Used Cars

Fraud Alert! Avoid Check Engine Light Tape Scam When Buying Used Cars

By Daisy Emah-Emah Updated: 05/19/2023 Posted: 06/28/2022

Who wouldn’t like to make a quick buck?

But it becomes fraudulent and by extension a crime when in a bid to make money or sell a car, individuals or dealers engage in sharp practices in order to close a sale. 

We regularly see or hear scams involving identity theft, fraud, or the stealing of personal information daily, especially in the banking sector. In the used car sector, on the other hand, what we have is more skimming like title washing, odometer fraud, or people taking the identity of state DMV personnel. 

Many people are wary of online auctions because they do not want to fall victim to online scams and frauds like this. This is a genuine fear. Understanding this fear, we’ve written articles on how you can avoid online car auction scams when buying vehicles. 

When buying a used vehicle via online auctions, it is important to note that all vehicles are sold “where is, as is”’ and unless you order physical inspections, you can not be 100% sure of the condition of the vehicle.

Used cars are just that, used cars. Mechanical components that have been put in use by a previous owner or owners, part of an organization’s fleet, or even a rental fleet including taxis. It is not realistic to expect brand-new conditions on a used vehicle. 

Recent vehicles often come equipped with sensors and dashboard notification lights that can give an insight into a potential problem or fault to factor into your buying decision and budget before choosing to make a purchase. 

A seller hiding that fault or notification such as a Check Engine light is another thing entirely. 

A check engine light can alert you if there is an issue wrong with your emissions/exhaust system, or electrical components of the engine like coil, nozzle, or sensors, or even inform you of mechanical issues within the engine block itself such as a cylinder or piston head issues and to be honest, this is the worst fault as the engine is literally the beating heart of any vehicle.

It is not uncommon to find shady dealers finding ways to tape up or hide these kinds of dashboard notifications just so they can sell and make some quick cash.

In this article, we will specifically discuss how you can avoid being defrauded into buying a used vehicle whose check engine light has been hidden or covered, usually with tape. 


How a Woman Was Scammed In Georgia to Buy a Used Toyota Camry

Recently, CBS46 Atlanta made a report of one Wanda King-Whitby who was a victim of a scam. 

YouTube video

King-Whitby found the right car with the right price for her when she searched through Craigslist and Auto Trader. The 2006 Toyota Camry she found was over 151,000 miles but it was what she wanted. She took it for a test drive. The salesperson said there was nothing wrong with the vehicle. She made a payment of $4000 and drove her newly purchased car home. 

“He just told me that the vehicle was in good shape, it did not need any repairs; I did not need an emission and I shouldn’t have any problems with it.” She said. 

King-Whitby like many used car buyers skipped a car inspection before paying for the vehicle. She assumed the car had no issues and drove it home. 

Almost immediately, the car developed issues, King-Whitby said. “It seemed like the transmission slipped or the engine slipped.”

A post-purchased inspection was done by Theo’s Automotive in Peachtree City, Georgia. A mechanic found issues with the car that made it unfit to be on the road. The vehicle was poorly repainted, and there were also signs that the roof had been crushed. This was only the beginning of the issues with the 2006 Toyota Camry Wanda King-Whitby purchased. 

The only way odometer fraud was done in the past was to remove the instrument cluster and roll back the miles manually. Presently fraudsters have found an easier way to do this. King-Whitby unfortunately was a victim of this new scamming method. The original instrument was removed and replaced with one with fewer miles. There was also a disparity with the CARFAX report which showed the car had 248,000 miles. The mileage was reduced by 97,000 miles. 

Check Engine Light Tape Scam

A service manager at Theo’s also identified another fraudulent element with King-Whitby’s Camry. He demonstrated that at first glance the instrument cluster looks normal until he pulled the semi-transparent cover which covered the warning light. When a vehicle’s ignition comes on, the warning lights come on for self-check. Others did on King-Whitby’s Camry but the Check Engine Light. 

“Upon trying to see why it doesn’t work, we actually started peeling the covering back and you can see they put a little piece of electrical tape on it to black out where that light was on,” Berry said. He also explained that by covering the Check Engine Light with tape, the seller made it appear nothing was wrong with the vehicle. Also using the tape the car will easily pass emissions. Berry said, “ This was intentional. They knew what they were doing.”

AP Auto Repairs in Douglasville, Georgia sold the Camry to King-Whitby and was visited by CBS46 Atlanta. They requested an explanation and the employees claimed the previous car owner tampered with the instrument cluster. However, King-Whitby received a refund of her $4000 and she said she will request an inspection on her next vehicle.

How to avoid getting scammed

Not many people are as lucky as Wanda King-Whitby. She identified the scammed with the help of Theo’s Automotive and CBS46 Atlanta and received a refund.

As we earlier said, buying a used vehicle is risky and you can never be too certain about your purchase. As a buyer, you have to take responsibility for your purchase or risk losing money. Many buyers skip requesting a vehicle history report or pre-purchase inspection before paying for their vehicle. Whether you’re buying from a dealership, a private sale, or a wholesale auction we always advise you to request a vehicle history report or a physical inspection before making full payment. 

A vehicle history report has records of the title, previous owners, maintenance records, damage history, etc. You can request this from platforms like CARFAX or Autocheck for a fee. Auto Auction Mall offers a free VIN check for customers who have made their security deposit. 

A physical inspection is more detailed than a vehicle history report. The vehicle history report has past records (damage, repairs, and maintenance)of the vehicle before listing to be sold. A physical inspection is done by a professional mechanic or an inspection company. The report gives you information on the current condition of the vehicle you want to purchase. 

We recommend a physical inspection because you will know the current state of the vehicle, the type of repairs you will do. Also, if it’s worth the money to be spent especially if you suspect the vehicle’s condition. This will also help you identify any fraudulent elements in the vehicle. 

Next Step

When making your purchase, there is also a need to buy through auction experts and authorized buyers like Auto Auction Mall. Asides from walking you through the entire buying process and advising you on your purchase. Our years of experience allow us to pick up on potential red flags. That might have you end up with a Lemon if you were to go it alone

All you have to do is sign up for free and have access to our inventory of more than 200k plus vehicles. We also have auction specialists a phone call away to guide and assist with the entire process. From purchase to payments and shipping, if you are an international buyer till local clearing (in select countries)

Follow this link to sign up and get started!