A pre-purchase inspection could have saved this buyer thousands of dollars.

The case took place in ATLANTA, Georgia.
Wanda King-Whitby was looking through Auto Trader and Craigslist ads when she found the right car for the right price.

It was a 2006 Toyota Camry with just over 151,000 miles on it. She liked it and drove it. She paid $4,000 and drove it home.

“He just told me the car was in good condition,” said King-Whitby. “It didn’t need any repairs; I didn’t need an issue and I shouldn’t have a problem with it.”

Like most car buyers, King-Whitby chose to skip the inspection before buying. Almost immediately, she says, the car developed problems.

“It seemed like the transmission was slipping or the engine was stalling,” she said.

A mechanic from Theo’s Automotive in Peachtree City, Georgia, did a post-purchase inspection and found problems that should have kept the car on the road. The car was badly repainted and there were signs that the car would have been a wreck, that the roof was crumpled.

But that was just the beginning.

Decades ago, the only way to reduce a car’s odometer reading was to remove the instrument cluster and manually roll back the mileage. But in the digital age, criminals have an easier option.

In the King-Whitby case, the original instrument cluster was removed and replaced with another with lower mileage. Samantha Stout, Theo’s service consultant, found the discrepancy in the Carfax report on the car.

“It said the mileage was 151,000 kilometres with a mileage discrepancy note,” Stout said. “The mileage before that was 248,000 miles.”

By replacing the instrument cluster, someone reduced the car’s mileage by 97,000 miles.

Glen Berry, Theo’s service manager, showed us the removed dashboard. It looked fine until he pulled back the translucent cover covering the warning lights. Berry says that when you press the start button or turn on the ignition, cars are designed to display all the warning lights as a self-check.

On Whitby’s Camry, everything but the ‘check engine’ light came on.

“After trying to figure out why it wasn’t working, we actually started peeling back the covering and you can see that they put a small piece of duct tape over it to obscure where that light was on,” Berry explained.

According to Berry, by covering the engine check light, the salesman can give the impression that there is nothing wrong with the car and that it easily misses emissions.

“This was deliberate,” Berry said. “They knew what they were doing.”

CBS46 contacted the AP auto repair shop in Douglasville, Georgia, and asked the salesmen for clarification. The staff said the previous seller of the car must have tampered with it.

King-Whitby has since received a $4,000 refund from AP Auto Repairs.

Whitby said the money would go to the bank, but when she buys her next used car, she would pay for a pre-sale inspection.