INDIANAPOLIS -- A Call 6 Investigation reveals private sellers often not disclose a car’s hidden problems to potential buyers, including open recalls, prior crashes, as well as branded titles such as “rebuilt” and “not actual mileage.”
While some car owners may deliberately hide the information, others simply don’t know about a car’s defects and therefore do not reveal that information in their ads or in person.
The practice of not disclosing a car’s problems can be perfectly legal for an individual seller, but can cost you the consumer money and even put you and your family in danger.
About a third of all used car sales these days are done through private sellers, or peer-to-peer, using Craigslist and other forums, according to Chris Basso, public relations manager at Carfax.
For many people, buying a car on Craigslist can be less intimidating than buying from a car salesman at a dealership, and it can be a great deal.
“People want to try to save money,” said Fishers attorney Robert Duff, of the Indiana Consumer Law Group. “But every single day, I get complaints about used cars.”
Unlike licensed car dealerships, Craigslist and other sites are typically unregulated.
“People can put anything online that they want to sell, and no one’s really checking up on what that individual is representing,” said Basso.
Basso said safety recalls, prior wrecks, and branded titles can reduce a car’s value, giving sellers an incentive not to disclose those issues.
On Craigslist, it’s easy to find vehicle ads that sound great with phrases like “clean title,” “amazing shape,” and “no problems at all.”
Call 6 Investigates used the plate numbers to run vehicle history reports on sites like Carfax and Autocheck and uncovered problems like open safety recalls, prior crashes, and branded titles.
We set up nondescript email accounts to arrange appointments with the sellers just to look at the cars, as many consumers do before buying.
We met them in public parking lots with a camera in plain view, but the sellers did not know we were with Call 6 Investigates.
#1- 1999 FORD EXPLORER
The Craigslist ad shows the 1999 Ford Explorer has a “clean title” and “runs good.”
However, vehicle history reports show it actually has a “not actual mileage” title, which typically means the odometer has been replaced, tampered with or damaged at some point.
The Explorer also had crashes in 2006, 2010 and 2014, as well as an open safety recall for a speed control switch that can overheat, according to vehicle history reports.
The explorer’s owner and seller, Dale Manners, told Call 6 Investigates he did not know much about the car, because he recently bought it at auction while representing local dealer Bill Shank Auto Parts.
Call 6: So, you said it’s got a clean title on it?
Manners: Yeah, I’ve got to put it in somebody’s name.
Call 6: Has it been in any wrecks that you know of?
Manners: None that I know of.
Manners said he does not run vehicle history reports on cars before he sells them.
The seller did provide a copy of the title when Call 6 Investigates started asking questions about it.
Once Call 6 Investigates revealed we are working on a story about private used car sales, Manners said many dealers are selling cars on Craigslist to make money.
“Most of the vehicles on Craigslist are dealers,” said Manners. “I’m not out here robbing anybody, or tricking anybody. I’m honest with people.”
Bill Shank told Call 6 Investigates he knew nothing about the sale, and that Manners violated the company’s policy on buying cars for personal use.
“To quote Donald Trump, ‘you’re fired’,” said Shank. “It’s pretty shady to me.”
Shank said he allows associates to purchase cars for their own use, but only if they’ve been with the company for at least six months.
Manners had only been with the company for a month, Shank said.
#2- 1999 Toyota Sienna
The 1999 Toyota Sienna minivan is advertised on Craigslist as “amazing shape,” “amazing condition,” and “no problems at all.”
Vehicle history records show the Sienna has an open recall for a cable that can break and cause a vehicle crash.
The car was also crashed in 2006 and again in April 2016, according to vehicle history reports from Carfax and Autocheck.
The April 2016 crash involved front impact damage with another car, the air bag deployed, and a vehicle was towed, records show.
Call 6: Are there any recalls on it?
Seller: I do not know anything. I don’t think so.
Call 6: Is there any way I can look at the title? Do you have a copy of the title?
Seller: Not with me.
Call 6: Has it ever been in a wreck?
Seller: I think. I’m not sure. I think in 2006, maybe?
Call 6: So, it hasn’t been in any wrecks recently?
Seller: As long as I know, but don’t quote me on this.
Chris Basso, spokesperson for Carfax, said your antenna should go up if the person selling the car doesn’t have a title to show you.
“Absolutely, it’s a red flag if the title is not available,” said Basso. “The owner of the vehicle should have a title available to give you at the time of the purchase. If not, walk away.”
When Call 6 Investigates pressed the seller about a wreck in April 2016, he replied “it was not a big crash.”
Once we told the Sienna owner we’re with RTV6, he did not want to answer any more questions and tried to grab our camera.
“Seriously, guys, I am not doing anything,” he said.
#3- 2010 Acura TSX
The Craigslist ad shows the 2010 Acura TSX as a “clean title.”
However, vehicle history reports from Carfax and Autocheck both show it was totaled by the insurance company in 2014, and issued a rebuilt title in 2015.
The owner, who calls himself Mario, told us in person he’s had the car for 2.5 years.
Call 6: I was looking at the ad. It says clean title. It has a clean title?
Mario: Yes, yes, I believe.
Call 6: I actually ran a Carfax on it. It says it has a rebuilt title.
Mario: It does have a rebuilt title? See, I didn’t know it had a rebuilt title.
However, when we contacted Mario via email to inquire about the car before our meeting, he told us about the rebuilt title.
“I had a serious buyer that backed out last night we did a Carfax and the car has a rebuilt title,” read the email, which he sent before the meeting with us.
A new Indiana law says it’s a misdemeanor crime to sell a car with a rebuilt title without disclosing it to the buyer in writing.
Call 6 Investigates did not reach the point of buying the car or signing paperwork with Mario.
Mario did not want to talk to Call 6 Investigates once he learned about our story.
The owners of the Acura, Sienna, and Explorer all removed their Craigslist ads after our meetings.
Protecting Yourself as a Buyer, Seller
Consumer law attorney Robert Duff said while it’s not illegal to be clueless about a car’s history, you can get into legal trouble if you knowingly misrepresent or lie about a car’s problems.
“Be honest, that’s the best protection,” said Duff. “You don’t have to spew out every problem with the vehicle as soon as you talk to a potential purchaser. It’s up to the buyer to ask ‘hey, do you know of any problems with this vehicle?’”
Duff said you can also disclose problems in writing to the buyer to protect yourself from potential lawsuits if the car breaks down.
“Most sellers are not going to take the time to do that, but for the ultimate protection, have them sign off that I disclosed x, y and z to you,” said Duff.
Duff said selling a vehicle with an open recall can be illegal in Indiana, but the law typically applies to dealers, not individuals.
Chris Basso with Carfax said what we found is proof you need to do your due diligence before you buy, and not rely on what the ad says or what the seller tells you.
“When you’re buying a used car, you should do three things,” said Basso. “Take it for a test drive. Get a vehicle history report. And have a mechanic inspect it. Those three steps are a great way to protect yourself from someone trying to lure you into buying a car with hidden problems you might not know about until it’s too late.”
Craigslist did not respond to requests for comment on this story.