Consumer Ripoff: Chop shop cars - can you spot the difference?

The Motor Trade Association of WA has
issued a warning about chop-shop vehicles.

You may not be driving the car you think you are driving.

That is the warning the Motor Trade Association of WA is giving after the discovery of a Toyota Prado in Perth that was not what it appeared to be.

The vehicle had been professionally re-birthed and up-specked.

That means although it was a GX Prado bought at auction in Queensland last year for $25,100 with 323,338 km on its odometer, it was traded to a Perth car yard for $45,000 as a Toyota Prado GXL with an odometer reading of 42,380 kilometres.

The car yard only realised there was something not quite right with the vehicle when it was about to on-sell it.

MTA chief executive Stephen Moir said there could be tens of thousands of similar vehicles across the state.

"They literally take all of the dash of a top line model and put it in the car, but it doesn't necessarily have the airbags or the ABS systems that you would get with the model you think you are buying," he said.

While it means consumers are being ripped off, Mr Moir said it also had huge ramifications in terms of safety.

A forensic examination of the Prado found in Perth in June uncovered dozens of irregularities and alterations.

It found that the vehicle did not have airbags, had been immersed in freshwater which can affect a number of mechanical, electrical and safety features and had corroded a number of bolts.

"This vehicle is the tip of the iceberg; with the illegal car re-birthing industry in Australia estimated to be worth up to $400 million a year," Mr Moir said.

He said last month the illegal chop-shop operations of two families in New South Wales which involved more than 81 cars sold worth more than $1.5 million were uncovered.

Mr Moir said vehicles such as the Toyota Prado, Hilux and Land Cruiser were commonly altered and on-sold because they were in high demand.

"They are in short supply because of the tsunami so when they come on the market they tend to go very quickly," he said.

High-end cars such as Audis, BMWs and Porsches from WA that had been altered were also showing up in the eastern states.

Mr Moir said vehicles were stolen along with the keys to them and transported via car trucks across the country.

"Cars move everyday north, south, east and west, it's not uncommon to see trucks laden with cars coming across so it doesn't seem unusual," he said.

"Then they are often delivered to genuine looking automotive businesses at the other end."

Mr Moir said the reason the problem was so bad and was not being picked up in WA was the lack of resources.

After making the police aware of this particular case, the MTA spoke to the WA Police about increasing the resources directed towards the issue.

"We have three officers on the police motor squad covering fraud," he said.

"There are over two million vehicles in the state."

He said anyone looking to buy a second hand vehicle should check whether the vehicle they were buying had been a declarable write off and whether there was any finance owing on the vehicle.

Mr Moir said this information could be found at

He also suggested they get an authorised mechanic to look over the vehicle but he warned that it was difficult even for a trained mechanic to pick up the signs that would alert them to the fact a car was not what it should be.

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