14 February 2023
Our market guru Tom Barnard looks into the trade in dodgy Land Rovers
It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that prices of classic and used Land Rovers have gone through the roof in the past year. For used cars, the restricted supply of new models has pushed buyers to the secondhand market. For classics, enthusiasts seem to be cashing in savings which are earning a pittance in interest and buying a car they’ve always promised themselves. Investors too are piling in, attracted by the tax-free profits which can be made from collectable Land Rovers in an economy where the value of money is shrinking.
This rise in prices has attracted another form of ‘entrepreneur’ to the Land Rover market, and it’s a group which is a lot less desirable – criminals.
The trade in dodgy Land Rovers is now even more lucrative, meaning that cars which might have been previously ignored for being too much hassle are suddenly worth the effort of stealing, disguising and selling on.
If you buy a car, even in good faith, and it turns out to be stolen, then there’s every chance you’ll have it taken away from you and lose everything. To avoid this, you’ll need to take precautions. And luckily for readers of LRM, one of them is to know your Land Rovers really well.
Russ Knight from Gloucester Land Rover has been called in on several occasions to help police try to identify dodgy Defenders. He says: “Sometimes you know straight away just by looking at the fuel filler. There will be a car which is supposed to be from the early 1990s with the higher filler position. Then there will be bonnets which are wrong, dashboards from later cars and all sorts.”
There are often Land Rovers made up of parts from more than one car to confuse buyers and investigators, he says. “We have customers who have had their Defender stolen and it is found a short distance away with some parts nicked. And then there will be another found which has other components missing. Then the criminals will combine them all to make a car which is very difficult to identify.”
When faced with such a ‘bitsa’ car, police have the power to seize and crush it as the proper identity cannot be established. Videos on YouTube show this fate befalling exotica including a Ferrari and BMW M3.
“The earlier Land Rover models with riveted on chassis plates are just so easy to clone,” says Russ. “The only number which is really hard to change is the one stamped into the chassis leg.”
Later cars such as Range Rover Evoques and Sports are a little trickier to fake, with numbers in more positions and the VIN electronically programmed into the car’s brain. A simple OBD code reader should be able to spot this, and is a worthwhile investment – they can cost less than £15.
“The more professional crooks will try to fake as much as they can, so make sure you know what a genuine plate or number looks like by comparing it to other cars or pictures online. You’ll also want to do a data check online and make sure the V5 registration document is genuine.”
One dealer’s mental alarm bells went off when he spotted the SOS call function was disabled on an Evoque. The seller blamed the usual Land Rover electrical gremlins, but a bit of electronic probing soon identified it as a stolen car. He made his excuses, left, and called the police.
An often-easier option for dishonest sellers is to buy a car which has been damaged and repair it, often using parts from dubious sources. A data HPI check will weed out those which have been registered as write-offs, but there are plenty which have not yet made it onto the register and will have a solid history and identity. These are prized at salvage auctions.
Some data checks, such as TotalCarCheck and Vcheck, include a salvage auction search as part of the package, so are worth the £9 or so they cost just for peace of mind. Other clues are parts from a later or sportier version which don’t fit with the original spec. Look out for upgrades which just wouldn’t be done by the average buyer.
There will, of course, be perfectly legitimate enthusiasts who want to repair and upgrade their Land Rovers and don’t want to get associated with the criminals. Russ’s advice is to keep receipts for everything you buy for the car, take photos and even make notes. “The police, DVLA and DVSA don’t mess around. They can impound your car and it’s up to you to prove everything is legal.”
There are some genuine bargains out there, but you need to be careful. It won’t seem such a good deal if you are left with nothing more than a keyring and some memories.
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