A loophole in a database used by insurers means that, each year, thousands of people are buying used cars not knowing that they have previously been written off.
The Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud Theft Register (MIAFTR) is used by insurers to record the details of cars they have written off and by vehicle-check companies when establishing a used car’s status. However, MIAFTR is a voluntary scheme, and not all of the UK’s 200 insurers have signed up to it, meaning not all write-offs are being recorded.
Among those insurers that do subscribe to the database, delays or errors in uploading vehicles can also result in write-offs not being recorded. Cars that are insured third party only or are selfinsured by their owners (organisations including the police and local councils) are also not recorded on MIAFTR. Although insurers must by law notify the DVLA of a write-off, they do so using MIAFTR, which the DVLA uses as its primary source.
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Failings in the scope of the MIAFTR database became clear when, in 2019, Motorcheck, a vehicle check company with access to additional vehicle databases including councils, rental fleets and salvage auctions, investigated every car recorded as being clear on the MIAFTR and found that 12,000 of them – worth a combined £86 million – were recorded as write-offs on its own registers.
Many such cars are repaired and advertised for sale to the public, as Adrian Mierzwinski, founder and CEO of Vcheck, another vehicle check company with access to multiple databases, has discovered. “In 2019, we monitored a leading classified website and found that 4000 cars being offered for sale on it were unrecorded write-offs,” he says. “We estimate that each year, 15,000 cars that should have been declared as write-offs go back on the road unrecorded, which is one in 50 of all vehicles written off by insurance companies.”
MIAFTR is controlled by the Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB), which admits that the database doesn’t record every write-off. A spokesman said: “At present, it’s not possible for MIAFTR to be a complete solution, because some vehicles, including self-insured large fleets, currently sit outside insurance processes and therefore won’t be uploaded to it. Like insurers, we’re keen to see changes to policy to help tackle the issue.”
Shane Teskey, co-founder of Motorcheck, says there has been much talk of improving the reporting system but little action. “We reckon that at any time, more than 2000 cars advertised for sale with a clean history have serious question marks concerning that history, since the majority have been shown to be undocumented write-offs,” he says. “Everyone is passing the buck, but the problem has become so serious that today, a trader can’t solely rely on a MIAFTR-clear result as a guarantee that the vehicle hasn’t been written off.
Dan Benson – 2018 Mercedes-AMG A45, 1950 miles
When Dan Benson saw the low-mileage Mercedes-AMG A45 on the forecourt of a prestige used car dealer in January last year, he was smitten. He bought it, paying £650 per month on a PCP finance agreement. However, some months later, changes arising from the impact of the pandemic meant he no longer needed the car. He tried to sell it, but the process revealed that it had had five previous keepers – a popular way of masking a vehicle’s origins.
He contacted Rejectmycar for advice. The firm ran the A45’s details past Motorcheck, which reported that it had been written off after 654 miles, when it had been stolen and driven over the stump of a lamp post.
“I was shocked,” says Benson. “I didn’t expect to find that it was a write-off, especially since it was flagged as clear by HPI.” Happily, the dealer took immediate responsibility and gave him a full refund for the car, which will now be registered with the MIAFTR as a write-off.
What does HPI have to say?
Autocar asked HPI to explain why it had incorrectly flagged the Meahs’ Citroën C3 Aircross and Dan Benson’s Mercedes-AMG A45 as ‘write-off clear’.
In a statement, it said: “We can’t disclose to you information regarding specific vehicles or VRM [vehicle registration mark] or any investigations relating thereto, due to relevant privacy legislations and the need to protect customer information and certain confidential information.
“Alongside every history check provider in the UK, HPI uses the MIAFTR database to retrieve details of vehicles that have been registered as a write-off. In a very small number of cases, there may be a delay in the timing of insurance companies adding this information to MIAFTR.
“Where such issues arise, our customers are protected by a money-back guarantee, providing the customer has chosen the warranty options and adhered to the terms of the warranty.”
HPI’s statement lays bare the shortcomings of the MIAFTR database, which expose drivers to the risk of buying an undeclared write-off. The firm’s money-back guarantee provides some comfort but, compared with the consequences of buying a potentially unsafe car, its benefit is questionable.
For peace of mind, when you’re buying a used car, and despite its condition status having already been checked by the seller, Autocar’s advice is to confirm the car’s status with vehicle-check companies that use multiple databases in addition to MIAFTR and to make the checks yourself, rather than rely on a third party.