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Insurance write-off sales “behind surge in car thefts" - WMP lobbies for change to protect public 

West Midlands Police is to lobby government and the insurance industry amid concerns the practice of selling written-off cars for repair is fuelling a surge in vehicle theft.

Investigations run by the force suggest criminal gangs are snapping up damaged cars rated insurance write-offs from salvage auctions - and then stealing cars to order for the parts they need to fix them and sell for a hefty profit.

Around five times more vehicles - mainly luxury marques like Audi, BMW and Range Rover or other high-spec cars - are sold at auction as repairable write-offs compared to write-offs to be scrapped for spare parts.

And it’s suspected the imbalance is leading criminal gangs to steal cars - some during violent car-jackings - for matching spares rather than buy expensive factory-made parts from manufacturers.

West Midlands Police Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, said: “We’ve witnessed a near 100 per cent increase in vehicle thefts across the West Midlands in the last four years - up from 5,215 in 2014-15 to more than 10,000 in 2017-18.

“And there’s a correlation between the types of cars being stolen and those available as repairable write-offs; it is our firm belief, supported by police intelligence, that this increase is being driven by the criminal demand for car parts.

“We will be raising our concerns with government, the Association of British Insurers and online auction and sales sites.

chop shop 2

“A review and improved regulation on the re-sale of insurance write-offs is needed. We’ll be asking if so many badly damaged cars should be offered as repairable write-offs and, where they are, salvage auctions should stipulate that buyers have the correct breaker’s licences needed to dismantle vehicles.

“We also want salvage auctions to introduce a ‘know your customer’ framework and have clear structures in place to report suspicious buyer activity.

“In addition, we’re also meeting with online sales sites to encourage them to better protect customers who could unwittingly end up buying a car that’s been repaired using parts from a stolen vehicle."

Stolen cars are broken down at so called ‘ chop -shops’ - back street garages or industrial estate units - sometimes in a matter of hours before repaired cars are sold on through online auction or sales sites.

chop shop 1

This week West Midlands Police launched its Shop a Chop Shop campaign urging people to report any premises they suspect is dismantling stolen vehicles.

DCC Rolfe also fears there is a serious public safety concern around the re-sale of repaired write-offs with some vehicles being passed on without features such as airbags.

She explained: “There is no requirement for repaired write-offs to be checked before being sold…they can be returned to the road without an inspection until it reaches MOT age.

“Many of the vehicles sold at salvage auctions having been written-off by insurers will have been involved in serious collisions where airbags have been deployed. 

“Under the Pyrotechnic Articles Regulations Act, they should be replaced by an authorised economic operator or professional user - but no procedures appear to be in place to ensure such replacement of airbags meet regulatory requirements.

“In one example I’m aware of a repaired vehicle was sold without any side impact air bags being fitted - and clearly that’s a very serious road safety concern."

If anyone suspects a location is being used as a chop -shop for stolen vehicles they are urged to call the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 or West Midlands Police on 101.