Buying a used car can be daunting, and if a recent investigation by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is anything to go by, you've a right to be wary. Last year, there were 72,000 official complaints to Consumer Direct about issues with second hand cars.
One problem often complained about is clocked cars. A car is "clocked" if someone interferes with the odometer (the mileage reading). It's not illegal to do that, but if you sell the car, and don't tell the new owner that the mileage is inaccurate, it's a serious offence. Cars are often clocked to increase their value and the OFT estimates that car clocking costs consumers £580 million a year.
A clocked Ford Mondeo
Kevin Mellor bought a Ford Mondeo from a used car trader for £2995, after responding to an advert on the Auto Trader web site. Kevin met the trader in a residential street in Peterborough, and was led to believe this is where he trader lived. The car had 77,000 miles on the clock and a service history to match. Kevin bought the car, and only realised something was wrong when he drove home with his new purchase. The car broke down!
Kevin couldn't get any response from the trader. He became suspicious and began investigating the car's history using the VOSA (Vehicle and Operator Services Agency) website. VOSA now makes an electronic record of every MOT test, and if you have certain documents, you're able to check a car's MOT history. You can try it yourself by going to www.motinfo.gov.uk and selecting MOT history check.
You'll need the vehicle registration mark along with an MOT test number from one of the following:
• VT20 test certificate
• VT30 refusal certificate or the document reference number from
• V5C registration certificate
When Kevin put in the details of the car he'd just purchased, he discovered that its mileage wasn't 72,000, as advertised, it was actually 191,508 miles. It turned out the service history he'd been given was fake too. Exasperated, Kevin said, "you've gone from a car that useful, to a car that's basically worth little more than scrap really."
It also turned out that the address the trader had used was fake. Kevin got in touch with Rogue Traders.
Rogue Traders Investigates
Rogue Traders developed an ambitious plan and decided to try and sell the trader a used car which had high mileage. If he then advertised it with lower mileage, we'd buy it back, and then we'd have our proof.
Kevin Mellor bought his car from a man calling himself 'Ashley Singh', so we phoned "Ashley" offering him a VW Passat which had done 128,000 miles. Ashley took the bait and arranged to view it.
'Ashley' came to meet us with his brother in the same street he'd used to sell Kevin Mellor his clocked Mondeo, and yet again he was making out he lived here. After taking the car for a test drive, 'Ashley' agreed to buy it for £2300 and drove it away the same day. Little did he know we were tracking the car's every move.
The car was fitted with a GPS tracker and a Rogue Traders surveillance team was in hot pursuit. It transpired that the pair lived in a completely different part of Peterborough, and the name 'Ashley' was as fake as his cars. The pair are actually brothers Bilal and Abbas Ahmed, and they were clearly selling a lot of cars. Outside their house were a collection of used motors that they'd been advertising on Auto Trader, and various checks revealed they were all clocked too.
Selling clocked cars can be lucrative. As an example, Bilal and Abbas were selling a Honda for nearly £6000. They claimed it had done 77,000 miles but it had actually done 192,000 miles. Because of this, it was only worth £4300. But for a car clocker, the risks are high. The crime is viewed so seriously, offenders are often sentenced to jail.
As for the Passat we'd sold them, Bilal and Abbas drove it around for a week, travelling all over the midlands, sometimes at speeds nearing 100 mph, but had they had it clocked? We decided to try and buy it back.
We called up as a new client and asked if they had a VW Passat for sale and before we knew it they were offering us our car. We were told that it had 47,000 miles and they wanted £6200, a £3900 mark up! A test drive of the car confirmed it was definitely our car, and it had been clocked. We confronted Abbas Ahmed. Despite a one mile chase on foot across a Peterborough housing estate, Abbas Ahmed had nothing to say, but sent us an email a week later saying he was actually working for someone else.
Abbas Ahmed Statement
"You said that I was selling clocked cars and gaining a profit on them. I have been selling these cars for someone else. All vehicles, including the VW Passat belonged to them.
"They offered me a job last year of selling cars for them and I would get £100 for each car I sold. I took their offer up as I didn't have much money and needed work.
I had no idea that the cars were clocked and that the service history was fake. I just sold them.
"The name 'Ashley Singh' was the name they told me to use, and I didn't use my home address because they told me not to sell from home."
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Statement
"Industry invests heavily in car security but there is always the risk that unlawful operations may tamper with vehicles for their own gain.
"To minimise the impact of clocking, vehicle manufacturers continuously enhance the levels of security protection on electronic systems and maintain a close relationship with government bodies to ensure that vehicle mileages are recorded on a central database as part of the annual MOT test.
"Motorist vigilance is essential in the fight against clocking. Consumers are advised to always purchase a second hand car from an authorised retailer and to:
• Ensure that a vehicle history check has been completed. Additionally, many vehicle manufacturers now digitally record the mileage of cars as part of the regular service and repair process - so enabling subsequent purchasers to check the vehicle's history.
• Examine the vehicle for signs of heavy wear and tear not commensurate with the stated mileage (e.g. wear to carpets and interior trim).
• Check the service history of the vehicle against stated mileage.
• Carry out an MOT history check:"
Auto Trader Statement
"Unfortunately there is a small group of people who use sites like ours for fraudulent purposes. To minimise their effect on the millions of legal visitors we have every month, we offer detailed advice to all visitors on how to conduct comprehensive security and vehicle checks, to help safeguard them from this kind of experience. We regret that Mr Mellor has had a bad experience and strongly advise other customers to make sure that they are conducting all of the recommended checks to protect themselves from this kind of fraudulent advertiser."
Please note: The VW Passat that we featured in this report has been returned to its correct mileage.
Download Watchdog's Buying Used Cars factsheet.