Repaired write-offs back on the roads
UKImports/Insurance write-offs:Last year a woman from Co Kildare was having mechanic trouble with her 2003 Peugeot 206. She brought it to a mechanic who inspected the vehicle, and found that the vehicle had defective suspension.
The mechanic checked the car's history with Cartell.ie, an online company that allows prospective customers to vet secondhand cars, and the company carried out a search on the car. It emerged that the vehicle had been imported from the UK and re-registered by the vendor, a garage, in Ireland.
Further enquiries revealed that the car had been listed on British records as a Category D write-off under the classification system used by UK insurance companies. Under this system, Category D cars are vehicles that have been damaged in a crash, but which can be repaired and driven again.
Category A and B write-offs are cars that are so damaged they can never be driven again. Category C is where the value of the vehicle after a crash doesn't make it economically worthwhile to repair, but the car can be repaired and returned to the road after being independently tested.
The mechanic said the owner of the Peugeot 206 had no idea her car had been imported from the UK, and she would not have bought it had she known it had previously been damaged in a crash. There was no notice on the Vehicle Registration Certificate, which is essentially the car's passport that is issued by the Revenue Commissioners, to show that it had previously been classed a write-off in the UK.
Cartell, which is owned by brother and sister Jeff and Nicola Aherne, knew there was a problem with written-off cars reappearing on the roads. They carried out a report last summer which found that total write-offs - cars that were so seriously damaged in crashes that they were unfit to drive again - were reappearing on Irish roads because of a loophole in the reporting of write-offs. There is no compulsory reporting of write-offs by either car owners or insurers to the Department of Transport.
Cartell conducted its research by checking records on the National Vehicle File (NVF) at the department, to which the company has access to check used cars that customers are considering buying, and comparing them with a sample of written-off cars held by an Irish insurance company.
The Ahernes were also aware that cars that had been written off in the UK were being repaired, imported into Ireland and sold to new owners who were unaware of the chequered histories of the vehicles.
Using the information on the NVF, Cartell took a sample of 4,479 vehicles previously registered in the UK that had been imported into Ireland.
They cross-checked these vehicles against the records of a British company called HPI UK, that provides a similar service to Cartell.
Cartell found that 320 vehicles - 7.1 per cent of the total sample - had been classed as write-offs by UK insurance companies. Twelve vehicles were listed as Category B write offs - cars that should never be driven again. Some 20 vehicles, including five tractors, four vans, a BMW 7-Series and a 4.6-litre Cadillac, had been listed as "scrapped" - outside the write-off categories - on the records of the UK vehicle licensing authority, the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority, according to HPI UK.
Some 125 vehicles were Category C write-offs - vehicles which had been extensively damaged, but which the insurance company had decided not to repair.
This type of write-off, which is similar to the "beyond economic repair" write-off in Ireland, can be repaired and returned to the road, but the insurer regards the cost of the repairs as prohibitive when comparing it to the value of the vehicle.
Another 163 vehicles in the sample were classed Category D write-offs. Like Category C write-offs, these are vehicles which the insurer has decided not to fix but which could be repaired and returned to the road.
In all, Cartell found that 288 vehicles (Category C and D) had been involved in accidents in the UK, repaired, imported into Ireland and re-registered to Irish owners. Cartell believes the number of UK write-offs on Irish roads could be far higher, given that their sample covers just 4,479 UK imports.
More than 300,000 cars were imported from the UK and Northern Ireland over the past 12 years and based on the 7.1 per cent in its sample, Cartell believes that the number of UK Category B, C and D write-offs imported into Ireland over the last 12 years could be as high as 22,000.
The Revenue Commissioners is responsible for re-registering UK cars in Ireland. However, its main function is to assess the vehicle registration tax (VRT) owing on an import, not the roadworthiness of a car.
The Revenue's job is complicated by the fact that car owners could easily use pre-crash records, which do not show a vehicle's classification as a write-off, to re-register the car in Ireland.
Category C write-offs can only be returned to the roads in the UK after an independent check is carried out on the vehicle and it successfully obtains a Vehicle Identity Check (VIC). The UK authorities also issue a Vehicle Salvage Export Certificate for Category C and D write-offs that owners want to export.
Cartell believes the Revenue should be seeking these certificates on all vehicles imported into Ireland, and forwarding them to the NVF at the Department of Transport if they obtain them, so new owners can check to see the full history of a car before they decide to buy the vehicle.
Jeff Aherne of Cartell said: "We simply can't have a situation where peoples' lives are put at risk because of poor procedures."
He says Cartell wants the Government to ensure that all write-off data is transferred to the NVF and to "put in place the necessary safeguards which include a new category of write-off system and uploading the necessary information onto the Vehicle Registration Certificate".
The Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) also acknowledges that there is a problem with checking the history of a secondhand car in Ireland.
The society's director general designate Alan Nolan says: "When you buy a vehicle in Ireland you have no way of knowing what its crash history is. You are relying on the integrity of the person selling the vehicle."
Cartell believes the loopholes in the reporting of car write-offs, including those imported from the UK, is being exploited by some people working in the car industry.
"With the write-off percentages so high in Ireland, it would seem apparent that there are unscrupulous individuals operating and profiting from the lack of adequate procedures, with the ultimate loser being Irish drivers," notes Aherne.