Regulators are warning car buyers to watch out for vehicles with odometers that were rolled back by a now-banned car dealer who posed as a private seller.
Arthur Tong, owner of dealership Delta Well, which did business in Richmond and Delta as New Star Motors, admitted at a hearing to illegally rolling back the odometers and selling nearly 40 cars to unsuspecting buyers.
The Vehicle Sales Authority of British Columbia cancelled the dealership's registration, Tong's sales licence and banned him for life from licensed car sales or affiliation with a dealership.
The authority tracked down 30 of the 39 odometer-tampered vehicles sold by Tong and Delta Well to buyers from as far away as Abbotsford and Vancouver Island.
The dealer was required to buy back four vehicles for a total of $60,000 and and pay $58,100 in compensation to the other 26 owners.
"Because of the rollbacks, he was able to attract buyers from across the Lower Mainland," Vehicle Sales Authority of B.C. spokesman Doug Longhurst said. "If you're rolling back an odometer you can offer pretty competitive deals."
Tong was unapologetic in hearings late last year and this spring, according to the VSA regulatory decision, and he refused to identify anyone who assisted with the tampering.
In most of the cases, Tong electronically rewound odometers, something Longhurst said can be done quickly by a relatively cheap device that works on most cars.
Odometer tampering on this scale is rare, Longhurst said, but the authority is wary it could increase.
Although Tong was selling the cars privately, the authority was able to to go after him and extract compensation only because he was a licensed dealer.
"For us, this highlights the benefits of buying from a licensed dealer as opposed to off Craigslist or whatever," Longhurst said.
But the vehicle sales authority has no power to directly prosecute Tong further, even though the Motor Dealer Act allows fines of up to $100,000 and six months in jail for odometer rollbacks.
Longhurst said that would require a police investigation and interest from Crown counsel.
"Even though he's admitted a criminal act, given how busy the courts are it would be unlikely I think that this would go forward."
Longhurst said the VSA is trying to track any further illegal dealing Tong does.
Compensation could still flow to the other nine unidentified buyers if they can be found.
Car buyers can protect themselves by getting vehicle history reports from ICBC or services such as Carproof and Carfax. A report showing a car's odometer had higher mileage in the past than it does now would be a red flag.