We all know the stereotype of the shady used car dealer, and the Automobile Protection Association's annual survey of used car dealers usually shows that there might be some truth to that notion.
In this year's survey there were the usual suspects - dealers who misrepresent the condition of cars for sale, salesmen who don’t reveal a car’s full accident history, and even a few dealers who pass their test with flying colours.
But this year, the APA visited 20 Vancouver-area dealers and when W5 tagged along with our hidden cameras, we uncovered something more serious than ever before: dangerous, rebuilt cars that should have never passed a government-regulated safety inspection.
Even if a car has been written off after an accident in British Columbia, it can sometimes be rebuilt and re-sold, but only after passing two different government-regulated safety inspections – one to make sure the car is structurally sound, and the other to make sure it’s mechanically sound.
In our investigation, we saw dealers using these inspection records as part of their sales pitch; proof that the car they were trying to sell was safe.
During its visits to used car lots the APA saw approximately 50 rebuilt vehicles offered for sale. Eight were fully inspected by the APA and four of these were so poorly repaired they were not roadworthy.
So how did those cars pass a safety inspection? That’s what we wanted to know – and our reporting discovered a gap in the oversight of the safety inspection system.
One car in particular stood out as being the worst in this year’s survey – a 2009 Subaru Legacy.
The salesman at Lucky 8 Auto Sales admitted the car had been in an accident, but claimed that only the back of the vehicle had been damaged. When APA’s expert mechanics checked it out, they found the damage was much more severe than he had let on.
The car had actually been hit in the front quite severely and some of the repairs weren’t even complete – there was even an open weld.
APA President George Iny found “a very long gap where two pieces of metal had bent after a collision and nobody had repaired them.”
When we tracked down the car’s inspection records, they offered few clues on how the car had passed inspection; the paperwork was incomplete, yet somehow the car had been certified both structurally and mechanically safe.
Iny compared the form to a blank cheque: “They haven’t put in who it’s payable to or the amount that’s the equivalent. It’s not clear to APA how that car would pass. You would either need a form of willful blindness by the two inspection authorities or some kind of collusion maybe between the repair shop and the sellers,” Iny said.
The salesman at Lucky 8 Auto Sales, Stephen Lu, claimed that the car had passed all the required safety inspections.
"This car has no safety issue on the car. The government does the inspection,” he said.
But during an interview with W5 he admitted that the car had been very badly repaired, and when they discovered this the vehicle was returned to the wholesaler.
W5 asked British Columbia’s Ministry of Transportation about the APA’s survey and the inspection records we uncovered.
Perry Dennis, the Deputy Director of Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement defended his department’s oversight, insisting that his division does hold the authorized inspectors at the inspection facilities responsible.
“We audit them every two years. If we suspect that there are facilities out there that are not following the rules, we have numerous ways of watching and ensuring that they’re inspecting to standard,” Dennis said.
However, Iny said that the inspection paperwork is no guarantee. “You have the illusion that a vigorous authority is looking over the rebuild process and what we are telling you at APA is no such thing, not in the Vancouver market.
It’s a problem Dennis Pieschel has seen first-hand. He used to work for the provincial insurance company, ICBC, as an estimator. Now he’s an independent consultant.
He calls the vehicle inspection system in the province a farce and told W5 he finds “vehicles that are being repaired improperly and being sold to people that are totally dangerous, totally dangerous.”