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Corruption cited in foreign used car industry

By CAROL MATROO Sunday, July 11 2010

Are you the new owner of a roll-on-roll-off vehicle, purchased this year? Did you know that these cars, imported from Singapore or Japan, must be four years or newer before they can be cleared and licensed to legally be on the road?

Used cars imported to this country must not be older than the 2006 year of manufacture. But, according to one car dealer, roll-on-roll-off cars are being illegally imported from Singapore to Trinidad and Tobago with their manufacture dates tampered with to alter their years of usage.

The car dealer, who requested strict anonymity, said due to the internal changes in Singapore’s vehicle industry, it has now become non-profitable for car owners in Singapore to scrap or sell their four-year-old cars for export.

Car dealers are not allowed to import cars that are disassembled, which are cars that are knocked down and reassembled here in TT. The foreign used car industry is regulated by the Trade Ministry which is responsible for granting import licences to car dealerships.

“There are some unscrupulous car dealers who are purchasing older vehicles, some as old as 2003, and passing them off as 2006 models and selling them to unsuspecting customers in TT. They are doctoring the documents in Singapore before the cars are brought in. People don’t really check their chassis numbers because they believe they are getting a bonafide legal vehicle,” said the car dealer.

This, he said, was done by counterfeiting Singapore’s Land Transport Authority’s De-registration Certificate, a document used by this country’s Trade Ministry, Customs and Excise, Licensing Office and local financial institutions to verify the vehicle’s year of manufacture.

“The dealers are bringing older vehicles, that is, vehicles manufactured in 2003, 2004, maybe 2005 and passing them off as made in 2006. Singapore has changed their licensing system so that vehicles that Trinidadian dealers would have been able to purchase before are now over-priced. So, we can’t purchase a four-year-old vehicle in Singapore which is why local dealers are buying older vehicles to import,” the car dealer explained.

He added this also meant that for potential customers in TT, it was not possible to get a used car from Singapore that was genuinely four years or newer unless they were willing to pay a substantial mark up in price, about 40 percent higher.

“This practice has led to hundreds, if not thousands of cars being illegally imported into the country right under the noses of Customs and being licensed to be put out on the nation’s roads.

“This has serious consequences for both the customer and any banks or credit unions that may have financed these vehicles because banks do not finance vehicles that are five years or older,” he said.

The car dealer said the concerns for banks and other financial institutions were that they were financing a 2006 vehicle and at what rate they were financing it.

“They take into consideration that it’s a four-year-old vehicle, so the parts requirement and service requirement should not be extensive so the customer would be able to make their monthly payment and also be able to service their vehicles. If there is extensive need for servicing that is going to affect how the customer would pay them, and that is exactly what would happen if the car is older than the customer thinks,” he said.

However, potential buyers can very easily verify the age of a vehicle through a simple process of calling new car dealerships and providing the chassis number and they would give the year.

The car dealer made several calls in the presence of Sunday Newsday showing how easily it could be done.

Armed with several proforma invoices and de-registration certificates, Sunday Newsday decided to check for itself. After making eight telephone calls and providing the chassis numbers, six of the cars were past four years old, but were stated on the invoices as being manufactured in 2006.

The cars’ chassis numbers are stamped numerically so each year the number increases. For example, a Nissan Sunny with chassis number JN1CFAN16Z0080176 showed manufacture year to be 2006, and another Nissan Sunny with chassis number JN1CFAN16Z0092602 had its manufacture year as 2005.

The manufacture year for the first car proved to be false because when the vehicles are produced, the chassis numbers are stamped numerically so the 2006 vehicle could not have a lower number than the 2005 car.

The car dealer said the matter has been brought to the attention of the Trade Ministry and Customs, but so far nothing has been done.

“We have found that there are about 20 containers with these kinds of vehicles referred to the Customs Preventative Department. They are the ones who are supposed to stop this, but the vehicles are still coming in,” he said.

“The Singapore market is for all intents and purposes closed off because the price of the vehicles is too high. Now with these cars, honest car dealers’ sales are being affected because we are importing actual 2006 vehicles from Japan. All vehicles coming from Singapore should be red-flagged pending scrutiny,” the car dealer said.

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