Many people are turning to Craigslist or used car lots to find that perfect used ride. A fast-growing scam though could turn that sweet deal into a sour lemon.
"I bought the car right then and there. I left with the title," recalled Michael Rataj, who bought a used car on Craigslist.
The person he purchased the car from showed him the clear title. The car also appeared in great shape.
"I said, 'I'll give you $1,200 right now,'" Rataj said.
When Rataj brought that car to his mechanic, that good deal appeared anything but.
"I paid $785 for the repairs," explained Rataj.
The car's check engine light had been pulled right from the instrument panel.
"There is some coy activity going on," said Frank Leutz, Rataj's mechanic.
Leutz owns Desert Car Care and said this scam is becoming more common since the little check engine bulb is usually the first warning something is wrong with a car.
"The check engine light is tied into the engine controls, all the electronics, the emissions and also the driveability," Leutz explained.
Besides being removed, some sellers are also going to more extremes to hide that little light.
"These clips can separate and this whole bezel can pop out just like that," demonstrated Leutz, popping out an old instrument panel
"In this case here, they magic markered some of those key indicator light bulb screens there."
It was even difficult for CBS 5 cameras to notice the markings, but an easy test helps consumers know if something with the light bulb has been tampered with.
Leutz said all someone has to do is put the key in the ignition, but do not fully start the car.
"Those bulbs will all come on. Seat belt, battery, air bag," Leutz explained.
He said that check engine light had also better light up.
"If that light does not come on, raise a flag. That's suspect activity. "
Leutz said the best advice is to bring the car to a mechanic before the purchase. If the seller will not allow a mechanic to look over the car, that is another indication the deal may be too good to be true.
Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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