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The secret life of cars

Published: 8:09PM Wednesday July 28, 2010 Source: Fair Go

Reporter: Gordon Harcourt

Buying a second hand car has always been fraught with risk - especially if you're relying on what you're told.  Unfortunately, some people don't tell the full story.

Cancelled rego

Jill Holt from Auckland thought she'd found a minter on TradeMe - a 2005 Subaru Impreza. 

A friend helped her out by getting a vehicle information report on the car, and it showed the registration had been cancelled a couple of months earlier. 

They asked the private seller why, got what seemed like a good explanation, and paid $10K for the car.  Good price!

We think the seller wasn't as open as he should have been.

In fact, the rego was cancelled because the car was written off by an insurer.  I did some digging, and discovered their repair estimate was nearly $15,000!

The car was sold by someone we think should have known a lot better.  He's Snow Mooney, former race mechanic to the late rally driver Possum Bourne.  He runs a garage in Manukau City, specialising in Subarus.

We've been negotiating with him and then his barrister for two weeks.  To begin with he told me the car had been stolen.  It wasn't, and he later admitted it wasn't.

He told us he didn't know the car had accident damage.  But I got the Transport Authority's paper trail.  It shows he had "accident damage repairs" done. 

He also told us he was never asked if the car was in an accident.  Maybe he wasn't asked those exact words, we can't be sure, but even if that's true he was definitely asked for the reason it was  deregistered - he sent us the email that shows that.  He didn't provide an accurate answer.

Why on earth wasn't Snow Mooney more up front with his buyer?  He's obviously a good mechanic.  Why didn't he just tell Jill he'd repaired a write-off and it was a good buy?  There is no suggestion the car is unsafe.  Like any re-registered car, it has passed a rigorous re-certification process.

We got a valuer in to look at Jill's car.  He says the market value is $6500, not the $10,000 that Jill paid.

Even if Snow Mooney wasn't asked exactly the right question in exactly the right words, we think a man of his standing didn't pass on as much information as he should have.

Last week, he agreed to refund Jill in full - well, actually she knocked off $400 because she'd dinged the bumper.

"Imported Damaged"

Karyn Healey bought a nice little Mazda two years ago from a dealer.  She checked the Consumer Information Notice (CIN or window card) that every car sold by a dealer must display.  Under "Imported as Damaged" it said NO. 

The car's had problems, and earlier this year it was stolen.  She was shocked when the insurance assessor asked her if she knew it had been imported damaged.  The CIN was filled out wrongly.

Karyn went back to the dealer, told them this, but they said it was too long ago and they wouldn't do anything. So Karyn came to Fair Go.   The dealer didn't really have any option, but to his credit he immediately agreed to a full refund.

Get a vehicle report!

These days you can find out the stuff that Jill and Karyn found out.  There is no excuse for not getting a vehicle report.  It won't cost much more than $20.
V.I.R (Motorweb)
AA Vehicle History Report
Motochek  (NZ Transport Authority)

Check the CIN

If you're buying from a dealer, the vehicle MUST have an accurate Consumer Information Notice. If it doesn't the dealer has a problem, whether inadvertent or not.


If the vehicle report says the registration was cancelled, be careful!   The Transport Authority withdraws the reason for de-registration once a vehicle is re-registered. 

They say that's because it's been through the re-certification process.  But we think you shouldn't be denied that information.   As things stand, you have to rely on what you're told by the seller.

Our advice?  Ask the seller to give you the reason in writing.  If they won't, walk away.  There is a very good chance the vehicle has been written off, repaired, re-certified and re-registered.  That means it should be a safe vehicle, so why should the seller withhold that information.

The Juice

  • Always get a vehicle history report.
  • Check the Consumer Information Notice is accurate, if buying from a dealer.
  • Be very careful if the report shows the rego has been cancelled.  Ask for a reason in writing, or walk away.

National Manager Vehicles, Don Hutchinson.

"We appreciate that buying a car is a big investment, and it's important to get it right. As such, consumers are able to access information held on the Motor Vehicle Register by using NZTA's Motochek service to help give them more certainty of the history of a vehicle. Motochek uses information from the Motor Vehicle Register, and it's a great way of extracting extra value from an existing resource.

However, the main purpose of the register is as a regulatory database. As such, it only holds information that is required for regulatory purposes, and the finer details of why a vehicle is written off is not required for registration and licensing purposes. When a vehicle is written off, insurance companies take over the ownership of a vehicle, and as such would be able to provide more detailed information about the circumstances of why a vehicle is written off.

The NZTA's Motochek service does provide the reason for de-registration, and anyone can have access to this information either directly from Motochek or from organisations who package and provide the information from Motochek to members of the public in the form of a vehicle information report . For safety reasons a vehicle must go through an inspection and certification process in which it is checked against relevant standards prior to being approved for re-registration. Where a vehicle has sustained significant damage then repairs must be certified by an approved repair certifier as part of that inspection and certification process.

The NZTA's existing inspection requirements for re-registered vehicles ensure that only vehicles assessed as being safe can be registered. Ultimately, if a vehicle's condition is misrepresented by a vendor, it may constitute a breach of the Fair Trading Act in which case the buyer could lodge a complaint with the Commerce Commission (or if the vendor is not in trade, the Disputes Tribunal).
I should also bring the following link to your attention, which enables people to use our website to search for imported vehicles with water or fire damage that have been brought to our attention during border checks.

We agree that it's important that people are well informed when shopping for a vehicle, and the NZTA will be continuing to enhance its Rightcar website, which provides information for consumers that will help them make more informed choices. We're certainly open to including more comprehensive information about vehicles as part of this ongoing improvement, and we already have a project underway in which we are asking the public to give us their feedback on how this website can better meet their needs."

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