Minorca Lane 'death trap' cars with endless faults being advertised for sale as perfect condition

People are being sold unsafe cars that are often advertised as being in perfect condition by a gang of sellers in Cornwall. Buyers have come forward describing the vehicles as "death traps" after first-hand experiences left them out of pocket and fearing for their safety.

A number of people have come forward over concerns about the cars that are being sold predominantly out of the Minorca Lane area of Bugle, near St Austell. Some have spent more than £1,000 on vehicles that were not roadworthy and were undriveable within days.

Trading Standards and Devon and Cornwall Police have both confirmed they are involved in an investigation. This is being held up by a lack of people reporting what has happened to the authorities.

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Marquita and Stephen Church, who live in the Bodmin area, purchased a car from a seller at Minorca Lane in May. Both in their 60s, they didn't have a lot of money to splash out on a car at the time. They had seen a Hyundai Tucson advertised for £1,000 for sale in Minorca Lane but it was out of their budget, before being reduced to £650 just weeks later.

Within three days of purchase the car was showing a litany of faults. The couple weren't expecting to be wowed by the three-figure vehicle but said: "At the minimum, we expected it to be safe."

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"We saw the advert and we were looking for a car," Marquita said. "It was a little more than we could afford but it looked like a good car and then went down in price. We went there and bought the car and it was okay but what we should have done is checked it all over.

"When we drove in, they stood at the entrance and said 'where are you going and what are you here for?'. They walked us around to the car and we had a look at it. We didn't think at the time, but we didn't pick up on a reason not to buy it. There were quite a few things wrong with it which we noticed in a few days."

Describing the issues, she said: "The car had been tampered so much that the electrics were hanging out the bonnet. It was a death trap."

At one point while driving the key fell straight out of the ignition but the engine kept running. They later found nothing more than a screwdriver was needed to turn on the engine.

She continued: "The car was on the road for a couple days and it was just not safe. After a few days I rang up the scrap yard and said to just come and collect it. If this carries on, I believe somebody is going to die and it will be murder in my eyes because they know these cars are no good for anybody and they are still selling them."

The couple reported it to the police immediately and an officer explained that they were aware of the issue but would need more statements from people affected in order to investigate. Police said they were working with Cornwall Council's Trading Standards and would be organising a site visit soon. This was in May. Since then, more people have bought vehicles.

Matt purchased a Citroen vehicle recently and says he felt "pressured" to do so after being surrounded by four men. The car had broken sensors, fluid on the spark plugs, a leaking gasket and more. He said it's not fair that people who don't know about the sellers "could be stung big time" as he sits £2,000 out of pocket.

Rex, whose real name has been kept anonymous, told CornwallLive he has been dealing with the sellers of these vehicles for around six years. He believes they are dangerous and intimidating, claiming they often pressure people to make a purchase even if they don't want the vehicle.

He works in the motor trade himself and says the solution is to stop the public selling scrap cars to them in the first place. “We need to stop people selling cars to them. They give £100 more than scrap so people are selling cars thinking they are £100 better off but the next person who comes along will be £1,000 worse off because of it.

"It's all coming out of the woodwork now and more and more people are coming forward. I've seen instances of plate cloning and part swapping and these cars really are death traps."

CornwallLive has viewed more than a dozen listings which state the vehicles as running fine or even being in "perfect working order" in the description on Facebook Marketplace. This is often said again in further messages with the seller. If people question this based on previous MoT information available about the vehicle online, they get blocked or ignored on the messages.

A listing for a BMW for sale now says it has three months' MoT when it's actually a written-off car, meaning the cost of repair was higher than the actual cash value, so the insurer 'writes it off' and won't pay for repairs. Another written-off BMW is for sale for £3,800 but the seller has not declared it was written off on either. Often the adverts describe cars as being in "perfect condition" and they push for payment in the form of a car exchange.

The sellers have also told potential buyers there are no advisories on the MoT but when you check the history (which can be done by anyone online) you will be met with a different story. Some are sold advertising a longer valid MoT period than is actually valid on the vehicle. It's being claimed that those who pass the vehicles through MoT at repair garages in the first place feel threatened and intimidated into doing so, with no choice but to please the sellers.

“These things are death traps and unless you check the MoT you won't know," he said. "They are also commercial sellers, but they get around this by listing vehicles in different names and using different addresses." Now that word is spreading of the activity in the St Austell area, the people responsible are listing the vehicles in other locations - as far as Lostwithiel and Bodmin - to cover their tracks.

Another woman who fell victim purchased a vehicle that was supposed to have no issues. She said: "I had a car from them that was not in any way fit for a road. I paid £1,000 and was left very upset, dissatisfied and skint.

"The car I bought looked amazing from the outside however on the mechanical side of things was very dangerous. The engine was tampered with, the wiring caught fire and the breaks were not connected correctly. I could go on."

The dashboard of the car shows a check engine light
The dashboard of the car shows a check engine light

The purchase and subsequent work left her with no money for the rest of the month. When she tried to contact the seller, she was blocked. She didn't report it to any authorities because she thought nothing could be done about it.

Another buyer purchased a Ford Mondeo that was not fit to drive. She noticed things were wrong almost instantly but could not afford to take it to a garage. Among the issues it needed new brake callipers and pads, a new exhaust and the hand brake didn't work. She claims parts of the exhaust were cut off and replaced with a welded scaffolding pole.

She's carried out most of the work now but feels there is still something wrong with the suspension and the clutch. "I also have a son who this has put at risk as I still have to use the vehicle because of financial reasons and I haven't got any family to help."

A spokesperson for Devon and Cornwall Police said: "Devon and Cornwall Police are currently supporting Trading Standards-led enquiries onto allegations that unroadworthy/misdescribed cars are being sold in the St Austell area." It could not comment further.

A Cornwall Council spokesperson for Trading Standards confirmed that it is aware of reports. They said: "Cornwall Council’s Trading Standards Team is aware of concerns about individuals selling vehicles in the area.

"We would urge anyone who has bought a vehicle which is potentially unsafe to report it via Citizen’s Advice Consumer helpline. This information will then be passed to the Council’s Trading Standards team.”

Cornwall Council’s Trading Standards team has also issued advice to people looking to buy a vehicle. It said: "When buying privately, it’s worth trying to do some checks on the seller, particularly if they’re selling via social media. Some unscrupulous traders will pose as private sellers to avoid any liability if things go wrong.

"There are lots of ways you can check a vehicle before you purchase. Many companies now offer relatively low-cost ways to get history about a vehicle online, including any outstanding finance or previous accident damage.

"You can also check the MoT history of a vehicle for free via the GOV.UK website. Although not comprehensive, it can give an indication of how well the vehicle has been treated over its lifetime, potentially highlighting parts which might be close to wearing out.

"If you buy from a trader, make sure you check to see what any warranty will cover. It is important to remember that any warranty given is in addition to any consumer rights you have.

"For more peace of mind, it is worth purchasing from sellers who are members of the Trading Standards Buy With Confidence scheme (www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk). Members are fully vetted by Trading Standards Officers to ensure that they operate legally and fairly."

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