We have seen just about everything in our years of operating as a cash-for-cars buyer. Most of the deals we do go off without a hitch. The seller is happy, we are happy, and a used car finds a new home. But we have also had our fair share of bad deals. We have dealt with more than one seller who tried using black hack sales tactics on us.
For the record, we borrowed the ‘black hat’ term from the SEO world. It is an SEO expert’s job to ensure that a client’s website performs well on the major search engines. There are multiple ways to do this. Some SEO strategies are considered white hat in the sense that Google and its competitors approve of them. Strategies that do not have Google approval are considered black hat.
In our industry, there are acceptable and unacceptable car selling strategies. If you are attempting to sell a used car the right way, you are going to be upfront and honest about everything. You’re going to utilize white hat practices that don’t result in you ripping off a potential buyer.
To drive this point home, here are some of the many black hat used car sales tactics we have seen over the years:
1. Rolling Back the Odometer
State laws are very clear about the need for odometer accuracy. In fact, it is illegal for a dealer or private seller to rollback a car’s odometer indiscriminately. The only legally allowed reason to change an odometer reading is to accommodate installation of a new engine. Other than that, odometers are off-limits.
That doesn’t stop some people from rolling odometers back. Mechanical odometers are pretty easy to manipulate, and you don’t need any special skills or equipment. As for digital odometers, they are a bit more challenging. However, they are controlled by software, and software can be hacked.
Why rollback an odometer? Because mileage ultimately affects the value of a used car. Low-mileage cars tend to be worth more than their high-mileage counterparts. Knowing this dictates that we be extremely diligent about odometer readings.
A Low-Mileage Caveat
While it is good to be suspicious of seemingly low odometer readings, there is one caveat here: the idea of older people not driving much has some truth to it. There are people who buy brand-new cars and rarely drive them simply because they are retired and have nowhere to go.
This is to say that a 10-year-old car with fewer than 50,000 miles on it is not unheard of. When we pay cash for cars, we have to consider who we are buying from. Not every case of a low odometer reading is necessarily a reason to be suspicious.
2. Downplaying Mechanical Issues
A big one among private sellers is downplaying legitimate mechanical issues. Here in Southern California, air-conditioning is almost a necessity. So imagine going to meet with someone looking to sell a car in Los Angeles. Imagine asking about the air-conditioning. What do you suppose a seller means when he says, “it just needs a recharge”?
A statement like that tells us that the AC is broken. Maybe it does need more refrigerant. But why? There are some cases when the age of a car dictates that the AC has to be recharged. But such cases are the exception to the rule. In almost all cases, an AC system that needs recharging has a leak. And in California, car owners are legally required to have leaks repaired.
3. Attempting to Hide Damage
This next black hat tactic, attempting to hide damage, is more the domain of used car dealers than private sellers. Still, private sellers have been known to do it as well. Attempting to hide damage can manifest itself in many ways.
Let’s say you had a used car with front-end damage severe enough to crack the frame. Most buyers do not know enough to crawl under the car and inspect the frame using a flashlight. So a seller might have the cosmetic damage repaired and leave it at that.
Another example is attempting to conceal flood damage. A seller might go to great lengths to remove water stains from carpets, upholstery, etc., in order to conceal any visual signs of inundation. Flood damage is a lot harder to hide, but it is not completely impossible. People who know their way around old cars know how to do it.
The Title Washing Problem
The flood damage issue brings up another black hat tactic known as title washing. Let us say you have a car totaled by the insurance company following a flood. Let’s also say that a used car dealer wants to buy that vehicle from the insurance company. A salvage title would be issued as part of the sale.
A salvage title indicates the car has suffered some sort of serious damage as a result of flood, collision, fire, etc. The intent is to warn future buyers that the car may have some significant issues.
Title washing occurs when a buyer attempts to conceal the salvage title by registering and re-titling the vehicle in another state. The seller can simply claim that the title has been lost and apply for new one. All they have to do is document proof of ownership and that’s that.
On a positive note, running a vehicle’s VIN could reveal a salvage title issued in another state. The downside is that consumers do not have access to VIN records. But there are companies that do, like Carfax.
Be a White Hat Seller
The lesson in all of this should be pretty clear. If you are planning to sell a car in Orange or Los Angeles counties – or anywhere for that matter – be a white hat seller. Be honest and forthright in everything you do.
Better yet, avoid a private sale altogether. Contact CarFastCash instead. We take the hassle and inconvenience out of selling used cars. One call is all it takes to get that car out of your driveway.