Road to safer car purchases

News of yet another car dealer - Manhattan Motor - closing shop after collecting payments for vehicles which were never transferred to their buyers sounds all too familiar.

Some will press for government intervention. Instead of dismissing such calls, the authorities must examine if there is indeed a need for the motor industry - which spans nearly 1,000 shops, big and small - to be better regulated.

Or if processes need to be changed so as to plug loopholes that shady traders exploit.

In the old days, when a physical log card was proof of ownership, cheats had to go the whole nine yards of falsifying a legal document. This would land them squarely on the wrong side of the law.

But these days, when everything is paperless, it is easier for unscrupulous sellers to feign lapses within their companies or cash-flow problems for not completing a transaction.

Consumers must be quite Internet savvy to check if car ownership status has been changed as claimed. Alas, by the time many find out that it has not, it is too late.

Manhattan Motor is not a one-off. Others which made news for similar reasons recently include Royal Automotive, Exodus Global and TLC Cars.

The Consumers Association of Singapore said car buyers lost $2.74 million last year - three-quarters of the total amount that consumers lost in non-delivery of goods and services.

Consumers are not without protection. There are CaseTrust-accredited car firms around as well as big authorised agents who sell new and used cars.

Even if their prices are higher, it is probably worth the peace of mind.

Those who buy from small, unknown dealers do so at their own risk. If they want to minimise those risks, they could engage a lawyer to set up an escrow account to ensure a glitch-free transaction.

Those who do nothing to protect themselves have only themselves to blame when things go wrong.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2017, with the headline 'Road to safer car purchases'. Print Edition | Subscribe