Saturday 10 December 2016

Irish consumers are being ripped off with car clocking loophole

Surprisingly, there is no legislation to prevent changing the mileage on vehicles despite urgent calls from the AA

Shane O'Donoghue

Published 13/11/2011 | 05:00

CALLS to criminalise the act of car 'clocking' in Ireland have been renewed by the AA following a report last month, which revealed that up to 11 per cent of car imports from the UK have false mileages. Data from Cartell.ie, the official vehicle records experts in Ireland, was also used to illustrate how the number of imports has increased substantially in the past decade, putting Irish buyers at risk.

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"Some Irish consumers are being taken for a ride as Ireland is seen as a dumping ground," said AA Ireland public affairs manager Conor Faughnan. Yet there is no legislation to prevent the act of changing a car's mileage reading (referred to as 'clocking'), nor to penalise those that knowingly sell clocked cars. The AA denounced Ireland's existing laws as weak and has called for clocking to be made an offence.

John P Byrne, Legal and PR Manager of Cartell.ie, drafted a Bill to make clocking a specific offence and submitted it to the then government for inclusion into the 2010 Road Traffic Act. The Bill was not passed.

According to a source within Transport Minister Leo Varadkar's office, the current position on clocking is as follows: "The Consumer Protection Act 2007 makes it an offence for a trader to engage in a misleading commercial practice, which would include the provision of false information in relation to a 'product's usage or prior history' to the extent that the information would be likely to cause the average consumer to make a transactional decision that the average consumer would not otherwise make. The National Consumer Agency enforces this legislation.

"From a point of view of the protection of the economic interests of consumers, car clocking is considered to be a misleading commercial practice within the meaning of Part 3 of the Consumer Protection Act 2007. Those who engage in this practice commit an offence under the Act, which is enforced by the National Consumer Agency. Given the detriment that consumers can suffer as a result of purchasing a clocked car, the Agency considers car clocking to be a priority area for attention and investigation."

However, the process to convict a person is convoluted, borne out by the tiny number of successful convictions. It is not seen as a deterrent.

Amid fresh calls to criminalise the act of clocking the AA's Faughnan points out that it's not just fraud, but potentially dangerous: "Clocking is a major safety concern as a vehicle with more mileage than indicated may not have had the correct servicing at manufacturer's recommended intervals. This makes breakdowns more likely and increases the chances of an expensive repair like a timing belt. More seriously, critical parts such as braking and power-steering systems may be in need of repair without the driver knowing it."

It was hoped that the advent of more sophisticated instruments would make clocking impossible, but in fact it's easier than ever. The AA cites the availability of the technology to carry out the clocking for less than €100 -- and it's rarely necessary to dismantle the dashboard nowadays. In effect, there is precious little deterrent for a non-scrupulous seller to alter the odometer reading.

"If you are planning to bring in a car from Northern Ireland or Great Britain make sure that you check its history," said Faughnan.

While the latest data relates to imported cars, the National Mileage Register (NMR), operated by Cartell.ie, reveals that Irish cars are far from exempt, with mileage discrepancies across the board. The NMR holds over 5m readings and was set up to protect consumers. To further boost the usefulness of this data the AA would like to see the release of the NCT mileage readings.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that NCT test centres regularly observe mileage discrepancies, but they are not bound to act on this.

It is proposed that the penalty for vehicle clocking would be a fine of up to €10,000 and up to two years' imprisonment on conviction on indictment.

Jeff Aherne, Director of Cartell.ie said: "It is time that Ireland sends out a clear message that it will not allow its citizens be ripped off and put in harm's way when laws can be passed to protect them."

Sunday Independent Supplement

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