While shopping around for a used car, you manage to find your desired make and model for hundreds of pounds cheaper than normal. This may seem like a fantastic deal, a real steal and something to brag about. But you might not be as thrilled if you find out that the fantastic deal wasn’t for one car, but for two. This is an infamous old used-car ploy: the cut-and-shut trick.
The single vehicle sold for such a discounted price is actually two vehicles, the rear of one and the front of another. Both cars were almost certainly involved in collisions which wrecked one end of the vehicle but left the other end largely unscathed. The anonymous seller was either an experienced welder or in league with one, who cut the bad ends off the wrecked cars and then spliced the undamaged pieces together to make one “good” car.
After creating the new car out of the wrecks of the old, the trickster then tried to join everything back up and cover his tracks. He welded the two frames together, probably at the pillars and top of the rear windscreen. Then he tried to patch the interior as best he could, matching the upholstery and painting any exposed metal to match. Of course, he also started by picking two cars that were mechanically identical, and that were close to each other in colour.
The cut and shut trap
Why is this such a bad thing? Isn’t the guy trying to recycle, after a fashion? He took two cars that were write-offs, and made them one drivable vehicle! That’s a good deal! Well, it may seem good, but it only works until there’s an accident.
Even the most skilled welder can’t make a cut-and-shut car truly able to hold up well in an impact. In a collision, the car will likely literally fall apart.
That’s not to mention that if both cars were write-offs to begin with who knows what other damage, structural and mechanical, might be lurking unseen? A cut-and-shut car is a motorized Frankenstein, and might be just as dangerous.
Cut and shut warning signs
First, the good news! Cut-and-shuts aren’t nearly as common as they once were. Increased regulation and more complex cars have made cut-and-shuts less practical and less profitable for would-be tricksters. That doesn’t mean the problem is completely gone, however; by some estimates, there are as many as 30,000 cut-and-shut cars on UK roads today.
Fortunately, there a number of tell-tale signs of a cut-and-shut scam. Most of them are very straightforward, and are generally good ideas to follow anytime you’re in the market for a used car.
First, beware of the incredible deal. There’s always a reason for a car to be so much cheaper than others of the same make and model. If it’s not an obvious reason, or if the seller is forthcoming with a good explanation, that’s a strong sign of danger.
Second, look at the car in good lighting! Watch out for seller trying to show you the car indoors, at night, or in heavy rain. Dim lighting makes it easier to miss some of the giveaways of a cut-and-shut car, like slightly mismatched colours on the exterior or interior, and paint splatter in the interior. Always be sure to inspect the car outdoors, in good lighting, during the day.
Third, inspect the VIN numbers! The single most important way to detect a cut-and-shut will always be a simple one. The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can be found in multiple places. In the front half of the car, the VIN can be found in the front of the engine block, front of the frame, inside the driver’s-side door, and drivers-side doorpost. In the rear, check for the VIN in the rear wheel well and underneath the spare tyre in the boot. If you find mismatching numbers, it’s highly likely you’ve discovered a cut-and-shut car.
Finally, use common sense. The most important thing when buying a used car is to keep your wits about you. If something about a car seems off, it probably is! If the colors don’t seem to quite match, they might not! If it feels like the seller is trying to make a quick deal, take that as a warning! Cut-and-shut cars are nearly impossible to disguise completely. Knowing what to look for will help, but trusting your own common sense will help even more.
Forewarned is forearmed. While cut-and-shuts may not be the problem they used to be, they still exist. Knowing these tricks will help you avoid being suckered into an unsafe purchase, and knowing how to inspect a car thoroughly will generally help you avoid lemons altogether!