(InvestigateTV) - One man’s strange story about buying a used pickup truck may serve as a warning to other consumers: Just because a title is clean and the history report shows nothing doesn’t mean you aren’t spending thousands on a vehicle with a dangerous past.
Mickey Lavoie bought his white Chevy Silverado in early 2016 for $25,000. When he bought it from a dealer, he had no idea what it had been through.
Although he said he did research on the truck, there were secrets not disclosed on title or history documents.
Now, it’s basically a hunk of scrap metal, rusting at his Chincoteague, Virginia home.
“It ran six months, and there it sits,” Lavoie said. “I spent a lot of money, and it’s just sitting in the driveway.”
Months after Lavoie bought his truck, he noticed something odd when he climbed up on a ladder to fix a busted light on the back of the cab.
"That’s when I saw that number up there. K-7-5-8-2-5 That’s on the roof. I’m going, ‘What’s that number?’” Lavoie said.
That number he found was the truck’s border patrol ID. The truck belonged to the Department of Homeland Security, and it was used on the border in Texas and Louisiana.
InvestigateTV found photos of what the truck looked like at the end of its time with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The truck was in bad shape.
“The whole front fender and everything was collapsed, and the front tailgate was missing,” Lavoie said.
The Chevy was not only wrecked, it was flooded.
“Wrecked it down in a coulee, I guess. They ran it off the road, and it went down in and smashed the whole front end underneath. And then it got stuck in there. Then they had rains, and the rain went right through the cab,” Lavoie said.
Different dealers cosmetically fixed issues over the years.
“There’s big holes in the bed. I’m assuming they’re for a wreck bar or for that little cab that they hold the people in,” Lavoie said.
Lavoie grabbed a wooden stick and pushed it along the truck bed. His stick went right through the Rhino-lined bed, revealing the locations of holes in the metal underneath.
Lavoie pulled of the fuse box to show yet more damage.
“If you shine a light in there, you see all the rust now. I don’t know who pulls off a fuse panel on the side until you have a problem,” he said with a sarcastic laugh. “All of these main fuse plugs when you pull them out, they are completely packed with dirt.”
The most serious issue was never resolved: Lavoie found a cracked frame.
Tracing the truck from the southern border to Virginia
After Border Patrol wrecked it, records showed the truck was sold in an online auto auction in Shreveport, Louisiana as what’s known as a red-light vehicle, meaning as-is. An inspection report listed at least $9,386 dollars in damage and said it appeared “there was not a panel on the truck that did not require repair or replacement.”
The truck’s title was never marked salvage, and none of the vehicle history reports even mention the crash.
“Here’s everything that was done up to 57,000 miles, and all it was maintenance,” said Lavoie as he showed a history report from Carfax.
It did not mention anything about the truck being owned by the government.
Lavoie said he thought he asked all the right questions when he bought the truck.
“I asked if it's been in an accident. They said no. My wife said, ‘We're going to drive this. Would you let your family drive this?’ He said, ‘Absolutely. I don't see anything wrong with it,’” Lavoie said. “I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, and I don't know how this caught me by surprise.”
The Chevy was sold at four different auctions and has been through two different owners. The truck went from Louisiana to Virginia. Once in Virginia, it was moved around from Richmond to Virginia Beach to Chincoteague, according to the vehicle history report.
No insurance claim meant clean history, clean title
“It’s a fascinating story because this truck has defrauded several people,” said consumer attorney John Gayle.
Gayle figured out the used truck's real history and helped two different clients, including Lavoie, sue and settle.
“Car dealers are buying trucks over the internet. They're not going to auction and inspecting it necessarily. They are literally looking at some pictures on the internet,” Gayle said.
Gayle advised steering clear of vehicles that have history reports with a lot of auto auctions listed.
“If it’s a good car and it’s been traded in to a car dealer, why would they not turn around and sell it on their used car lot? They would,” Gayle said. “But these cars that get sold at auctions are the ones that car dealers have found to have problems and don’t want usually.”
One big question with this truck is how it ended up with both a clean title and clean history. The answer is the government sold it as-is, documented as “wrecked,” so there was no insurance claim filed.
With no claim, there was no way for Carfax or Autocheck to pick up on the accident, and the word salvage never ended up in the title.
“It should have went to salvage. It should have never been sold once the frame was cracked and it was welded under. [The government] should have said, ‘Nope!’ I mean they took cash for clunkers, take this and just squish it,” Lavoie said.
Lavoie could not talk about his settlement, but he said he hopes his story can caution others.
How to check a car from bumper to bumper
Experts say it’s best to have a mechanic and a body shop look over a vehicle. Their trained eyes may spot the signs that a vehicle was in a crash.
“You want to make sure it hasn't been involved in a collision,” said Beau Morris, who owns Collision One Body Shop in Mechanicsville, Virginia.
Morris has nearly 40 years of experience looking for things others might miss. He explained the basic areas of a vehicle everyone should check to figure out if a vehicle has ever been in a crash.
He demonstrated a bumper-to-bumper check on a Toyota SUV with an unknown history.
Morris said step one is to start with the hood and bumper. Look at the bolts keeping the hood in place.
“As you can see right here, there is no paint missing from that bolt,” Morris said as he examined the vehicle. “The rust right here tells me something. This is the original bolt, which is good.”
He said someone wouldn’t be able to put a wrench on a bolt and not take off the paint or damage it in some way. Finding no paint missing or wrench marks indicates an original hood that wasn’t in an accident.
Also, Morris said many manufacturers mark their cars’ parts. For example, Toyota puts stickers on the hood and bumper that include the car’s VIN or Vehicle Identification Number.
“What you’re looking at here is the 17 digit VIN number. This is very important because we know that this hood with this sticker belongs to this vehicle. And it came that way from the factory,” Morris said.
If there is no sticker, Morris said the hood may have been replaced.
On the front, there is another thing to look for that could be a red flag: A yellow sticker with the letters CAPA on the inside of the bumper. It’s not easy to see right away, but if you know what you are looking for you can find it.
The Toyota in the demonstration had one of those yellow stickers.
“That tells us right here that this bumper reinforcement has been replaced, and it's been replaced with an after-market part. So, we know there's been an impact to the front of this vehicle,” Morris said.
The second step is to check the driver’s side of the vehicle because that's where most T-bone crashes happen.
“What we’re looking for here again is paint missing from these bolts… When you’re starting to see bolts and hinges and things like that being replaced that’s a sizable impact,” Morris said.
Take a good look at the paint job on the edges along the door and be sure to run your finger across it.
“There’s going to be a line here. It’s very faint. Matter of fact, there’s a line right here. When you rub your finger over it, it’s a little rough right there,” Morris said as he inspected inside the car doors.
He said the faint paint line indicated the vehicle was repainted at some point, which could reveal a side-impact crash.
The final step is to head to the back of the vehicle and open the trunk.
“We’re looking for those wrench marks that are common,” Morris said.
Sure enough, the demonstration vehicle’s back bumper had bolts with clear wrench marks.
“The bumper has definitely come off. Either… it came off to be repaired or repainted, or it came off because it was hit severe enough that it had to be replaced,” Morris said.
Morris said the average person being able to do a check is priceless because “unfortunately not everyone that sells vehicles are honest.”
He said if someone can’t spot these tell-tale signs of a crash, they should at least take a used car they are considering to a trusted mechanic and body shop.
“For a professional, we can look at things very quickly, and we can tell if the vehicle has been involved in a minor or large impact,” Morris said.
Lavoie said he has no plans to sell the truck for fear history will repeat itself.
“This should have been sent back to the salvage yard. Should have stuck a fork in it. It was done! It did its job for Border Patrol,” Lavoie said.