THOUSANDS of motorists are driving potentially dangerous cars as new research reveals 4,000 imports a year have previously been crashed or written off.
The study, the biggest of its kind, discovered that nearly one in 10 cars imported from the UK last year had crash and damage histories.
Some had been crashed and/or written off several times, it says.
It also found some had been so badly damaged that, under UK laws, they should have been totally scrapped and none of their parts ever re-used.
According to car-history check agency Motorcheck.ie these "dangerously repaired wrecks" represent a "large number in daily use (that) are not safe enough to be driven".
It examined the history of 10,000 used cars imported last year. On the basis of such an extensive sample, it says it is fair to extrapolate that between 3,500 and 4,000 previously written-off vehicles are being imported here each year.
There are various categories of 'write-off'. Some damaged cars are allowed back on the road after meeting strict repair conditions while others are supposed to be destroyed.
But these findings claim that 'Category A' cars – so badly damaged they should have been scrapped – are being sold here.
The 10,000 studied represents 25pc of the 40,000 used cars imported last year. Of the 10,000, a total of 950 or 9.5pc, had been damaged or officially written off previously.
There are 2.4 million cars on our roads and around 500,000 of those have been imported from the UK over the years. If nearly one in 10 of those has been damaged, it would mean 45,000 used imports in total have questions marks over their safety, the report says.
Many have been repaired and put back on the road according to UK guidelines, but their owners may not be aware they have been re-registered and are now described as 'damaged repaired'.
Motorcheck spokesman Shane Teskey told the Irish Independent: "There are a large number of unscrupulous sellers breaking the law and offloading dangerously repaired wrecks on to unsuspecting new customers." The report insists it is fair to extrapolate that so many cars are potentially dangerous on the basis that the 10,000 studied from last year is a huge and representative sample.
It was not clear if the suspected high level of previous write-offs was reflected in NCT test results. It should also be pointed out that it is in Motorcheck's interest to highlight the need to have imports checked out by it, or other companies in that business. Such checks can cost from €20, and additionally report on mileage discrepancies, NCT status and whether the car had been used as a taxi or hackney.
Nonetheless, the number of cars sampled is so large that the report is likely to be regarded as a significant piece of research which highlights an issue with potentially serious implications for thousands of drivers.
Previous body damage on write-offs can be hidden by unscrupulous sellers. The danger arises where repairs have not been properly carried out to critical areas such as body structures, suspension, axles, etc.
The level of import buying this year is up 25pc on the same period for 2012 and is on course to hit the 50,000 mark. That would be an increase of 10,000 on each of the past three years.