When local police in Sweden opened the airbag compartment, “It just had a pair of shoes and a T-shirt in it as filler.Hakan Lindberg of Carfax’s Swedish branch
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GOTHENBURG, Sweden—In Sweden, an estimated 12,000 drivers are getting around in reconditioned wrecks from hurricanes and other natural disasters, and many of them don’t even know it. Criminal organizations are making big money in this potentially lethal business.
Carfax, a company that provides prospective buyers with history reports on used vehicles, traced a vehicle that had crashed in Sweden back to the United States. It was ruined in Hurricane Sandy, considered totaled, and sold at an auction, but it was hard to trace its movement between that point and the crash.
The car’s airbag did not release upon impact; when local police in Sweden opened the airbag compartment, “It just had a pair of shoes and a T-shirt in it as filler,” said Hakan Lindberg of Carfax’s Swedish branch.
Many such demolished cars are now shipped over to Lithuania, according to Lindberg.
It is a complex, large-scale criminal operation: Totaled cars are imported and then reconditioned with parts pilfered from Swedish cars by gangs. Burglars cut the side of the car open, disable the alarm, and then calmly go about removing whatever they need.
“It’s a large-scale industry. They ship truckloads of parts over there [to Lithuania] every day,” Lindberg said.
Reconditioned cars are then imported back to Sweden, and this is where the real trouble begins, since some of them are not properly repaired. An owner may unwittingly be driving around with even worse problems than clothes in the airbag compartment.
“If you crash your car into something, the steering column is made in two parts, so that it collapses on impact. Now, they weld the parts together, which means that in a collision, the steering column becomes a spear thrust right into your chest,” Lindberg said.
Lindberg asked how many consumers check airbags, whether the steering column is still collapsible, or cables and connections for lamps. The private buyer is seduced by the nice exterior and the low price. Lindberg has personally seen a few of these cars and can testify that they look great at first glance.
Many people who find out that they have bought a totaled car tend to stick their heads in the sand, said Lindberg.
But Lindberg wants to remind people of how they would feel if their families were hurt in a crash because of shoddy workmanship.
When importing a used car to Sweden, it must pass an inspection. Authorities told Carfax that as long as cars pass the inspection, they are cleared for Swedish roads, even though they were previously declared totaled in another country.
There are currently an estimated 12,000 hurricane-totaled and reconditioned cars on Swedish roads that would not be legally allowed on roads in the United States. Hurricane Sandy alone destroyed some 900,000 cars, according to Jan-Erik Heed of the Stockholm police.
Heed says that Lithuanian authorities are not cooperating with their Swedish counterparts to deal with this problem.
Since both Lithuania and Sweden are European Union (EU) member states, Heed recently visited Europol, the EU criminal intelligence agency. One of its tasks is to help member states prevent and fight international crime in Europe.
According to Heed, this criminal business is well-organized and hard to tackle. With every problem car shipped over from the United States, the problem grows and not only in Sweden, but also in other European countries.
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