Be Careful When Buying A Used Car In Russia

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‘”It seemed to be in good condition and was being offered at a great price at a well-known dealership.  But when I checked the VIN code, I saw that the car was under arrest.  I asked the dealer how is it that he was offering me a car with such a serious problem, and he just answered ‘What did you expect for that kind of money?'”

I’m talking to my friend “Sergey” who has a small business in the Ural region, renting out cars to taxi drivers.  Sergey had come to Moscow to buy a car or two as he had seen some great offers on the internet.

Long story short, Sergey returned home without making a single purchase.  The cars were either more expensive than he was prepared to pay or an astonishing number of them had serious legal issues attached.

Often when purchasing a used car, we can be so focused on making sure that it has no mechanical issues, that we can forget about the legal part.  And mechanical issues can certainly cost you some money, but legal issues can cost even more in time, expense, and emotional bandwidth.

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Russia has lots of great cars.  Unfortunately, not all of them are straightforward about their “history”.

As for Sergey, it certainly is disappointing to make such a trip with no result, but buying the wrong car is a decidedly more objectionable affair.

When I was recently asked by a friend to help her buy a car, I called Sergey when I thought that I had found the right one, but wanted to do a background check on the car.  The car we were considering was just a couple years old, had a few minor scratches, but otherwise seemed in great condition, especially considering the price.

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I sent Sergey the VIN code and he checked it.  He called back a few minutes later and explained that the car had originally been owned by a business (a sure sign that it had been used as a taxi), and then had a total of 7 (!) owners in the course of a single year.  Most likely, there were no legal issues with the car, but the situation was already suspicious enough to deem any further research unnecessary.

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It would be fascinating to research the history of this American-style school bus.

 

How these kind of situations are even possible is perhaps the topic for a different blog post.  And what to do if you accidentally buy a car that is under arrest could be the theme of a book series.  In short, you will need to go to court and will end up in a lengthy, largely-distasteful process.

What I want to do is provide a few tips on how to reduce the chances of falling into these types of disagreeable situations.

  • Find a used car dealership that actually owns the cars that it is selling, rather than one that is working on commission on behalf of the owner.  The better the used car dealership, the higher the prices.  It is up to you to choose whether saving money or sleeping well is of more value in your life.
  • Buy a car from someone you know.  If you do an online search of folks in Russia who have bought cars under arrest, they almost invariably cannot find the person that sold them the car.  But if you know you can find that person after the purchase, it is less likely they will try to deceive you.  Of course, the problem of doing it this way is anytime the car breaks down, you will remember your friend.
  • Don’t buy a used car.  Buy a new one.  That’s probably obvious, but be sure to research the price difference.  The value of cars, after purchase, does not fall as quickly in Russia as you might expect. And buying a new car, often includes an attractive warranty.
  • Decide if you really need to buy a car at all.  With incredibly low taxi prices, reliable public transportation systems, and plenty of carsharing companies, owning a car is often not a need, particularly in major cities.
  • Have an experienced Russian friend join you for the process.
  • Research the process from beginning to end and do not rely on just one blog post (like this one).  After all, I am in no way a great source of legal counsel, I am just telling you what I know to point you in the right direction.
  • Most importantly, in every situation, no matter how honest you feel the seller is, do a background check on the car.  Because the seller might honestly not be aware of the history of the car they are offering.

In case this blog post seems to make Russia out to be a pack of swindlers, please rest assured that my business experience points to Russians holding a high level of integrity overall.  This can be shown not only by many positive blog posts, but also by the 10+ used cars I purchased over the past 19 years, when I did no background check, and experienced no issues.  However, these recent situations have convinced me that spending the time and effort to make a simple background check is certainly worth the time and small amount of effort required.

My friend Sergey uses a car background service called “AvtoKod”.  You can visit their site here.  For a small fee (I think 100 rubles) you can get the car’s history based on police, customs authorities, court records, etc. and perhaps save yourself some months of regret later.  This is not a paid advertisement and it is not legal advice… I am just telling you how I do it.

Here’s to you finding a reliable car at a reasonable price, with no strings attached.  Happy driving, everyone!

 

 

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