Car Buyers Beware: Pre-Owned Cars Still Prone to Deception Despite Stricter Regulations

While oversight of used cars has tightened with technical inspections and information sharing from auto shops and insurers, scammers continue to roll back odometers and disguise severe accidents. These fraudulent practices are not disclosed when closing the sales contract.

For example, with every fifth used car, the buyer is unaware of its actual age and unwittingly purchases a vehicle older than the advertised age, according to an analysis of 10,500 car advertisements conducted by Cebia. According to carVertical, a company that collects data on cars worldwide, over 15% of verified used cars have tampered odometers.

Cebia claims that odometer tampering affects up to 35% of used cars on the domestic market, with an average rollback of 95,000 km.

“The average mileage shown on the odometer of used cars sold last year decreased from 156,000 km to 148,000 km year on year. Given the practically unchanged average age of used cars offered at 9.5 years, the reduction in mileage indicates a higher rate of odometer tampering,” the company explained in its report.

Právo, a Czech news outlet, identified several misleading and false advertisements that misrepresent the used cars as younger than they are. Additionally, some ads fail to disclose that the vehicle has been welded, stretched, and repainted after a severe accident.

For example, a Honda Accord imported from Germany was listed on a popular website for used cars in February. The importer claimed that the vehicle was put into operation in May 2008, but it was manufactured in November 2005.

The most significant difference in dates discovered by Cebia was six years. However, the year of manufacture and the year of first use differ most often in cars made from September to December and registered at the beginning of the following year.

Although this may be only a few months’ difference, the car is technically older, and its value is consequently lower. The difference in value for younger used vehicles averages 30,000 CZK.

The car was used as a display model in some cases, and the age difference can be two years or more.

In February, another seller advertised a Czech-made Audi A4 for 770,000 CZK, claiming that it was manufactured in 2018 with no other notes. In reality, the vehicle was manufactured in May 2016. The mileage reading was also untrustworthy. It remained unchanged for a long time, showing 81,500 km in December last year. However, in January of this year, it had dropped by 500 km.

Silenced accidents

“Several fraudsters manipulate the odometer readings to show a mileage last recorded by a foreign or domestic technical inspection station. They claim that the car has hardly been driven. However, a car used in a company can travel up to one hundred thousand kilometers between inspections on the technical inspection station in two years,” said Zbyněk Veselý, the chairman of the Association for the Protection of Car Owners.

Since October 2018, tampering with the odometer has been banned, and the penalty can be up to half a million crowns. However, the problem is proving the fraud to a specific person, and the fraudsters know that very well.

The worst cases are the hidden severe accidents, where the vehicle is brought in as a total wreck, and in the Czech Republic, it is turned into a nice-looking car.

“Concealing accidents is the most common and lucrative illegal practice in the sale of used cars,” said Cebia.

When a car is not worth repairing after an accident, the insurance company pays out the insurance policy and sells the wreck at an auction. However, it does not end up as scrap, but with traders. They don’t just pick out the undamaged parts, which is the purpose of selling in an auction, but slap the wreck together to sell it as a whole car without telling the seller.

“Total loss is an insurance term. It refers to vehicles that are no longer worth repairing. Typically, it involves serious accidents that cause significant damage to the body or engine,” commented Jiří Grund, the Association of Used Car Dealerships chairman.