Car warning lights covered by tape in some used cars is an auto scam on the rise, mechanics say

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Tuesday, February 6, 2024
Used car scammers cover dashboard warning lights with tape: mechanics
Car warning lights are a driver's best tool to see if something is wrong, but mechanics say some private used car sellers are covering them with tape.

GLENVIEW, Ill. (WLS) -- Mechanics have discovered a new auto scam that could fool you into buying a lemon.

We rely on our dashboard lights to warn us if there are problems with our cars, especially with the engine or the airbags. But what if those lights are hidden or covered up before you bought a car?

That's what some mechanics have discovered after drivers have brought in cars they bought from private sellers online.

Mechanics at Kim's Auto Service in Glenview said customers have brought in cars where electric tape has been wedged under the dashboard, covering the warning lights before being sold.

After that tape is ripped off and the dashboard is back in the car, you can see the lights glowing again.

Mechanic and co-owner Mohammed Mhawish said customers who own the cars he showed to the I-Team unknowingly bought problem vehicles from private sellers online. He said he's seen this scam in all types of dashboards.

"They're bringing in the car to fix it because the car doesn't drive good with them. They feel something wrong with the car so they have to fix it," he said.

Consumer Reporter Jason Knowles delves into a new scheme targeting used car buyers.

Mhawish uses a scanner on the engine to show him something is wrong, despite the fact that he can't see the warning lights on the dashboard.

"This scanner will tell me exactly the problem," he said.

The mechanics used another dashboard to show how the scammers cover those lights. The top is lifted and the tape is put on the light underneath.

"We are seeing more and more of that; it usually goes hand and hand with unlicensed dealers," sad Elmer Garza, director of Illinois Secretary of State Police.

Garza said there are several things you can do before you buy to avoid this scam on the rise.

First, you can a buy your own auto scanner and plug it in under your dashboard. This tool will ensure that alerts on the dashboard are accurate. Garza said anyone can buy them and they cost about $25.

Second, you can protect yourself from all auto scams by running a simple Carfax or Auto Check, before buying to verify the mileage, and look at a history of mechanical problems. Don't forget to compare the VIN on the title to the one on the vehicle.

The easiest thing consumers can do is to pay attention when you turn on your car.

"When you turn your ignition on, not engine on but ignition on, you have to have the whole lights on the dashboard, OK? All lights," said Mhawish. "Then once you start up the car, okay, the lights will disappear by itself."

You should also take your vehicle to a mechanic for a full check-up before you buy it. That money spent could save you thousands down the road.

Finally, you should also always ask a private seller for a copy of their license so police can track a fraudulent seller.