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Opinion & Analysis

Awareness key to stopping vehicle fraud

USED VEHICLES ON SALE AT A YARD IN MOMBSA. FILE PHOTO | NMG
USED VEHICLES ON SALE AT A YARD IN MOMBSA. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya’s used car business is growing robustly on the back of an expanding urban middle class and increasingly flexible financing options for buyers. Latest industry figures indicate that we import an estimated 80,000 used vehicles annually. This means that for every single new car on the road in Kenya there are roughly four used ones.

Used cars are significantly cheaper than the new. This has created and sustained demand for used cars. Spurred by an entrepreneurial spirit, an increasing number of car dealers are cashing in on this demand. This is signalled by the notable number of used car yards in the capital city and other major urban centres.

The competition is intensifying and dealers have employed different strategies to sharpen their competitive advantage. For instance, some dealers are leveraging on digital tools such as mobile apps and websites to reach more customers, while others are inking strategic partnerships with financiers such as commercial banks to sweeten the pot.

Unfortunately, amid the race to corner the used car market, a few unscrupulous dealers and brokers have crept into the market. Many Kenyans have fallen victim to these scammers.

In 2012, the Embassy of Kenya in Japan disclosed that it was overwhelmed with requests on how to recover funds paid to unscrupulous Japanese companies for the purchase of second-hand motor vehicles.

Fraud has become more prevalent in recent years. The problem has been exacerbated by digital tools such as clone websites, where unsuspecting victims send money to purported dealers. These clone websites disappear.

Besides outright fraud, other practices that we have witnessed and that are being reported with greater frequency include buying ex-accident cars, buying cars that have falsified mileage, and buying stolen vehicles.

Some dealers wind back the car’s odometer to understate mileage in order to shore up market value. They even go as far as replacing the pedal rubbers and gear knobs to make it look newer. This is not only fraudulent, but potentially dangerous.

Certain car parts, such as the timing belt for most cars, are typically supposed to be replaced once a car clocks 100,000 kilometres. This means that if the mileage has been understated, the timing belt will not be replaced when it should, increasing the chances of it snapping unexpectedly. If it does when the car is on the road, the safety of the driver and other road users is seriously compromised.

Other dealers also sell ex-accident cars that have been carefully resprayed but nonetheless have serious mechanical faults. Once these cars are bought, the unlucky owner spends half of their time in the garage. Such a blatant rip-off can be devastating for a car owner, particularly if they bought the car on credit and are stuck with loan repayment.

Buyers need to know that they can get credible information about a car’s age and mileage by simply visiting websites of vehicle inspection firms like JEVIC. There you can get an auction sheet where you can countercheck the actual mileage and mechanical condition. You can also contact Interpol to confirm whether you are buying a stolen car.

It is equally important to consult widely before making a purchase. For instance, consulting with a bank that has a track record in asset finance could help you settle on reputable dealers.

Because an asset financier underwrites the car loan using the car, it directly serves in their interest to connect you to reputable dealers who will sell you a car that is in mint condition.

These are simple yet indispensable tips to avoid getting scammed. Since a vehicle is probably the largest purchase most people make after a house, the importance of getting the right information before making a purchase decision cannot be overstated.

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