St Austell 'death trap' cars still being sold on Facebook Marketplace as investigation dropped

There is no active investigation into a gang of sellers that are advertising 'death trap' cars as being 'in perfect condition' to unfortunate buyers out of various locations in the St Austell area.

Several people came forward to say they had allegedly been sold unsafe cars by those advertising and selling vehicles on Facebook Marketplace in November 2022. Some of the vehicles were being described as in perfect condition by a gang of sellers predominately working out of the Bugle area only to break down days, or even hours, later.

Buyers spoke out describing the vehicles as "death traps" after first-hand experiences left them out of pocket and fearing for their safety. At the time Cornwall Council's Trading Standards department confirmed it was aware of reports and needed people to come forward if they were affected. 18 months later the authority has confirmed there is no active investigation due to a lack of evidence.

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At the time CornwallLive reported people were spending up to £1,000 on vehicles that were not roadworthy and were undriveable within days. Many of them were being sold and advertised out of the Minorca Lane area but after people started catching on, they would be advertised as far away as Bodmin. Read the full story from the time here.

Trading Standards and Devon and Cornwall Police both confirmed they were involved in an investigation back then but said it was being held up by a lack of people reporting what was happening to the authorities. More than a year later it appears this is still the case.

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The local authority says any investigation that was going on has now been dropped due to a lack of evidence. CornwallLive tried to reach out to more recent victims in the hopes of confirming whether or not people are still being sold unsafe cars but - despite being the only media outlet to report on the situation - we received no response from any alleged victims.

There is, however, still a very active public Facebook group that seeks to warn others about the names of any potential sellers on the social media platform. Screenshots shared of messages, allegedly sent from various sellers, even show some of the individuals appearing to brag about having sold vehicles that were later involved in car accidents.

Marquita and Stephen Church purchased a car from a seller at Minorca Lane in May 2022. 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 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."

"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."

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.

Another victim, Matt, purchased a Citroen vehicle around the same time feeling "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 was left £2,000 out of pocket.

A spokesperson for Cornwall Council confirmed this week that no action was taken towards any sellers due to a lack of evidence. It previously 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 reiterated the following advice to people looking to buy a vehicle: "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.

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"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 indicate 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 ( Members are fully vetted by Trading Standards Officers to ensure that they operate legally and fairly."

Devon and Cornwall Police has been contacted and asked if any criminal investigation is underway but we have not yet received a response.

If you or anyone you know has bought a car from a private seller in this area that turned out to be faulty or unsafe, email reporter Lisa Letcher on