Portsmouth drivers are being warned of a rise in gangs selling rebuilt damaged vehicles built from stolen parts.
Unsuspecting motorists’ lives are being put at risk by accident-damaged vehicles that are being brought ‘back from the dead’ using parts salvaged from stolen cars.
Concerns are growing that there is a rising trend of gangs seizing written-off vehicles – reckoned by insurers to be too badly damaged to be worth repairing – which they are then patching up using parts of other cars.
Often the gangs are using stolen vehicles, nicked specifically so they can be stripped bare and used as a source for parts.
They then pass off the rebuilt vehicles – dubbed Frankenstein cars – as apparently good quality second hand cars to unsuspecting motorists who don’t realise exactly what they’re buying.
Now fears are growing that motorists’ lives could be placed at risk from a wide range of mechanical and structural faults with cars they have bought in good faith.
While the gangs often target expensive vehicles so they can maximise their income from the shady deals, it’s believed all makes, models and ages of vehicles are affected.
Rob Clark, niche motor underwriting manager at insurance specialists Ageas, said: “I heard one story about a new driver who had an accident in a Fiat 500, unaware it was a write-off salvaged by criminals who didn’t bother to put one of the airbags back in properly.
“These motors aren’t usually well put together and can seriously endanger the safety of unsuspecting buyers and other road users.”
The issue was raised recently by West Midlands Police, who highlighted a 100 per cent rise in vehicle thefts in the force area over a four-year period.
The force revealed that more than 10,000 cars were stolen in 2017, compared to just over 5200 in 20143-15. It put the rise down to gangs buying written-off cars from auctions which they then fixed using parts from stolen cars.
The force has now launched a major crackdown on the back-street garages where stolen cars are being processed.
The issue arises because insurers may decide to write off a vehicle which has been involved in an accident on the grounds that repairing it would cost more than its value.
Often written-off vehicles appear at salvage auctions, and are usually bought by bona fide highly-skilled mechanics looking for parts to repair other vehicles.
But because the vehicles can be high value cars such as BMW, Audi and Range Rover, gangs have spotted the potential to make a hefty profit by fixing them and selling them on.
With new car parts often costing a significant amount of money, gangs are turning to stealing vehicles and then stripping them of the parts they need.
A loophole in the law means the ‘Frankenstein cars’ can then go back on the road without having to pass any tests to ensure it is 100 per cent roadworthy.
Indeed, the fact it’s been written-off and rebuilt doesn’t even invalidate its MOT certificate.
It all comes against a background of a general rise in car theft, which has soared by 57 per cent to 89,000 in 2017 after having been in decline for over two decades.
Mr Clark said the insurance industry, led by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) is working with police in a bid to find a solution to the issue.
He called for motorists to follow police advice: “If you are going to buy a car that’s much cheaper than similar models elsewhere, then ask yourself, is it too good to be true?
“Do your homework and check the vehicle’s history. If you find out it had been written-off in the past, see if the seller will admit as much.
“If not, stay well clear as they are either lying or don’t know.”
Find out more about how to protect yourself on the road here.