to ensure the car doesn't have any outstanding finance and that it hasn't been declared a write-off.
  • DO your homework and see how much the car is actually worth so you don't paying too much or too little.

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