When California car dealers acquire vehicles that have been damaged or totaled, there are certain procedures they must follow in order to resell those vehicles to consumers. Most importantly, they must make critical repairs to ensure the vehicle runs safely. The dealers then apply for salvage titles for those refurbished autos so that consumers and insurers understand the vehicle has a history of damage. If a dealer does not follow the proper steps, consumers may fall victim to dealer fraud.
When applying for a salvage title, the dealer must obtain the signature of a law enforcement officer who has inspected the vehicle. However, at one dealership in another state, that very important inspection was skipped by the officer who signed many salvage titles. Police conducted an investigation that led them to a 31-year veteran of the police department. The officer apparently regularly signed multiple salvage titles at a time without ever seeing the respective vehicles.
In exchange for the officer's signature, the dealership allegedly paid him up to $150 per title. As a rule, officer inspections require no fee, but an inspector may charge no more than $5, which is then deposited into the police department's accounts. While the officer claims he did not knowingly engage in criminal behavior, inspection of his computer revealed that he spent less than two minutes each checking the vehicle identification numbers on batches of vehicles, some of which were stolen.
California consumers purchasing refurbished vehicles with salvage titles understand there is a higher risk than buying a regular used vehicle. However, the signature on the title should reassure a car buyer that the car was inspected for safety issues. When a consumer becomes the victim of dealer fraud, he or she may wish to understand all available legal options by consulting an attorney.