Thu | Jul 2, 2020

Car mileage fraud in overdrive - As cracks open up in screening, dispute emerges over inspection certificates

Published:Friday | May 29, 2020 | 12:11 AMMark Titus/Gleaner Writer
President of the Jamaica Used Car Dealers Association, Lynvalle Hamilton.
President of the Jamaica Used Car Dealers Association, Lynvalle Hamilton.

Despite the establishment of a pre-shipment regime by the Government to protect consumers, unsuspecting Jamaicans are still being deceived by unscrupulous used-car dealers who are rolling back the mileage generated on vehicles in the country of origin to sell on the local market at a greater value.

Constant complaints of cars being sold with falsified information saw Autoterminal Japan Limited (AJL) being hired by the Trade Board to verify the data on vehicles destined for Jamaica, but Lynvalle Hamilton, president of the Jamaica Used Car Dealers Association (JUCDA), says there are still cracks in the system.

“We are seeing some vehicles that came in that we wonder how it is that they were inspected and passed,” Hamilton said in a telephone interview recently.

“There are times that we see some vehicles that we have had to question the integrity (of the process).”

Though Hamilton says he has “heard talk” that odometer fraud is still prevalent, The Gleaner understands that the issue has been a point of concern among the 195-strong JUCDA membership, with open warnings issued to members to avoid such practices, especially with the impending digitisation of the testing and inspection process at the Island Traffic Authority (ITA).

“For a system to prevent that (odometer fraud and other falsified information), we would have to be able to tap into the car database of the country the car is coming from, for example, the car database of the Ministry of Transport in Japan,” Donald Henry, the acting director of the ITA, said in an interview with The Gleaner.

“ ... because that would have the last mileage of that car, so when it comes and we enter the chassis number or the VIN, it will come up with the odometer reading on it.”

According to the ITA boss, if such an arrangement is not reached with the countries of origin, any anti-fraud system employed might not be entirely foolproof against odometer fraud but suggested that consumers must ensure that they are getting value for their money.

“One of the things I say to people is that in buying a car, the onus is on you, the consumer, to ensure the odometer reading of the car is what you get,” Henry said. “Do the groundwork yourself. Be vigilant.”

The ITA director also advised that the history of vehicles imported can be obtained by entering the chassis number or VIN on selected websites at minimal cost as well as requesting the Pre-shipment Inspection/Dealer Disclosure Certificate from the dealer.

Former president of the JUCDA, Ian Lyn, has urged Jamaica Customs and the Trade Board to improve their monitoring mechanisms.

“Many Jamaicans have complained about this over the last couple of years,” said Lyn, who is now based in the US. Although dealers have for years been viewed as culpable of odometer fraud, he believes that exporters in Japan are the real culprits.

“A five-year-old vehicle with 10,000 miles should make one suspicious, especially if the seat belt and seats are worn out,” Lyn said.

But of the 10 car dealers visited by the Gleaner team throughout the parishes of western Jamaica and the south coast, only Keddon Auto Sales in Mandeville and Nacana Motors in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, were willing to have the certificate inspected by the consumer.

“Once you go to a car mart and they don’t have the inspection certificate for a newly imported car, you should be concerned,” Geovanni, a sales rep at Keddon Auto, advised. “They should have the inspection certificate to show because other customers have been expressing concern about mileage tampering.”

Geovanni requested that his surname not be published.

However, Melvin Blythe, owner of Melvin Blythe Auto in Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth, was unconcerned that he could not immediately produce a document on proof of distance travelled.

“They will never approve the vehicle to come into the island if we don’t produce the certificate. When you get the certificate, you then apply for the import permit,” Blythe said. “So if I want information on a vehicle, I will just tap into the Trade Board on my portal and get the info that I need.

“I have never done anything like that, and I don’t need to,” he quipped.

At Cars2Cars Auto in Montego Bay, manager Vivienne Coy was adamant that the pre-shipment certification was not necessary after it was presented to the ITA.

“Once you are buying the vehicle, the original mileage will be on the certificate of fitness,” she said. “We do not have that document that you are asking about, but we would not jeopardise our reputation by getting involved in such foolishness.”

At Chappa Auto in Savanna-la Mar, the sales rep, who had a list of mileage records for each vehicle, gave the assurance that the original certification could be viewed at the office, but when requested, a woman who identified herself as the wife of the owner said that no such certificate was necessary.

“All the cars are inspected in Japan before they get here, so the actual mileage on it now is what would come from Japan,” she said. “... It is not like when persons could backtrack the mileage and say it is a small mileage ... no tampering,” she said.

However, Hamilton told The Gleaner that the dealers are aware that they must produce the certification for inspection on request. “The dealers are fully aware because it is in the policy; it is part of the motor vehicle import policy.”

But one Mandeville-based car dealer has suggested that producing the certificate could be problematic for him and other small players. “I can assure you that when we buy cars from the big man in Kingston, we are not getting the certificate,” said Dave, who requested a pseudonym. “All I get is the fitness, entry, and tax invoice.”