For this year’s investigation, the APA mystery shoppers visited 20 used car sellers in the Greater Toronto Area. The shoppers were accompanied by an expert mechanic and all visits were recorded on W5’s cameras. The APA shoppers looked for popular vehicles selling at low prices; this year, the most common models shopped were the Honda Fit and Civic, and Toyota Corolla and Matrix. Sellers were evaluated for the accuracy of their representations. Verbal and advertising representations made about the vehicles offered for sale were double checked by the APA’s expert mechanic and by searching in third-party databases.
Two of the misrepresented salvage cars came from Stark Metal and Iron – a wrecking yard. Among the so-called private sellers, four out of seven had advertised five or more cars from the same phone number over a three month period.
One was a licensed dealer who tried to slip the APA shoppers a car with a slipping clutch. One appeared to be a private party, but he concealed the fact that his car was a rebuilt insurance write-off.
Several “private” advertisers contacted by the APA quickly identified themselves as auto dealers over the phone. One “private” advertiser made an appointment to meet the mystery shoppers at a residential address in Thornhill, and showed up with a used Honda Accord sedan sporting a dealer plate. In Ontario, a dealer is not supposed to sell from a residential address.
The APA has discovered that the worst curber cars it shopped this year and in previous investigations shared some common elements:
- Selling for a low, often below-market price on websites like Kijiji
- Rebuilt wrecks sold by insurance companies to salvage yards and resold at auto auctions (in one case this year, the car was still registered in the name of the auction or a related company when shopped by the APA)
- A dealer, recycler, or autobody shop in the background that appears to be working with the curbsider, who is a sort of front person for the selling activity.
- The private seller (i.e. curber) can arrange for a safety standards certificate and emissions test for the buyer. In some cases, the curber asked only for a copy of the buyer’s driver’s licence and insurance to complete the sale.
- The investigation raised questions about government oversight and the integrity of the salvage rebuilding and re-inspection process; two of the cars shown to the APA shoppers had yet to pass a structural inspection and were still classified as “unfit,” yet they were being shown by private individuals. For one of the cars still classified as “unfit,” the seller’s garage issued the APA shopper a safety standards certificate.
When it comes to shopping for a second-hand vehicle most buyers are wary of smooth-talking used car salespeople who may try to sell you a lemon. So what can you do to ensure that you and your hard earned money aren’t being taken for a ride?