Cloning, clocking - used-car dangers

2012-02-28 10:57

An analysis of more than 10-million vehicle checks carried out in 2011 reveals that unscrupulous sellers continue to be a genuine threat to thousands of used-car dealers.

And, for the matter, to private buyers.

The UK’s leading vehicle information expert HPI reports that one in three cars checked by HPI has something to hide.

As profit margins continue to tighten for second-hand car dealers, the last thing they need to discover is that they’ve made a bad decision, warns Daniel Burgess, managing director for HPI.

“It’s alarming to see our dealer community is still exposed to such a high level of danger when looking to part-exchange or invest in new stock for their forecourt. Yet, with an HPI report, there’s no need to take that risk. We support dealers by arming them with the facts so that they can make an informed decision and buy with confidence," he explained. "This, in turn, enables them to avoid the danger of losing money on a car that has a murky past."

Outstanding finance remains the biggest threat to used-car dealers; one in four cars checked by HPI was still under a finance agreement. In the UK a dealer could be liable for any outstanding finance on the vehicle, so they stand to lose both the vehicle and the amount they paid for it if a financial institution decides to reclaim the vehicle.

About 20 stolen vehicles are uncovered each day by HPI. Criminals use techniques such as "cloning" (disguising the identity of a stolen car by using the identity of another, legitimate vehicle), to fool buyers.


HPI reports that 4% of vehicles checked are recorded as an insurance write-off. Most dealers know to look beyond shiny paintwork but some need to be aware that just because they can’t see damage it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. 

HPI uses data from the Association of British Insurers and the Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud and Theft Register to help buyers spot the difference between a bargain and a death-trap on wheels.

HPI revealed that the odometer on one in 20 cars had been rolled back. Sellers were increasingly seeing "clocking" as an easy way to push up the price of a vehicle. Not knowing the true distance covered could also mean there’s a risk of missed maintenance and servicing, which could have included important replacement parts.

Another alarming statistic is that one in five vehicles checked by HPI has had a number-plate change. Drivers will use a new plate to hide the truth about a vehicle such as whether it was stolen or an insurance write-off.

Burgess says: “As our latest figures show, the public and dealers alike continue to be caught out by fraudsters. Dealers need to remain vigilant and HPI can give them very real protection, including as much as (the equivalent of) R360 000 in financial reimbursement should the information we provide be incorrect or incomplete.

"If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t take the risk,” he said.