Source: / Heidenheim / Hendrik Rupp 2018-06-23

The district office (of Heidenheim) has warned of new fraudulent activities it has noticed have been on the rise: US vehicles written off as total losses are being rebuilt cosmetically in Eastern Europe and then re-sold in towns like Heidenheim.

The Audi looked like a real bargain: Two years old, low miles, well below usual prices being asked, and fully loaded with options. Only the radio didn’t work and the sat nav language needed adjusting, said the seller. A buyer from the district community bought the car and was happy.

But not for long: The operating language did not work and soon other functions gave up the ghost, in less than two weeks the whole car went on strike. In the workshop, under the bonnet, there were indications which did not bode well: welds were found through the entire floor assembly as well as hastily made temporary repairs: the shiny car was nothing more than a disguised wreck that a year before was actually declared a total loss after a serious accident in the US.

Cheating in a big way

This is not an isolated case, as it turns out and regularly seen at the district offices vehicle registration department: “These cases are now becoming more common,” says Renate Bergmann, Head of the Admissions Office: In ever-increasing numbers car wrecks from the US arrive in Eastern Europe, are cosmetically refurbished, welded together somehow and then sold as defect-free vehicles.

“It’s about the so-called salvage titles,” says Gerd Heideker, head of road transport at the district office: In the US, these are issued for vehicles that are no longer roadworthy due to accident, fire or water damage from flooding.

More than 20 percent of all US vehicles transferred to Europe in previous years carried this “Salvage Title” – one in five US vehicles that came to Europe is likely a fraudulent wrecked wreck.

“The process always follows the same pattern,” explains Heideker: US wrecks are shipped to Europe in large quantities, then patched and cosmetically repaired: “This usually happens in the Baltics, in Lithuania, for example, but Georgia is catching up.

The numbers are huge depending on the brand: According to U.S. founded company  “CARFAX”, by comparing the chassis numbers of US vehicles with Salvage Titles, 46 percent of all US imported Audi’s, 43 percent of VW’s and 35 percent of Toyota’s were camouflaged wrecks. Mercedes is a bit safer with “only” 14 percent. “This is more about new and high-end vehicles,” explains Renate Bergmann – otherwise it’s not worth the effort, even in low-wage countries.

Potentially lethal

If you buy a former salvage title, you risk a lot: Often, two wrecks are taken in the Baltic States, one with front-end damage the other with rear damage, and then combined to make one functioning car. But anyone who cuts chassis floors and then welds them back together risks structural weaknesses that can become life-threatening in the event of an accident. Illegal shortcuts can also be made with the electronics: If a control unit does not communicate with the ABS or brake assistance then it is just turned off – which can be life-threatening in an emergency.

At the district office, they are ready for the new challenge: “In the future, we will be ordering motor vehicle engineers to test suspicious cars,” says Gerd Heideker. Because even if a car looks ok cosmetically, the reality may be that it should no longer be allowed on public roads.


Contact CARFAX

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