From US scrapyards to UAE motor auctions

Imported cars pose safety risk as Dubai mechanics say that many being brought into the country have something wrong with them.
Mechanics work on a vehicle in Silber Arrows Garage. Mechanics say they are seeing an increasing number of vehicles that dupe the buyer into thinking they are newer than they are. Reem Mohammed / The National
Mechanics work on a vehicle in Silber Arrows Garage. Mechanics say they are seeing an increasing number of vehicles that dupe the buyer into thinking they are newer than they are. Reem Mohammed / The National

DUBAI // Cars that were written off overseas are being resold in the UAE after cheap repairs by greedy dealers, putting motorists’ lives at risk.

Mechanics say more imported used vehicles are being found with ineffective safety features, as importers increase their profit margins from the sale of salvaged cars with shoddy work.

UK engineer Philip Smith, manager of SilberArrows technical department in Al Quoz, which deals with Mercedes-Benz cars, said second-hand buyers were often unaware of the risks associated.

“Driving around in a written-off car with a bent chassis is something serious as it is less likely to survive another impact,” Mr Smith said.

“One car brought in to us had been written off twice and was going to cost Dh80,000 to rectify.

“The worst I’ve seen was a convertible E-class. The chassis was out of shape and clearly bent. We refused to accept it.

“As it had been written off, its roll bar was no longer working and was secured in place by wood screws. That car would have been sold on – it was a coffin on wheels.”

Cars are bought from US salvage yards then sold with a written-off code, meaning it should only be used for spare parts. But the code is only recognised in the home country.

Kurt Sona, an Al Quoz garage service manager, said most qualified mechanics could spot problems almost immediately by checking a car’s safety restraint systems.

“Within 30 seconds we can find out if the system is inactive,” Mr Sona said. “It is very common on American and Canadian vehicles. Once that is cut you have no airbags, seatbelts or anything safety-related.

“Modern vehicles are built around that system. It’s a big selling point. Once it’s gone you’re in a really unsafe vehicle and it’s getting more common.”

A mechanic who asked not to be identified, but who regularly works on Land Rovers and Japanese vehicles, said car auctions had become a hotbed for criminals.

“This has been going on in this country for the last 20 years or so,” he said. “So many people are doing it now. It is very profitable.

“Cars that may have been stolen or written off by insurance companies are then very hard to sell on. I don’t accept any American imports any more.”

Another illicit tactic used by unscrupulous dealers is to wind back the car’s mileage clock, which can add tens of thousands of dirhams to the price of luxury vehicles.

Mr Smith said that between 70 to 80 per cent of vehicles brought in to his shop with technical problems were either written off at some time or clocked.

Chassis numbers can help to identify a vehicle’s mileage but repaired damage could be harder to detect.

“A car that has done 200,000 kilometres will have a lot more wear than one with half that. Buyers are being conned,” he said.

The Roads and Transport Authority said a standard test legally required to register a car took 15 minutes. Mechanics check exhaust emissions, brakes and the general condition.

But because of the high number of cars inspected, uncovering whether the mileage had been manipulated was not always possible.

Experts at SilberArrows completed about 10 pre-purchase inspections a week, and said half had either been written off or had their odometers wound back.

Mileage can be manipulated using special software on a laptop normally used to alter vehicle settings when it is plugged into the car’s central computer.

Most garages offered a pre-check for second-hand car buyers so, for a small cost, they could have peace of mind.

Julian Redman, managing director at SilberArrows, said he always recommended that buyers went through a registered dealer.

“No matter how clever these people think they are at conning the everyday man in the street, it will always get picked up in a garage,” Mr Redman said. “A dealer will not knowingly sell a clocked car.”

The RTA was unavailable for comment.

Published: September 17, 2016 04:00 AM


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