A new app allows consumers to check details of a pre-owned vehicle before they hand over the cash. Picture: NEWSPRESS UK
A new app allows consumers to check details of a pre-owned vehicle before they hand over the cash. Picture: NEWSPRESS UK

Buying a car can be a stressful experience, but it can also hurt a consumer in the pocket when the right checks aren’t done.

To counter this, TransUnion and FirstCheck have partnered to launch a consumer-focused vehicle-checking app. The app contains information on vehicles that were traditionally only available to dealers.

"Buying a car is one of the most important investments anyone makes, and if it goes wrong it can have a devastating ripple effect on quality of life and finances," says Kriben Reddy, head of TransUnion Auto.

"A lack of knowledge of hidden faults, fraud or a suspect service book is generally caused by a lack of insight into the full history of a vehicle.

"We want to put the right information in the hands of consumers so they can make more informed decisions."

One of the key features of the FirstCheck app is a valuation report, which can be accessed to learn the vehicle’s estimated value. A verification report covers the full history of a vehicle — important if a buyer wants to know if the vehicle they are looking at is the vehicle that has been registered as such, and has not been stolen. This check will also provide information if a vehicle is being financed — another crucial piece of the puzzle as this is becoming a common way to defraud buyers.

Consumer power

"Access to information is levelling the playing field and putting power back into the hands of the consumer. A bank may still be holding finance on a car that has been sold, meaning that the bank is for all intents and purposes the owner. People are then tricked by a fraudster into paying cash and they drive the car away only for the bank to report that car stolen. A lot of people are being caught out this way," says Reddy.

The app also has a direct link to the South African Police Service database, so a would-be purchaser can check in real time if a car has been reported stolen.

Price remains a common stumbling block for many, and the app provides both trade and retail values to ensure the price being offered on a car as a trade-in is its true market value.

"This assures a car buyer that the car they are interested in buying is being offered to them at a fair price.

"They are also able to monitor the car’s value on a monthly basis to ensure that their insurance premiums are always in line," says Reddy.

Apart from notifying them if the car is stolen or not, the report highlights any discrepancies from the manufacturing specifications. FirstCheck matches the vehicle identification number (VIN) and engine number supplied to a manufacturer database and provides results based on the match.

"A car buyer will receive one of the following confirmation results: ‘match’, ‘no match’ or ‘partial match’," says Reddy. "A ‘no match’ could mean that FirstCheck does not have a record of the car on the database or incomplete information has been provided."

The report tells a potential purchaser if a car has been "microdotted". This is a mark-ing system whereby thousands of dots, invisible to the naked eye, are an enhanced deterrent for car theft.

"We believe if consumers keep building on good choices, they will continue to create solid opportunities," says Reddy.

A car value report costs R19, while a full car check report costs R99.

There are also other options for those who might be looking for regular reports.