Trading Standards clamp down on disguised car dealers

Trading Standards Officers from The Highland Council are targeting suspected car dealers posing as private individuals who are using car parks and other public spaces to advertise their vehicles for sale.

Gordon Robb, a Principal Trading Standards Officer with The Highland Council, said: “There are other issues associated with the presence of vehicles at these sites, but our main concern is that the public are being misled into thinking that they are buying cars from other private individuals.

“The law is quite different where private sales are involved and does not provide anything like the level of protection for buyers that the sale from a licensed car dealer provides. There are of course honest members of the public involved, who are simply trying to sell their own car, but the motives of any dealers who try to disguise this fact can only be to attempt to avoid their legal responsibilities and liabilities and in some cases to go further, for example to pass off clocked, unreliable and potentially unsafe vehicles to unsuspecting buyers.

“We have been monitoring for some time the various methods used by these car dealers who operate in the shadows, including the classified adverts and ‘For Sale’ boards in supermarkets, and regularly contact sellers to advise them of the law and where they are suspected of being dealers, investigate and report them for prosecution, but the recent scale of activity at car parks, particularly around Inverness, has caused us to want to raise the profile of our enforcement activities in relation to this problem.”

Councillor John Laing, Chairman of The Highland Council’s TEC Services Committee in supporting the work of Trading Standards on this issue said:  “The private sale of motor vehicles will probably always go on and as long as both parties are on a level footing, the law is unlikely to interfere with that.

“We need, however, to ensure that the public are protected from those traders who seek to hide from their legal responsibilities, by selling vehicles in a condition and in a manner that will more often than not fall well below the standards that apply to the legitimate retail trade.

“The increasing use of car parks and vacant ground to advertise and sell cars unfortunately gives these disguised traders an ideal opportunity to hide amongst honest private individuals and they need to be rooted out. Even private individuals need to ask themselves whether the place from where they are advertising their car is appropriate and that they have the owner’s permission to do so.”

General advice to consumers by Trading Standards when considering buying a car advertised privately is:

1. Be aware of the pitfalls of buying cars in these environments.  If you intend to buy a car privately it is good advice to always meet the seller at their house so you know their name and address and to check it matches the vehicle registration documents (V5C).  In a car park none of these details can be easily verified. 
2. Car buyers have statutory rights which protect them when buying cars from traders.  If you don’t know the person you are buying a car from is a trader then you won’t know you might have rights of redress if the car turns out to be faulty etc.  The car may be on finance or worse and once the deal has been done you are unlikely to be able to get your money back.
3. Car clocking is still a major problem but possibly less so within the legitimate trade.  Trading Standards have a case pending against a local suspected car clocker who posed as a private individual to try and avoid detection.  Nowadays we have an array of computerised records within the car sector which make the job of car clocking much more difficult to conceal.  For example:

• Organisations such as the AA, the RAC and HPI all offer mileage verification services both to the trade and the public.
• Previous MOT mileage data can now be checked on   This free Government service allows the user to view the MOT Test history of a vehicle, but you will need: the vehicle registration mark from the number plate, AND either the MOT test number from the VT20 MOT Test Certificate or VT30 Refusal of an MOT Certificate; OR the document reference number from the V5C Registration Certificate issued by the DVLA (  (This only relates to MOT Tests conducted on a vehicle since the introduction of MOT Computerisation).

Legitimate car dealers have to abide by a range of consumer protection laws covering safety and fair trading in general.  For example, a car dealer selling or indeed offering to supply a car which has a safety defect is committing a crime punishable potentially by imprisonment.  It is obviously unfair on the legitimate trade that they have to compete with these ‘disguised sellers’.  Car dealers also have to be licensed by the Council.

Anyone who thinks that they may have been offered or have bought a car from someone who they suspect may be a dealer should contact Highland Trading Standards, 38 Harbour Road, Inverness in writing or in person at these offices or telephone: Consumer Direct Scotland on 08454 04 05 06 for further advice/ information.

27 Jun 2008