Car re-birthing concerns

  • Reporter: Laura Sparkes
  • Broadcast Date: June 30, 2009

For the first time senior police are blowing the whistle on how car re-birthers are getting around our laws and which governments are stalling.

The criminal act starts at damaged car auctions selling repairable write-offs, cars deemed too expensive by the insurance company to repair.

Like flood damaged cars, the owner is paid out and costs are recovered by selling it.

The cars are then rebuilt to get through inspection processes and often stolen parts from newer cars are used by some criminals.

Detective Inspectors Andy Waterman and Terry Campbell gave Today Tonight exclusive access to their investigation.

Twelve men have been arrested and 50 charges laid under new special car re-birthing legislation.

The maximum penalty for each crime is 14 years.

"Police would have real concerns about the structural integrity of these vehicles should they be involved in an accident because we don't know how safe the chassis may be or whether air bags will work or not," Det Insepctor Waterman said.

Airbag specialist Frank Tomas said re-birthers have managed to cheaply by-pass the computer operated airbag sensor light.

"Aesthetically it looks fine, it's the internals which is very hard to detect without thorough investigations," he said.

The NSW Roads Minister Michael Daley is responsible for the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA).

"It's important the structural and mechanical integrity of the vehicle is checked and ticked off before the car is on the road," he said.

"My advice is that this is done at blue slip inspection."

One positive for consumers is the new RTA Vehicle History Check following in the footsteps of similar systems in Victoria and Queensland.

Victims are often left with a car loan, no car or a defective car they cannot drive.

Det Inspector Campbell believes the best solution is to just ban repairable write-offs.

"[It] would certainly have a significant impact on reducing organised motor vehicle crime," he said.

As Chief Executive of the NSW Motor Traders Association, James McCall represents all car repairers and is convinced ordinary repairs would be much cheaper, if damaged cars were written off as spare parts.

"If there are no repairable write-offs then there are no damaged vehicles at auction sales being brought by these unscrupulous people," he said.

"If you can't change the identity of the car you're stealing and you can't change the identity of the parts, what's the point in stealing?"

Related letter

Today Tonight has obtained a letter from the Insurance Council of Australia written to the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council, declaring the group which wants repairable write-offs banned will lose half of its funding unless they change their mind on repairable wrecks.

Read the letter here (PDF)