Car clocking in the private hire and chauffeur industry is costing millions and placing passengers at risk, according to leading UK experts
Today, Tuesday 19 July, we can announce that LTU and HPI have teamed up to warn of the dangers that clocked private hire, minicab and chauffeur-driven vehicles pose to the public who may be unwittingly putting themselves at serious risk every time they use one.
The illegal practice of clocking revealed by an LTU investigation, takes place when drivers look to cut corners by saving on maintenance costs and deliberately defraud second-hand car buyers, when the vehicle is sold on.
HPI, the UK’s leading authority on vehicle checking services, estimates that used car buyers have a one in 20 chance of purchasing a vehicle with a mileage discrepancy, with the practice costing motorists £800 million every year*.
An investigation by (LTU) found hundreds of private hire, minicab and chauffeur-driven vehicles in the north west of England operating with clocked mileage. Post private hire usage, some vehicles went to dealers and were offered for sale at inflated prices.
The investigation found that one driver removed 114,000 miles from his Toyota. A Mercedes-Benz with 180,000 miles off the clock was on sale for £20,250 when it was really only worth £11,150 with its true mileage reading. In the worst case found as part of the investigation, a staggering 460,000 miles had been removed from the odometer of one private hire vehicle.
Chris Hargreaves, of LTU, said: “Clocking within the private hire, minicab and chauffeur industry has reached epidemic proportions and something needs to be done to prevent this unscrupulous practice before a real tragedy happens.
“The 330 clocked cars we found had about 80 million miles removed but that was just in the north west of England. UK-wide it’s safe to say that hundreds of millions of miles must have been wiped out thanks to clocking.”
“It’s truly shocking to discover that reputable leasing companies are giving out lease agreements to the industry based on as little as 10,000 miles per year – 27.3 miles per day! Surely neither the vehicle manufacturers nor the leasing companies have to be in the industry to see the warning signs. In most local authority districts a licensed vehicle has to be doing at least 1,000 miles a week to make any money. So why is any lease deal being done for less than, say, 50,000 miles per year? If any thought was given to these transactions, the ridiculously low mileage lease deals would never be signed up in the first place.”
HPI and LTU believe that as pounds and pence increasingly take precedence over public safety a major clampdown is urgently required.
Barry Shorto, head of industry relations at Cap HPI, said: “Our valuation data conclusively shows the potential cost to dealers and motorists of the clocking problem. With clockers able to add thousands of pounds onto the value of a car, unsuspecting buyers stand to lose out, as do dealers. That’s why we advise retailers and consumers alike to conduct a vehicle history check to spot a mileage discrepancy before they buy.
“It can be almost impossible to tell a clocked vehicle just by looking at it, which makes a vehicle history check an even more vital form of protection for buyers. A clocked vehicle could be hiding serious levels of wear and tear, especially if it has been previously used as a high mileage private hire vehicle for a couple of years, meaning the additional cost of unexpected repairs or even a potentially serious safety threat to driver, passengers and other road users. An HPI Check can help protect consumers from buying a vehicle with something to hide, saving them cash and keeping them safe.”
The HPI Check includes a mileage check against the National Mileage Register as standard, now with over 200 million mileage readings. HPI also confirms whether a vehicle is currently recorded as stolen with the police, has outstanding finance against it or has been written off, making it the best way for consumers to protect themselves from fraudsters looking to make a fast profit.
Register (NMR) checks and investigations have grown by over a third in the last five years.
Added Barry Shorto: “Not only should dealers make conducting mileage investigations an integral part of their business process, to protect their reputation and their customers, they need actively to promote the fact to their customers that these checks have been done. Our data confirms that consumers are seeking peace of mind against clocking, yet some dealers are choosing to overlook this. Proof of a mileage check should be a key part of a dealer’s sales strategy, promoting the quality of their stock, as well as highlighting the dangers of clocking for their customers.”
As part of its investigations, HPI found:
- Whilst almost one in three (29%) of used car buyers are believed by dealers still to be unaware of the risks of clocking, more than one in five customers now ask dealers, directly, for proof that they have validated a vehicle’s mileage.
- However, despite growing consumer awareness of the dangers of clocking, only ten per cent of dealers surveyed said they actively declare that they have conducted a mileage check on a vehicle, vitally weakening their sales proposition.
- Over 52 per cent of dealers said that consumers who enter their showrooms do know about clocking, but the level of concern varies significantly.
- 92 per cent of dealers consider clocking a ‘terrible’ blight on the industry and a major risk to its reputation.
LTU are passionate about the taxi and private hire trade and we have worked tirelessly over the last few years investigating corrupt and illegal practices within your trade. Car clocking in a major problem within the industry and because the ‘powers that be’ have failed to act over the years to stamp out this problem, it has now grown to such as size that nobody knows how to deal with the problem.
One council approached recently was warned about two operators involving a significant number of vehicles, with another given details of vehicles belonging to owner drivers. Having investigated car clocking we know that we are still only scratching the surface, because every single council approached have all confirmed they are having major issues with clocking, with some insisting it’s blatant.
Only the other month we were interviewing drivers who openly spoke of how drivers bragged that they were ‘clocking the hell out of their vehicles’. The drivers we spoke to were not involved in car clocking, but did vent their anger and frustration at how they spend thousands doing it right and lose substantial sums of money when they sell their high-mileage taxis or private hire vehicles, whilst the crooks save vast sums of money.
With clocking there is no evidence that a vehicle has been maintained or looked after – which can be confirmed by some of the shocking MoT failures were regularly see. Look at a vehicle spotted this week by our very own Secret Squirrel. One year old with an MoT advisory list as long as your arm, including all brakes and tyres on the legal limit. Mileage… 11,000 miles in twelve months. Is this mileage realistic?
TfL stated today in a press statement that they don’t condone car clocking, yet vehicle after vehicle is spotted with unrealistic annual mileage or where it has gone backwards that have been licensed by the London regulator. Maybe London is part of the Bermuda Triangle where vehicles instead of disappearing only suffer lost mileage to their odometers.
However, it is not all bad news. Some councils are acting against car clocking and bringing in new rules to combat the illegal practice. Vehicles must undergo a HPI check to insure it’s not written off or got a mileage discrepancy before it can be licensed. Those vehicles that are found to have mileage irregularities will lose their licence and therefore the ability for that vehicle to be used in the trade.
Others are so concerned they are looking at taking even more tougher steps to ensure the mileage cannot be altered whilst it is being used as a private hire or taxi. I say taxi, but so far the taxi industry, specifically in London has failed raise any alarms in respect to clocking. I suppose you could argue you would expect an iconic London Taxi to cover a significant amount of miles throughout its life, whilst it is much easier to hide the previous use of a Toyota Prius, Mercedes E, V or S Class or a Ford Galaxy.
LicensedTransportUncovered.com, head of intelligence and investigations, The Secret Squirrel, says, “We are repeatedly seeing mileage discrepancies on leased vehicles and ones that have been financed through a lease purchase or higher purchase agreement.
“These vehicles don’t belong to the passenger transport company or owner drivers whilst under these agreements and remain the property of the leasing or finance company. There is a misconception that it is not illegal to “clock” a vehicle as it only becomes an offence once the vehicle is sold-on with tampered mileage.
“This misconception is wrong. If you turn a blind eye to car clocking or are actively involved as an owner driver you are complicit in a conspiracy to defraud a leasing / finance company, insurer or manufacturer whilst that vehicle is under your control. Obviously, once the vehicle is sold-on you then commit further offences.”
The Squirrel concluded: “In the vast majority of cases where a passenger transport company own their fleet via lease or finance, clocking the odometer cannot be achieved without the drivers being complicit and agreeing to turn a blind eye. As a driver you need to consider not your own safety, but your liberty – maximum ten-year prison sentence for conspiracy to defraud up to £1 million fraud, with cases over £1m carrying a minimum ten-year sentence.”
Finally, there seems to have been anger from some quarters that this is an attack on leasing companies in the UK. This is not the case and couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, there are leasing deals out there that boggle the mind as to why anyone would make them available, but the fact is the wider industry has failed the legitimate side of the trade.
Why is it that an individual or company can finance or lease vehicles for the taxi or private hire trade without ever having to give proof within a set period of time that the said vehicle, driver and operator hold all the correct licenses as required by law?
Why is it that in the event of an accident don’t ALL insurers, including third party insurers also request proof of legality prior to paying out any claims?
Why is it a company can open a bank account, obtain an overdraft, succeed in taking out loans, finance or lease a vehicle and obtain the required insurance policies all without ever being asked: “Are you legal, because you need to prove it before we will lend you any cash or support your enterprise financially?”.
It is not rocket science. All the industry wants is a fair level playing field. As for LTU we are not going away and we continue our uphill battle to raise the car clocking epidemic in the private hire and chauffeur industry.
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