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SELLING A CAR PRIVATELY? WATCH OUT FOR THIS SCAM

Posted by Allen L Phillips

Del Mar Automotive belongs to a statewide association, ASCCA, which maintains a chat room for shops to post information.  The following was posted by a shop in Richmond, CA (San Francisco bay area).  Another bay area shop also reported a similar incident.  It may move south.  Beware.

I just wanted to report a very interesting phenomenon we have now seen on three occasions.  The first time we were baffled, the second time our antennas were up, and the third time we knew what we were looking at going in.  There is a scam going around that is so odd that I wanted to share it with you all.

The first event occurred when a customer brought in a 2004 Camry that we had recently serviced in anticipation of the customer advertising it for sale.  After he listed it, a prospective purchaser came to look at it.  He test drove it, then popped the hood to check things out.  After a few minutes of poking around, he turned to the owner with the engine dipstick in hand and said "uh, oh, the oil looks like milkshake, it looks like you have a blown head gasket".  He then made a lowball offer on the car, saying he is a mechanic and can do the repair himself.  The owner almost took the lower offer, but having just had it checked with us, thought to have us look at it again to see if we could shed some light on what might have happened.

We had been all over his car recently, so were especially concerned to figure out what we could have missed.  We confirmed the milkshake in the crankcase then checked for exhaust gas in the cooling system with a gas analyzer.  We found zero evidence of petroleum products in the cooling system, and the coolant was full; this was when we began to think the facts did not add up. We told the customer that the evidence of the head gasket failure was suspect, so we changed the oil and suggested carefully monitoring the oil for evidence of moisture.  In the meantime, he told the prospective purchaser that he needed time to decide how to handle the problem.  The customer brought the vehicle back to us four times over the next two weeks.  The coolant level did not drop and the engine oil remained clean and moisture-free.

Hmmm...  We told our customer that all evidence pointed to the purchaser introducing moisture into the crankcase in a deliberate attempt to scam him.  We had never heard of such a thing, so passed it off as a one-off anomaly.  Our customer re-listed the vehicle and sold it to someone else.

A few months later we saw a similar scam, and were more quick to advise the customer to change the oil and monitor things, and yesterday when we saw it again we told the customer what we thought was going as soon as we heard the story.  In this final case, the customer actually cross-checked the information the purchaser told him about where he worked, and the dealership confirmed he was not an employee, and shared that they had heard of the same person claiming to be an employee in a separate scam.

Evidently there are scam artists going around shopping for used cars, adding water to the crankcase to make it look like the head gaskets are bad so they can get the car for a 'steal'.  This likely won't affect us as professionals directly, but be aware so you can properly advise your customers should they encounter the scam.

Thank you, Lute, at Art’s Automotive.