How to Avoid Kisses and Apples… and Getting Ripped Off
Halloween is rather “spooktacular.” The warm light of summer has been forgotten as darkness arrives with dinner. The last few lifeless leaves are blown from trees only to be piled on front lawns in mock graves from which the dead will surely rise. Shrill music echoes discordantly from once serene suburban houses. Jack-o-lantern flames pierce the blackness, providing just enough flickering light to make it both scary and fun for the trick-or-treaters. Do you remember trick or treating? Can you recall that tangible excitement of running from house to house; trying not to trip, or worse, lose any of the candies stashed in your pillow case. And there was a secret communication between the young ghouls, witches and ghosts as they transited the neighbourhood — where to find the best “loot.” Where were they giving out chips or cheezies or yes, those little chocolate bars? Those were the houses you needed to find! Not the one giving out apples — the horror! And as soon as you got home, you’d dump the bag out on the floor; surely this was enough treasure to last until next October; unless of course you were talking about those Halloween Kisses, the molasses staple of our childhood Octobers; surely those, could last years. On the off chance you summoned the courage to eat one you prayed it wouldn’t suck the fillings out of your teeth. They were the “lemons” of the Halloween candy world.
As adults, little is as exciting and yet equally fearful as the Halloweens of our childhood … with perhaps one exception — buying a car. In that acquisition many of us steel ourselves with the same heightened sense of “prepare for anything” as a nine year old on Halloween. Our fight-or-flight response is awakened; because this is, for most, a large purchase; it can be scary, and no one wants to get stuck with a lemon.
And according to research conducted for OMVIC, Ontario’s regulator of vehicle sales, getting stuck with a lemon is Ontarians’ greatest anxiety or fear when buying a vehicle privately; in fact 59% feel this way followed by 13% who fear overpaying for a vehicle that was misrepresented and 9% who are concerned about the lack of maintenance records when buying privately. These are all legitimate concerns, particularly when you consider the fact there is NO consumer protection law that protects a consumer who buys a vehicle privately; if something goes wrong, they’ll be on their own.
“Buying privately certainly has more risk than buying from a dealer,” explains Terry O’Keefe, Director of Communications and Education for OMVIC. “Perhaps the biggest danger is posed by curbsiders.” Curbsiders are illegal, unlicensed dealers. Commonly they pose as private sellers or operate from small automotive-related businesses like repair shops. “Often the vehicles they sell are rebuilt wrecks or have rolled back odometers.” Consumers who fall victim to these unscrupulous sellers have little recourse when they discover the truth about the vehicle they’ve bought. “Finding curbsiders after the transaction has been completed is nearly impossible for most consumers,” explains O’Keefe. “Very often the vehicle was not registered in the seller’s name so the buyer doesn’t know who they actually bought from.”
OMVIC investigates and prosecutes curbsiders on a regular basis; the penalties handed down by the courts for those convicted can be severe. “Recently we’ve seen fines of $50,000, $24,000 and a 750- day jail term (two charges) in three high profile curbsider cases.” But while these successful enforcement actions send a strong message to those who would prey on unwary car-buyers, it doesn’t actually address the financial losses their victims suffer when they discover the true history of the vehicles they’ve purchased.
To help consumers spot or avoid a curbsider, OMVIC offers these tips:
BEWARE OF VEHICLES PRICED BELOW MARKET VALUE
In order to sell vehicles as quickly and easily as possible, curbsiders may offer a “too good to be true” price. They can do this because the vehicles are often accidentdamaged, odometer-tampered or rebuilt write-offs. If a deal seems too good to be true, that’s a warning, not an opportunity.
KNOW WHO YOU’RE BUYING FROM
Curbsiders often sell vehicles that are not registered in their names (or have only been registered in their name for a short period). It’s important to ensure you’re dealing with the registered owner. Be bold and ask for ID and proof of ownership: they should match.
RESEARCH THE VEHICLE’S HISTORY
Reports from CarProof and Carfax may provide useful information on reported collisions/incidents, liens (CarProof), past odometer readings, previous outof- province registration and Ministry of Transportation branding (e.g., salvage, irreparable, rebuilt, none).
GET A SECOND OPINION
Have the vehicle inspected by a licensed mechanic. He or she may find problems the seller did not disclose or know about.
Buying a used car privately shouldn’t be as daunting as choking down one of those Halloween Kisses; it does however require two skills trick-ortreaters learn when searching for the best loot —vigilance and awareness; those can help you avoid curbsiders who would rip you off … or houses shelling out apples.
For more tips on how to protect yourself when buying a car, from a dealer or private seller, visit omvic.ca.