2012 APA-W5 used car mystery shopper investigation
A W5 undercover camera catches a 'curbsider' trying to pass off a used Honda Fit that was severely damaged as a vehicle that's only had minor repair work done to it.
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.
The APA visited 11 used car dealers and two new car dealers. Among the 13 dealers, five were awarded a Pass and eight earned a Fail.
Not one of the dealers attempted to sell the APA shoppers a rebuilt wreck – although the sample is small, it is the first time the APA obtained this positive result in a used car investigation in the Toronto market. However, several dealers under-reported collision damage. This was particularly evident with used daily rental cars and vehicles from Quebec, likely because the vehicle history databases available to consumers do not receive collision information on these vehicles systematically. (Large daily rental companies are self insured and do not file a claim when damage occurs.)
Dealers appeared to be more aware of implied warranties and were more likely to disclose important information about vehicle histories. More complete and widely available history searches have improved disclosure of prior collision damage. Several dealers were careful to represent prior collision damage accurately when it was contained in a CarProof report. However, dealers did not disclose damage that exceeded what was contained in the CarProof report.
The APA shopped seven ads placed by individuals claiming to be selling a personal vehicle – these individuals are called "curbsiders" in the car business. Curbsiders misrepresent themselves as selling a personal vehicle, when in fact they're selling for profit and have owned the vehicle for a short time – or may not even be the registered owner.
According to estimates from the Ontario Used Car Dealers Association, professionals account for nearly 30 percent of classified advertising placed by private owners. In many cases, these are licensed dealers posing as a private party in the classifieds, but selling the vehicle as a dealer from a retail location. Other sellers maintain the illusion of selling a personal vehicle all the way through to completing the sale. These "curbsiders" are the sellers the APA investigated.
Because a misrepresentation is involved when failing to identify oneself as dealing in motor vehicles, all the curbers earned a failing grade. Among the vehicles offered by the curbers, only one, a 2003 Ford Focus, was in a condition substantially as represented.
One seller APA shopped in the classified ads appears to have been a real private owner; he misrepresented his Honda Fit as just having had a fender replaced when it was actually a rebuilt insurance write-off.
Dealer advertising violations seem widespread
The APA found that dealer advertising has improved somewhat, but more work needs to be done. Ontario moved to require "all-in" pricing for used car advertising as of January 2010. The APA discovered that a higher proportion of dealers now advertise a complete price for their vehicles with everything included, except taxes. However, much dealer advertising continues to be riddled with extra fees:
- Both new car dealers had non-compliant pricing. Hogan Chevrolet added a $459 "administration fee" to its used car prices, reported to be for filling out paperwork, and Agincourt Hyundai added $295 for paperwork.
- Nexcar Auto at 3905 Keele St. had extra fees that were among the highest of the investigation. The dealership added a $199 "administration fee" and $399 "safety and e-test" charge that were not mentioned anywhere in its advertising.
- The Toronto Auto Group listed extra charges of $695 and up for its safety and e-test; this large amount is mentioned in the dealer's advertising, and is added to the advertised price for each vehicle.
Dealerships that continue to charge additional amounts above the advertised price are competing unfairly with dealers advertising a genuine "all-in" price.
The APA discovered that some dealers have complied with Ontario's stricter advertising requirements and rules on disclosure by reducing warranty coverage. A fine example of the law of unintended consequences, were retailers who advertised their cars in the following manner:
Brampton North Nissan
2003 Honda Civic Si-G Pre-Auction Clear-Out!!!!
Come In And Take A Look At This Great Accident Free New Car Trade...Loaded With Power Sunroof, Sporty 5 Speed Manual Transmission, Power Windows And Keyless Entry...Grab It Before It Goes To The Auction... Due to new regulations we must put this disclosure in.
This vehicle is being sold as-is and is not represented as being in road worthy condition, mechanically sound maintained at any guaranteed level of quality. The vehicle may not be fit for use as a means of transportation and may require substantial repairs at the purchaser's expense.
It may not be possible to register the vehicle to be driven in its current condition...Call dealer for more information...All Clear-Out Pricing Is Final And Plus H.S.T And Licensing Fees...
When APA visited these retailers, we expected the worst. However, most candidly admitted that very few customers actually buy a car "as-is" and "not roadworthy". But, if you want to buy a car you can drive home, you'll have to pay an additional $195 to $695 for it.
The APA believes the extra fees should be included in the advertised price, as intended in the new regulation. Dealers selling "as-is" should offer a discount off the posted price for a vehicle.
Disclosure incomplete on daily rentals offered by dealers
Dealers in Ontario are required to disclose when a vehicle offered for sale is a former used daily rental, and most appeared to do so. However, getting accurate information on a former daily rental vehicle is difficult, as the rental companies do not report collision information to publicly available databases, partly due to a loophole in Ontario's reporting requirements for fleets and big leasing companies.
In the small APA sample of daily rentals, no dealer disclosed body repairs to these vehicles; this suggests consumers should not rely on representations concerning collisions involving former daily rental vehicles in Ontario.
Signs of improvement
Among signs that used car dealers are offering a better retailing environment, the APA found that more dealers are selling from indoor showrooms. In fact, only a few of the dealers visited were operating from trailers or huts on open lots.
Dealers were more likely to disclose collision damage. Dealers referred to CarProof vehicle history reports frequently. Dealers appear more cognizant of their warranty requirements and responsibility to disclose material facts to customers.
APA believes this may be a benefit of Ontario's new rules on disclosure, coupled with more enforcement and education by the regulator and trade associations.
The APA shopped the classifieds, as always looking for a low price on a popular model. This year's classified sellers were a veritable rogue's gallery. Three of the seven sellers APA found in the classifieds misrepresented seriously damaged insurance write-offs (called "salvage" or "rebuilt") vehicles as clean, collision-free used cars.
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.
1. Toronto Auto Group
- 2380 Lawrence Ave. East
- Extra fees excessive
- Advertising cars "as-is" and then not offering them at the as-is price
- Under-reports prior collision damage
- 2009 Matrix, 82,000 km
Advertising disclaimer: ALL PRICES ARE PLUS HST. ALL VEHICLES SOLD AS-IS. Vehicle is not driveable, not certified and not e-tested. Certification and e-testing available from $695.
The 2010 Matrix in the ad was at another location; the seller offered to bring it over. The APA shopped for a 2009 grey Matrix. Regarding accidents the seller said "nothing major" several times. "We can give you a CarProof."
The APA inspection determined the bumper was repaired, and both front fenders and the hood were adjusted. The left side of the Matrix had been repainted; the driver's door was misaligned (the top right corner was binding slightly in its opening). The rear bumper had been repainted. The tailgate struts were shot.
The seller was a bit confusing regarding the extra fees:
- "It's $13,000 plus $685 (in extra fees) less a discount."
- "You take $685 off for the safety or pay full price with the safety."
- (Finally) "We don't sell cars as-is."
2. Rockcliff Auto
- 3264 Danforth Ave.
- 2007 Golf City (white) with 84,547 km
- 2006 Golf City (silver) 93,079 km
Print at bottom of ad: NO CREDIT CHECKS. WE FINANCE EVERYONE. IF WE CANNOT FINANCE YOU BECAUSE OF POOR CREDIT, WE WILL GIVE YOU THE VEHICLE FOR FREE. ALL PRICES PLUS HST & LIC.
All-in price with no extra fees. Dealer says he buys cars "in Ontario" and "all over Canada;" Many cars on the lot are from Quebec. Dealer correctly recommends paying for the car from savings if possible, over financing. Dealer declares "no accidents."
2007 Golf City (white): The hood and front bumper have been replaced. The fenders have been removed and replaced. The front doors have been repainted. The rear tires are worn (at 0-2/32" tread depth). The front tires are wearing unevenly, indicative of poor suspension or chassis alignment.
2006 Golf City (silver): The front body panels (grille, bumpers, hood and fenders) line up poorly; the fenders have been adjusted. The inside hood release handle broke off when pulled and stayed in the shopper's hand; the driver's door lock was not working. A Quebec car exported to Ontario.
3. Nexcar Auto Sales and Leasing
- 3905 Keele St., unit 2
Advertised Civics at very low prices not available when APA shopped (bait and switch confirmed when the same vehicles appeared in subsequent Auto Marts)
Extra charges for the safety, emissions test, and paperwork not mentioned in ad. Prohibited since the arrival of all-in pricing.
- Under-reports actual collision damage on the white CR-V
- 2008 Honda CR-V (white) with 135,000 km
- Honda CR-V (blue) with 112,000 km
- 2008 Honda Civic (silver) with 97,000 km
The Auto Mart ad reads "all prices are plus taxes" A CarProof logo is next to the photo of every vehicle.
The indoor showroom had approximately 60 vehicles for sale. Honda and Acura vehicles predominate; there were about 10 Mercedes models. 12 vehicles were from Quebec.
The APA shoppers inquired about three 2007 Honda Civic sedans advertised at exceptional prices from $5,999 to $7,500. They were told "Anything below $7,900 is gone."
(W5 checked Auto Mart for the weeks of February 4 to March 10 and confirmed the Civics were still advertised at $5,999 to $7,500.)
A 2008 white CR-V was advertised at a very low price of $11,999 in the Truck Mart. The APA shoppers learned it is subject to extra fees not mentioned in the ad of $399 and $199, for a total of $598 in charges.
Vehicles are described as "one owner, bought from Honda Canada… the surest way for us and you. We change the tires, (brake) discs and pads, fully detailed, waxed, shampooed. We sell a bit cheaper than the market based on volume."
The seller discloses a rear impact on the CR-V. "The car was hit at the back... We have to show you the (collision history). Nothing in front. Don't forget, with off-lease cars, Honda is very particular. If the front is damaged or it's a salvage rebuild, they're not taking it back… Nobody does that, only Honda and Acura." (All info incorrect: if it's a salvage vehicle, Honda takes it back and disposes of the wreck. Leased vehicles that have been repaired after a collision are returned to car makers every day. Honda is not different from other brands.)
The dealer offers a 15-month Autogard powertrain warranty. The seller did not mention the claim limit. Dealer financing is available at 4.9% (a good rate for financing via an independent dealer).
The APA inspection of the white CR-V shows that it has sustained a rear impact and a frontal impact. The hood, fenders, headlight boxes, grille and bumper have been replaced. There is still some damage at the junction of the lower radiator support and a frame rail.
The left rear quarter panel has been repainted. The brake rotors are rusty, and the oil is dark. Tires are new Chinese-make all seasons.
The CarProof report indicates this is a Quebec vehicle. The claim estimate for $13,000 indicates a rear impact; APA determines the front is the repaired area of the vehicle that sustained the most damage (a rear point of impact could have pushed the CR-V into another vehicle).
The major difference on the second visit is the much more thorough disclosure of the white CR-V's collision history, including disclosure of a dollar value for the damage claim. The collision damage to the front of the vehicle remained unreported.
4. Remember Auto & Perse Auto
- 18 Martin Ross Ave.
- 2002 Honda Civic (silver) with 130,000 km
Top of ad print reads: GOOD CREDIT, BAD CREDIT EVERYONE APPROVED!
Ad fine print reads: ALL VEHICLES ARE PRICES PLUS HST AND LICENSING. VEHICLES ARE "AS IS" VEHICLES ARE NOT DRIVEABLE NOT CERTIFIED AND NOT E-TESTED. E-TEST AVAILABLE FOR $395
The ad was placed by Perse Auto; the location was shared with Remember Auto. There were four newer cars in front, and approximately 20 older vehicles in back (1994-2004 models). The seller disclosed the low $600 claim limit on the dealer's powertrain warranty (nice touch). The seller provided good disclosure on vehicle preparation: "We check the oil level; an oil change is a customer expense… Non-safety items like a CD player are not covered."
The seller explained that an "as-is" buyer could be shipping the car out of the country, or has their own garage licence plate. The dealer is able to deliver the car to a repair shop chosen by the buyer for the safety standards certification. For most customers, an additional $395 is added to the selling price for a basic third-party warranty, safety certification and emissions test.
The Civic is a one-owner Toronto-area car traded into a dealership. The seller declared a
$3,200 frontal collision. The APA inspection confirms a frontal collision, with the fenders, hood and bumper replaced. The front doors have been repainted. The history search confirms this is a one-owner Toronto-area car.
Note: guaranteed credit approval is prohibited in Ontario dealer advertising.
5. GFA Auto (Good Fellows Auto Wholesalers)
- 3675 Keele St.
- 2008 Mazda 3 (white) with 69,000 km
- 2010 Toyota Corolla (silver), mileage not confirmed
Fine print: PRICES DO NOT INCLUDE TAXES AND LICENSE FEES. All vehicles offered for retail sale.
Seller declares "All our vehicles are one owner off-lease from dealerships or finance companies." The seller says vehicles are subjected to a very thorough inspection by the manufacturer when they are turned in, "otherwise there is a penalty" and "We don't buy anything with accidents." Cars come from Ontario and Quebec; the seller likes cars from Quebec because winter tires are mandatory there. Discloses the low, $1,000 claim limit in the basic Autogard warranty, and recommends the shoppers consider paying a little more in the beginning for better coverage (nice touch).
The salesman says the dealership has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. "We are the only one. The BBB basically rates all the businesses – some dealers around here received an F." (W5 checked with the BBB who confirmed the dealer has an A rating.)
The advertised price includes a safety certification and emissions test for $399, and a $199 for paperwork and to pay the mechanic to check the car. If the customer does not want the safety certification, the dealer will deduct $400 from the price. Ten percent of customers are mechanics or have a repair facility and don't take the certification. "By law I have to give you a warranty." (nice touch).
On the Mazda 3 the seller discloses a front collision claim. Reading from the CarProof report, he says, "It's just a scratch, they didn't change the headlight or anything – nothing big – the light is original." APA's inspection of the Mazda 3 confirms the fenders, hood and right-side doors are original parts that have been adjusted and repainted.
The Corolla is a former daily rental.
6. Motorland Auto Sales
- 4476 Chesswood Dr.
- Incorrect information on a previous collision
- 2008 Toyota Matrix
Bottom of ad: All Cars Come CarProof Verfied. All prices plus HST and Lic. Only. *2 year warranty included with asking price only. Powertrain warranty $750 per claim, 2 yrs. 24,000 km. Prices do not include cert. and e-test. (cert. and e-test are available for $395 extra).
Good selection of well-priced vehicles. The seller says some dealers play games. "Every car, even if a small accident, we have to tell you. We show you everything." The seller says the Matrix comes from a Toyota dealer and discloses a claim for a rear impact that was "not big…very minor, just the back." The APA inspection revealed the Matrix sustained a moderate frontal collision. The hood and bumper have been replaced, and both fenders removed and replaced. The two front doors and a rear quarter panel have been repainted. (The is an example of under-reporting a collision)
The seller permits a pre-purchase inspection by the buyer's mechanic located in the area. "If you want to spend your money, no problem."
The fine print in the ad is contradictory regarding the extra fees. The two-year powertrain warranty is included if the buyer pays the full price with no discount; otherwise it costs $250.
7. Yorktown Motors
- 98 Ashwarren Road
- 2009 Toyota Matrix (red), 90,000 km approx
- 2009 Toyota Matrix (grey)
- 2010 Toyota Corolla (dark grey), 65,000 km
- 2010 Toyota Corolla (red)
The dealer ran an ad with no-fine-print (yes, it can be done!)
Very good selection of well-priced Toyotas. Several are former daily rentals and a few are accident repaired. Full 30-day bumper-to-bumper warranty on everything includes an exchange policy. True all-in price with no extra fees. Best vehicle demonstration of the investigation.
"Every vehicle by law we have to disclose the history, accidents, previous damage. Don't buy a vehicle without this information. This is the law." Cars come from dealers, wholesalers, leasing companies. The dealer welcomes a pre-purchase inspection at a Toyota dealer. "If your life depended on it, I wouldn't go to Canadian Tire."
"Most cars have no accidents. We never buy cars with structural damage." APA's inspection of the red 2009 Matrix reveals repainting on the right-side fender, doors and front bumper, but no obvious evidence of a collision. The grey 2009 Matrix appears to have sustained a right-side impact, non structural. The 2010 Corollas are former daily rentals (information not disclosed by the dealer, but the APA did not ask the question specifically). The rear tires on the grey Corolla are worn out.
8. Agincourt Hyundai
- 2730 Markham Road
- (Extra fees not mentioned in their ad. Tricky declaration: a daily rental has no claims, because CarProof doesn't collect data from rental companies)
- 2010 Hyundai Elantra (silver)
- 2007 Nissan Versa (dark grey)
- No fine print ad
About 50 used vehicles for sale. The three examined by the APA appeared to be the worst of the group – all the rest look clean. No price or information stickers are posted on any vehicles.
Both the Elantra and Versa are covered by the balance of their factory warranties. The safety certification and e-test are included. There is an extra charge on top of the advertised price of $295 for paperwork. (This is prohibited in Ontario). A pre-purchase inspection is permitted.
The salesman recommends the consumers consider financing via a line of credit at their bank or take the dealership's low rate of 4.99% (good information). The manager later recommends opening a Tax Free Savings Account instead of putting money down on a car, and financing with the dealer. The manager discloses that both the Versa and Elantra are former daily rentals (nice touch).
Regarding the Elantra, the seller says: "As far as I know, no accident. We're a dealership, we have to tell you up front if there is an accident or not." Later the manager says "not in an accident, otherwise I don't buy it."
APA: Are you sure?
The manager producers a vehicle history report which shows the car is clean.
The APA inspection of the Elantra indicates the front bumper and right side, including the fender doors and rear quarter panel have been repainted; there is no obvious sign of a collision. The front tires are totally bald (0/32").
The 2008 Versa is a daily rental. It has sustained an impact on the left side. There is body filler in the left rear quarter, and the doors and front fender have been repainted. The paint finish is rough and the colour match imperfect. The driver's seat stuffing is coming out the bottom of the seatback. The front tires are worn.
Vehicle databases do not record collisions for daily rental vehicles, because the information is not supplied to them by the daily rental companies. The dealership failed to disclose this when reviewing the CarProof report.
9. Hogan Chevrolet
- 5000 Sheppard Avenue
- The admin. fee is not included in the advertised price.
- 2011 Mazda 3, with 32,000 km
The dealer had a modest selection of very clean late-model GM compacts and Pontiac Vibe hatchbacks in its used-car inventory. Most had their price and mileage posted. A 30-day or 2,500 km exchange policy is included in addition to the balance of the factory warranty. Financing is available at 6.99 % from major banks through their auto loan departments, that lend money through the dealer at lower rates than at the shopper's branch (correct, but the dealer likely receives a commission at the 6.99% rate; a lower rate is available to creditworthy customers). An off-site inspection by the buyer's mechanic is permitted but not encouraged, because it's time consuming.
The dealer charges an additional $459 administration fee on top of the advertised price.
The salesman readily disclosed the Mazda 3 is a used daily rental. Regarding prior collision damage, the seller says "the car wouldn't be here if it was damaged."
APA's inspection of the Mazda 3 revealed a repainted bumper, and left-front fender, door and rear quarter panel. The windshield has been replaced. There is no obvious sign of a collision.
10. German Stars Motor
- 4472 Steeles Aventue
- 2010 Mazda 3 with 8,000 km
An unusual dealership with a large selection of high-end luxury and European vehicles with low mileages (for example, a 2011 BMW 535i with 1,900 miles). All are U.S. imports. The salesperson provided the correct information on the applicability of the U.S. warranty in Canada. Prices are all-inclusive plus taxes. Financing is available for 48-82 months at 4.99 % on an "open" loan (all consumer loans are open.)
According to the seller, the Mazda 3 is an off-lease car rental (distinguished from a daily rental) from Manhattan, New York. No accidents. APA's inspection confirms the Mazda 3 is in like-new condition, with all body panels in original condition.
11. Kings Auto
- 2655 Lawrence Ave. East
- Hidden damage not disclosed
- 2007 Camry
Ad representation: All prices are plus HST & LIC. Vehicle is not drivable, not certified and not e-tested."
"We charge $299 for safety and emissions." "No problem" if the shoppers prefer to buy the car as-is and avoid the charge. A pre-purchase inspection is permitted. The seller recommended using a Toyota dealer. The basic warranty is for 36 days. For more coverage the shoppers can purchase an 18 month extended warranty for $399. The seller's presentation was courteous and low-pressure.
The Camry "came straight from Toyota (and) it was serviced 100% from Toyota Canada." Seller checks a history report and declares a previous collision claim for $2,400. "I understand it was the left or right corner of the bumper at the back."
The APA inspection revealed an impact at the front left. The bumper's plastic cover had been replaced, but behind it the radiator support, radiator, and air conditioning condenser are all pushed back on one side near the subframe rail. The engine cooling fan is close to the exhaust manifold. The front tires are wearing evenly, indicating that chassis alignment is likely still good.
The air conditioner condenser is damaged and the compressor did not appear to be working. A headlight has been replaced. The fenders have been painted and adjusted, but the front panels don't line up properly; the hood rubs lightly against the right-side fender when it is closed, and the grille has damage. A review of the Camry's history confirmed that it is indeed a local car that appears to have been dealer serviced and turned in to Toyota.
12. Auto Cross
- 10 Le Page Crescent
- North Toronto
- 2003 Toyota Corolla (silver) with 165,000 km
All-in advertised prices with no extras. Several high-mileage cars at low prices (a 2005 Altima with 365,000 km, a Mazda RX-8 with 240,000 km, a Mercedes 500 SEL with over 200,000 km). All vehicles are from Ontario; if not, the seller says it will show up in the CarProof report. He doesn't like cars from Quebec because they are more likely to have a spun odometer. "You can't control it." An off-site inspection by the buyer's mechanic is permitted.
The seller provided a lengthy description of the Autogard warranty, but did not mention that the claim limits typical of the Autogard plans are frequently too low to cover the cost of a major repair.
The seller disclosed an $8,400 collision claim on the Corolla; he could not say where. APA's inspection revealed the front bumper, fenders, and hood have been replaced after a frontal impact. The grille is damaged. The windshield has been replaced.
13. M.A.C. Fine Cars
- 11 St. Regis Cres. North
- (Under-reports the damage on the Acura TL, and misrepresents vehicles as coming from Ontario only)
- 2007 Acura TL (silver), 115,212 km
- 2007 Honda Civic (blue) 97,000 km
- Ad reads all vehicles certified and emissions passed.
- Ad for the 2007 Civic: 100% clean CarProof, no accidents, from Honda Canada, under factory warranty from Honda.
Cars are bought strictly off lease; the salesperson says he doesn't go to auctions – he buys lease returns directly from the leasing companies before they send their vehicles to auction. The occasional trade-in is parked outside. All cars are from Ontario. An off-site inspection is permitted anywhere the buyer wants, subject to a $500 deposit. According to the salesperson, his Civics are ready to go. The seller incorrectly states the DX-G model Civic is the "top-of-the-line" package (it's approximately mid-level).
The advertised price includes a safety certificate. A one year power train warranty costs an additional $395 (some confusion here, as the seller seems to say the $395 also includes a safety inspection, which would be redundant if it were already included in the advertised price). The seller correctly points out there are 4,000 km left on the factory warranty of the Civic (nice touch).
Representations concerning the Acura TL:
APA: "Any accidents?"
Seller: "Changed the bumper in the front. Not the actual metal, just the bumper cover – that's it, just the bumper cover. The air bags never deployed."
APA: "Just the bumper cover?"
Seller: "Bumpers, they're meant to be bumped. That's why they bump them… A beautiful car, this is the high end for Honda… A very small $2,000 (claim) and $1,000 deductible"
APA's inspection reveals the Acura TL's hood and front bumper have been replaced. The left and right sides have been repainted with body filler throughout, especially in the rear quarters. The trunk has been repainted. The windshield has been replaced. Tires are a mix of winter and all-season (4 different), and worn unequally. A wheel is damaged. The steering rack and pump have small leaks. The car is from the Quebec. The Ontario Used Vehicle Information Package shows the first Ontario owner was a dealer (ISON Auto Sales) who acquired it in 2011 and sold it to M.A.C. Fine Cars, so it appears the dealer sometimes buys cars from other dealers rather than leasing companies.
The blue Civic is from Quebec. There is some repainting in the rear, but the body is otherwise clean.
I) Peter (curber)
- His phone number advertised 10 cars for sale over a three month period.
- 2002 BMW 3 series with 319,000 km
"I think I am the second owner, maybe the third. The more owners the better; each time they have to do the safety certification." The seller says the shocks, springs, and water pump have been replaced: "I just spent over $1,000." A wheel bearing is sometimes noisy and the handbrake needs an adjustment. The seller has a mechanic who can issue a safety certificate.
Over the phone, the seller said he'd bought another car and has to sell. In person he says "I'm not rushing to sell it; I didn't really find another one." He's asking $3,500 – "I've seen them for $15,000" advertised on the internet.
The seller says no accidents – only the hood was repainted. He'll need 3-4 days to complete the transaction because the car has a breathalyser that will have to be removed. (This may be his personal car).
The APA's inspection reveals the car has sustained a heavy frontal collision. The fenders, hood and windshield have been replaced. There is extensive bodywork in both rear quarter panels and almost the entire car has been repainted on various occasions. An air bag appears to have deployed (the cover is sitting imperfectly). There is a heavy bottom-end knock in the engine. One or more wheel bearings need to be replaced. The engine, transmission, steering rack, coolant hoses and water pump are leaking. The engine oil level is below the lowest reading on the dipstick.
The CarProof report obtained by W5 indicates five claims on different sides of the car totalling more than $44,000.
II) Andrew (curber)
- His telephone number advertised 5 cars for sale over a three month period
- 2003 Ford Focus (blue) with 186,758 km
The APA shoppers met Andrew at a gas station near Dufferin and Steeles, at his suggestion. Andrew's wife needs a larger car. The safety certification had been done. He can obtain the emissions test for the APA shoppers. Andrew can write in any amount the shoppers would like on the bill of sale.
Andrew claimed the following service had been performed to prepare the car for sale: new tires, ball joints, a wheel alignment, bushings, timing belt, spark plug cables and spark plugs. The car had no accidents – only a small scratch on the right-rear door.
APA's inspection determined the car had been involved in small right-rear impact, with some body filler in front of the wheel opening, but was otherwise collision-free. The tires were new; the spark plug cables had been sprayed to look shiny. There was no evidence that the other work had been performed.
At $2,950, the car appeared to be fairly priced and in acceptable condition. This was the best car shown by a curber.
III) Roman (appears to be a dealer who is curbing)
- His phone number advertised 10 cars for sale in the classifieds over a three month period.
- 2000 Honda Accord sedan with 219,984 km
Roman identified himself as a dealer over the phone. He offered to meet the APA shopper in a brand new condo complex in Thornhill. At the location, he did not respond to the intercom and did not come through the lobby when the APA shoppers dialled his number to announce their arrival (this could be his place of residence… or not).
The Accord was a trade-in from a local dealer. The safety certification and emissions test had been performed. It sported a dealer plate. "I'm a dealer, you can't go wrong." Roman had no business cards with him. For a $300 deposit, he would see that the car was transferred into the APA shopper's name by noon the next business day. "All will be done, and the car will be in your name."
The APA inspection revealed that the clutch was slipping. The brakes were worn and the driver's door handle was sticking. The car was rather worn, indicative of its age and low $2,700 selling price.
IV) Name unknown (curber)
- 2003 Mercedes C-class (silver) with 138,000 km
- Chrysler Crossfire
APA responded to an ad on Kijiji for a used Mercedes C-class, priced low at $7,500. The seller offered to meet the APA shoppers at a gas station near Allan Road and Sheppard. Our seller said he'd owned the car for five or six years, and it had never given him any trouble. The safety certification had been performed. An emissions test would take only a few minutes. The APA noted some inconsistencies in the seller's story:
- The seller said he worked at the gas station, but he was not there when the shoppers arrived.
- The seller did not have a key to the car; he appeared to get it from inside the convenience store at the station.
- He had to phone a third party to check whether the price was negotiable.
The APA inspection showed a fair amount of corrosion on the lower body panels, typical for this model. The car had not sustained any significant collisions. The mileage appeared low for the overall condition of the vehicle. A second vehicle APA spotted at the location also appeared to be registered to the same private individual as the Mercedes. Later that day, the APA spotted a black Audi A4 with no front plate near the other cars (no front plate suggests it was being driven on a dealer plate or a repair plate, which the APA did not record).
V) Raj (curber)
- The seller advertised seven cars over a two month period using two different phone numbers.
- 2007 Honda Fit (grey) with 155,000 KM
The seller advertised a 2007 Fit in Kijiji, safety and e-tested, for $8,000
Raj made an appointment to meet the mystery shoppers at a location that turned out to be a collision repair shop – Haarak Auto Collision Service and Sale, at 1190 Crestlawn in Mississauga.
When Raj arrived, the APA noticed that the Fit had a license plate only on the rear. Subsequent inquiry revealed that the plate was registered to a defunct auto sales and leasing company.
According to Raj, "I got it at auction; it had a minor fender-bender." The Fit had one owner previous to Raj. "When it comes to price, I haven't transferred it to my name from the auction yet. I can save you tax…. I can do the safety with Honda. I was gonna get it done here." Raj said Haarak Collision services vehicles belonging to his family.
APA's expert immediately identified the car as a severe frontal impact. After a short road test, he considered the car not fit to drive in its current condition, most noticeably due a very strong pull to one side. At the end of the visit, Raj suggested the APA shopper provide a photocopy of her driver's license so he could start the process of putting the car in her name.
W5 obtained a CarProof report and MTO Used Vehicle Information Package on the Fit, which showed it to be an insurance write-off in May 2011. The original owner was paid out by Monnex Insurance Brokers and the wreck sold to the Stark Iron and Metal Company. Incredibly, Stark was still the registered owner of the Fit when Raj showed it to the APA. At that time, it appeared in the Ministry of Transportation record as "unfit", in other words a wrecked vehicle that is not usable on the road.
APA requested a pre-purchase inspection at a local shop. Raj offered the services of Haarak Collision, and the Fit was scheduled for an inspection. When APA returned, the plate from the Fit was now on a Saab on Haarak's lot, and the Fit was inside. With the car on Haarak's lift, the APA expert saw obvious things wrong, including the wrong tire size, a different size wheel than original at the front right (incorrect offset and stud pattern), and a bent front sway bar from the collision.
According to the inspecting mechanic at Haarak, the car was fine, except for a tire, some wheel nuts and a brake job. Just three hours later, APA received a faxed safety standards certificate signed by the mechanic and was told that all the work had been completed. The mechanic never mentioned anything about a collision or poor collision repairs, nor that the car appeared to be misaligned.
On a subsequent visit, Haarak's shop manager explained that "everything checked out." No one at Haarak Auto, which is a collision repair specialist, disclosed to the APA shoppers that the car had sustained a major collision, and was a repaired wreck.
This was the most egregious failure of the investigation, involving deception and/or wilful blindness by several parties including Raj, the mechanic and the manager or owner at Haarak Collision. Raj's situation would merit an inquiry by Ontario's Ministry of Transportation, which has responsibility for safety certification, as well as the rebranding of salvage vehicles that are put back on the road.
On a subsequent visit by W5, Raj was selling a repaired Mercedes that had previously been written off by an insurance company for nearly $40,000.
VI) Hamid (curber)
- 2010 Toyota Corolla (dark grey)
Hamid advertised a 2010 Corolla S with only 3,400 km "for sale by owner" at a price of $16,000 on Kijiji
Hamid said he was selling the car because it was too big for his job delivering pizza. The Corolla was more suitable for a family – he needed something smaller. Hamid said he'd driven the car only two months, and had not renewed the license plate. The car was as-new, except for a small impact.
Hamid said he had replaced the rear bumper cover and a tail light himself at a cost of $1,100, to avoid making an insurance claim. Hamid suggested to the APA shoppers that he knew a way to lower the sales tax, possibly by declaring the car as a "gift."
Hamid said he dealt with a repair shop in Markham for the safety standards certificate, which was too far to take it for an inspection. He recommended the mystery shoppers bring their own mechanic to his location for a pre-purchase inspection, or that they perform a pre-purchase inspection after the sale!
APA's expert determined the Corolla had been involved in a violent rear impact. There was extensive body filler on the right and left rear quarter panels, and part of the rear from another Corolla had been grafted on.
After the APA's visit, W5 obtained a CarProof history that showed the Corolla was a write-off; the insurance company paid to its original owner over $21,000 for an insurance settlement. The wreck was then sold to Stark Auto Collision who resold it to Hamid in September 2011. W5 checked the license plate on the Corolla and determined that it belonged to an Acura.
A few days later, the APA returned with a film crew from W5 for a closer look at the Corolla. The APA shoppers removed the liner from the trunk and determined that the Corolla had been sliced down the middle, including the spare tire well, at least as far as the back seat. The cut is similar to filleting a fish down its spine.
At the end of the second visit, Hamid told the APA shoppers he'd prefer payment in cash for the car, or a mix of $8,000 cash and $8,000 certified cheque, at which point he'd hand over the paperwork.
Since the car still had an "unfit" or salvage title (not fit for the road), APA believes Hamid may be working with an MTO-approved inspection or repair facility to reclassify the Corolla as "rebuilt". In the alternative, the car would have been transferred to the APA shoppers, but could not be licensed to drive because it was still classified "unfit".
- 2007 Honda Fit (red) with 73,000 km
This seller actually appeared to be a selling a personal vehicle. The seller's red 2007 Fit was advertised and described as lady-driven, safety and e-tested for $8,400 or best offer on Kijiji. He offered to meet the APA shoppers at a shopping center parking lot, as he had a purchase to make.
Lal said the car was his wife's; they had another child on the way and needed something larger. He waved an ownership record from the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario and warned the shoppers to "Always ask for this" (that was good advice). If they didn't, the risk was that they could owe a lender money for the car. Later, Lal said he had "all the papers from the Ministry" to show the shoppers.
When asked about prior accidents, Lal declared to the shoppers, "You're gonna understand this – all that was changed was this here (pointing to the right front fender)."
The APA expert quickly determined the Fit had sustained a major frontal collision and was almost completely repainted. It pulled hard to one side during the test drive, indicating poor chassis or wheel alignment, a likely consequence of a poor repair. Lal offered to go to a mechanic for an inspection "right now".
After the meeting, W5 obtained the history on the vehicle. The Used Vehicle Information Package, which Lal promoted so convincingly, actually shows the Fit was written off by an insurance company, and sold to Crescent Auto Sales, Repairs and Detailing in May 2010, who sold it to Lal. It is currently branded as a "rebuilt" vehicle.