RICHMOND (CBS 5) – Buying a certified car and checking Carfax is supposed to give consumers a peace of mind. But when Angielen Pina purchased a 2009 certified Toyota Corolla she discovered the car had been in an accident.

“When I saw the car fax everything looked,” she said. But during a service visit Pina said she was told the car had been in a front end collision.

“The service guy, he was like ‘oh your bottle water for the fluid is cracked,’” she said. “’It looks like it’s been in an accident.’”

Rosemary Shahan with Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety doesn’t find it surprising.

“This happens very often where consumers buy certified cars that are actually wrecks,” she said.

Still, under state law, dealers are required to disclose whether a car has been in an accident said Shahan.

“If they don’t, it’s usually considered fraud,” she said.

In Pina’s case she said the dealer said they knew nothing about the car accident until she took it back.

“They’re like ‘oh you’re right. It has been in an accident,’” Pina said.

That’s when she emailed ConsumerWatch where our producer Jessica Ayala called the dealership and was told the car passed their 160 point inspection as well as a DMV Report and Carfax.

Then the dealer questioned if Pina had gotten into an accident. We then took the car to an independent Toyota dealer who confirmed Pina’s worst fear – The car had been in an accident and four major panels were replaced. One part came directly from Marin Toyota in 2009.

“I didn’t know any of this,” Pina said. ConsumerWatch then called Hanlees Hilltop Nissan and the managers said they were not aware even though Hanlees Hilltop Toyota performed the initial 160 point inspection.

A manager at Hanlees Hilltop Toyota said a misdiagnosis is rare, but still admitted to no wrong doing. In the end they did agree to swap Pina’s car for a 2010 certified Toyota Corolla.

Experts still suggest before purchasing a new car having the vehicle inspected by a trusted technician. In Pina’s case, it’s likely that the previous owner never filed a claim, or the insurance company never reported the accident.

Consumers can see whether a car was salvaged through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (9)
  1. Linx says:

    This is a great story! All to often things like this get overlooked, and I, as well as other consumers appreciate this kind of investigative journalism. Car fax is a report compiled by the people who furnish the information to it. Just like on a credit report there can be false information or no information at all. People should always get their vehicle checked by an independent mechanic before a big purchase like that. Keep up the good work!

  2. Larry says:

    I applaud KCBS for serving the public and having the courage to air a story that will probably irritate its advertiser(s).

    Lawrence Silverman
    Southeast Consumer Law Group
    Marietta, GA

  3. Scott Kaufman says:

    Thanks for telling the truth and for not being intimidated by dealers’ advertising dollars!

  4. Ben says:

    It’s exactly scams like these that drove me out of the automotive service industry after 26 years. My experience includes 15 years as a technician, 4 as dealership service advisor and 6 as a shop owner. The general public is fleeced for millions every year by unscrupulous sales practices and I have seen it personally far too many times to count. I chose to start my own independent consulting and inspection business with the explicit intent of preventing this from happening to consumers. My fee is about the cost of a thorough front brake job, yet the savings for clients is often in the thousands. I can be reached

  5. Steven Paul says:

    This report is exactly why used car buyers should always have an certified independent vehicle inspection company perform a pre-purchase vehicle inspection on any vehicle you are purchasing regardless if it is “certified” and even those vehicles that have just 100 miles on them. I personally have inspected several cars with clean vehicle history reports and that have been “certified” by dealerships and have found severe safety issues related to those vehicles. If you want to ensure you are purchasing a safe, reliable and dependable vehicle please search for an “Independent Pre-Purchase Used Car Inspector” in the area you are looking to purchase in.

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