PETALING JAYA: A recent court case brought by a doctor against the road transport department (JPJ) has brought to public attention a problem of “cloned cars” where old or stolen cars are given a new identity and sold to unsuspecting buyers.
The High Court delivered a landmark ruling that said JPJ was negligent for not maintaining accurate vehicle registration records.
The case had been brought by Dr Hema Thiyagu whose car was seized by JPJ for 10 months after she unwittingly bought a stolen 2013 Toyota Vellfire which bore the chassis and engine numbers of another car from Johor.
FMT looks into the cloned car issue and what it means for unsuspecting buyers.
What are cloned vehicles?
According to JPJ Selangor director, Nazli Md Taib, a cloned vehicle is a form of vehicle identity theft and an aged or stolen car is given the identity of a legally-registered vehicle, before being sold off by syndicates.
The “clone” is identical in terms of its type, make, model, and registration number.
There have been 329 cases of cloned vehicles recorded by JPJ since 2011.
How they do it
Cloning is usually done by organised syndicates with the technology and resources to run large-scale operations.
“It is learned that the vast majority of vehicles (to be cloned) were smuggled by syndicates from Singapore due to the vehicle age limit of 10 years set by the republic,” says Mas Tina Abdul Hamid, co-ordinator of the Vehicle Theft Reduction Council of Malaysia Berhad .
Mas told FMT that these aged cars are sold to syndicates as renewal of the Certificate of Entitlement required in Singapore is too expensive for some owners.
The syndicates modify the engine and chassis numbers to replicate the numbers of salvaged, or even vehicles still in use and forge the vehicle registration documents.
“A cloned car will be sold for way cheaper than the market price to lure buyers,” she said. Various platforms including Facebook, Telegram, and the online marketplaces are used.
These cars, which include luxury cars, could be sold for as little as RM 10,000.
How are consumers affected?
While most cloned cars perform similarly to an original, there are several major drawbacks to owning one, among them the lack of insurance for the occupant and the vehicle.
The law dictates that no one should drive a car that does not have insurance coverage, she said. “Legal action could be taken against the owner with hefty penalties. It is compulsory to at least have a third-party insurance policy and the appropriate registration documents,” said Mas.
The use of falsified registration information is an offence for which the penalty is a fine of up to RM20,000, or a jail term of up to five years. The cloned vehicles would also be seized by JPJ, as in Hema’s case.
Owners of the original vehicles may also receive summonses for offences committed by users of the cloned vehicles. In fact, most investigations into the authenticity of a vehicle begin following complaints of owners receiving summonses for offences they do not remember committing.
What can consumers do?
“When the price of vehicles is too good to be true, the prices are illogical, or you are asked to pay in cash, it is most likely that the vehicle is cloned,” said Mas.
Other measures her organisation recommends include ensuring that the vehicle identification number (VIN) matches the number in the registration document. The VIN is usually stamped into the vehicle’s body and is located at the engine compartment or near one of the front seats.
Buyers should also look up the seller’s information online, she says.
Owners who suspect their vehicles to have been cloned should make a report to JPJ.
JPJ senior director of enforcement Lokman Jamaan said one of the systems used to detect cloned cars is the Automated Enforcement System in place that monitors all federal roads, highways, and expressways.
The road charge and vehicle entry permit systems in place at the Singapore and Thailand borders are also used to ensure that vehicles brought into the country return after a set duration.