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Used car caution: CARFAX warns of odometer rollbacks, flooded and stolen cars

Family buys car that had been reported stolen
Ford
Posted at 4:00 AM, Feb 17, 2023

With used car prices out of reach for many buyers, numerous people are looking for cheaper cars offered on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and other sites.

The problem, however, is that you may have no way of knowing where that car really came from, or what issues you may discover after buying it.

In Luciano Ciambelli's case, all he has left of the car he recently bought is the spare set of keys after police towed away his black Honda Civic.

Officers told him the car he recently purchased was really a stolen car.

"The police pulled me over," he said, "and the officer said, 'You didn't do anything wrong, but you got a stolen car.'"

His granddaughter Amy Elam says they bought it from a Facebook seller for a few thousand dollars.

"They gave me the title and registration," she said.

But the Honda had been reported stolen by the real owner, and its selling title was apparently forged.

Odometer rollbacks, flood cars expected this year

From stolen cars to a rolled-back odometer, there are many pitfalls to watch for when buying from private sellers. Odometer fraud used to involve the old plastic analog odometers, with gears.

But Emilie Voss of CARFAX says odometer fraud is a serious problem again, telling us, "People don't know that a digital odometer on late model vehicles can be rolled back."

She said devices now sold on the black market can roll them back. As CARFAX describes in a demonstration video, "a simple click of a button, in just a few seconds you will see it go from 150,000 to just 50,000 miles."

Another issue to worry about is flooded cars from storms like last year's Hurricane Ian making their way north.

How to protect yourself

If you're shopping for a used car, Melanie McGovern with the Better Business Bureau says it is essential to do your homework and see the car in person.

"You can drive it, you can see it, you can get a CARFAX report,and you can check the VIN," she said.

McGovern says to walk away if the seller won't let you see it in person or demands payment before you see the car. She says an inspection is so important to avoid buying someone else's lemon.

If you're not comfortable inspecting a vehicle by yourself, "bring somebody along who does know these things," she said.

The BBB says the biggest red flag of all is a very low price, out of the normal range for similar cars from that year.

Elam and her grandfather are now out $4,000.

We contacted the police department that hauled away the car. They said they cannot return it or get Ciambelli his money back from a Facebook seller who is now long gone.

"It's crazy, it's insane," Elam said, "because we are out all this money."

A CARFAX report and inspection might have raised red flags about the car's history, and prevented all their heartache.

That way you don't waste your money.

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