Thousands of possible death traps sold to unsuspecting buyers

possible death traps sold
If a written off car has been repaired, it should be declared (Picture iStock/Kadmy)

It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of used cars. And those that are available are being sold for inflated prices. Hardly surprising then that the trade in dodgy motors is picking up.

Research by TV show Dispatches found that up to 40,000 possible death traps sold every year could be insurance write-offs going to unsuspecting buyers.

How can a written off car be sold again?

It’s easier than you think. When an insurer declares a car as being a ‘total loss’ – a write-off in everyday language – it’s saying it can’t cost-effectively repair that car. It is cheaper for the owner to buy a new model.

By paying out the insured value to the owner, the insurer is buying the car off them. To recoup some of its losses, the insurer will then sell the car via a salvage auction.

Written off cars fall into four categories. Vehicles in categories A and B should never reappear on the road. But category N and S cars can be repaired and put back on the road. It is cars in these two categories that are sold at salvage auctions to repairers.

Should a written off car be declared?

It most definitely should. It is illegal for a trader to sell a car that they know to be a repaired write-off without making the buyer aware.

Cars sold at salvage auctions go for significantly less than identical models that aren’t damaged. If they’re repaired legitimately and their status declared as it should be, the car will be worth less than the equivalent non-written off model.

And that’s why crooks, wanting to make a quick buck, don’t declare that cars have been write offs. It enables them to make more money from selling them.

possible death traps sold
Badly damaged cars that are written off by insurers can still be repaired (Picture iStock/Whitemay)

How are written off cars repaired?

That’s the problem with write-offs: you don’t necessarily know how they’ve been repaired. Frequently the kind of people who fix up a written-off car for sale don’t really care about how well the repair is done. They’re just after a quick buck from possible death traps sold to the unsuspecting.

They may even carry out the repairs using stolen parts, nicked off similar cars. The result can be motors that don’t comply with road safety rules and are dangerous. In some cases, death-trap cars have been found to be sold without working airbags.

What did Dispatches find?

Channel 4’s Dispatches discovered that more than 40,000 cars a year worth around £800 million are sold as undeclared write-offs.

In one case, it found a dealer in the West Midlands had sold a MINI Countryman without revealing to the buyer that it was a repaired write-off. The crash had been serious enough to rip the car’s front wheel off and cause the airbags to inflate.

How can you avoid buying a written-off car?

Possibly the easiest way is to buy a car from a dealer. As it’s illegal to sell a previously written-off car without declaring it, dealers should do a full history check on their cars. If you subsequently discover the car to have been a write-off, the dealer should refund you fully.

Whether you are buying from a dealer or privately, the way to ensure maximum peace of mind is to have your own vehicle history check carried out. These assessments comb through databases from organisations such as the DVLA, the police, insurance companies and finance houses.

This will reveal all sorts of information like any outstanding finance on the car. And it should also tell you how many previous owners the car has had and whether perhaps it’s had its number plate or colour changed. It might look a bit pricy to get a full check done but it could save you a lot.

Dispatches: Why is my car so expensive? is available on All 4

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