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'Used and Abused' Cars Sold 'Like New'

'Used and Abused' Cars Sold 'Like New'

CREATED Sep 20, 2006
(Story created 2/7/04)

If a car is in a serious wreck, you might think it would wind up in a junkyard. But thousands of used and abused cars are winding up back on the road and, some say, putting all of us in danger.

When you're looking for a used car, you probably check under the hood, maybe kick the tires, and, of course, give it a test drive.

But our undercover investigation found that used car -- the one that the dealer tells us is so "nice" -- may have actually once been in a very serious wreck.

Bobbi Albert says when she was in a wreck.

"The whole front driver's side was just totally demolished," she tells NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus..

Her car was broadsided. "I was really blessed to walk away," she recalls. The car was totaled.

"I didn't think it could ever be driven again. I thought it was a goner."

Yet, we found Albert's car for sale at a used car lot looking almost as good as new.

An employee told us it was a 1996 model and had 96,000 miles on it. And the price? $6,000.

When we told Bobbi Albert where her car was, she couldn't believe it. She told us she was "shocked."

But what really surprised us was that the saleswoman at the car lot told our undercover shopper, "It's never been wrecked."

And later, the car lot's owner also told our shopper the car had never been hit.

"It's clean title. Never been in an accident," he insisted.

But on Nolensville Road, where you'll find more used car lots than anywhere in the state, we found lots of these rebuilt wrecks.

In fact, in a random survey, we found almost half of the cars for sale on Nolensville Road had been totaled -- with damage so serious the state considered these cars unsafe and only good for parts or scrap.

Barry Woody, the director of the state Motor Vehicle Commission tells us, "Our concern is that they're just putting them back together enough to get them on the road and get them sold."

Rebuilding junked cars is legal, but some -- including Woody -- say it puts everyone at risk.

"If you're driving down the road and one of these cars is beside you and a wheel comes off, for example, it can involve you in an accident also," Woody adds.

The dealers don't have to volunteer the information that a car's been in a wreck and we found several dealers who were quick to tell our undercover shoppers that their cars were "perfect" and "very nice."

But dealers are required to let you know about any accidents a car has been in -- if you ask.

Yet, when our undercover shoppers asked about cars that we knew had been in serious accidents and sustained major damage, most salesmen told our shoppers the wrecks hadn't been serious at all.

One told us, "It had a small accident on the front."

Another said, "It certainly doesn't look like it's been totaled out or anything."

Several said the cars they buy at salvage yards usually only need minor repairs.

One described them as "very, very light damaged cars."

But used car dealer Ronnie Haislip tells us, "Some of the stuff I've seen, I don't see how in the world, they put them back together."

Haislip and his family have been in the business more than 40 years.

Haislip took us back behind the business next door to his to show us what he says many of the rebuilt wrecks look like before they're fixed back up. We saw several seriously crunched cars.

But Haislip insists you'll never see one of those on his lot.

He's one of the few dealers on Nolensville Road that refuses to sell rebuilt cars.

"If the insurance company determines the car is totalled, then I think it should be totaled," Haislip explains. "It shouldn't be back out on the street."

We went back out to the lot where we found Bobbi Albert's car and when we asked about the car, the owner insisted it had never been wrecked.

Yet, when we asked for proof, we found that more than half of his cars' titles had been stamped rebuilt, including the title for Albert's.

The used car lot owner then admitted that it had been in a wreck, but even then, he insisted that the wreck hadn't been much more than a fender bender, that it wasn't a very big accident.

We asked Bobbi Albert, "Would you call it a fender bender?"

She said, "No, not at all, It was a lot more than a fender bender."

She doesn't believe there's any way her car could be safe to drive now.

But the man who wants $6,000 for it claims it is perfectly safe.

"I fix it right," he says.

Now, as a postscript, we checked out 130 or so cars on Nolensville Road and found that 64 of them had been totalled in wrecks.

So, how do you know if you're buying a car that's been in a wreck?

Ask for the name of the previous owner and call them.