Hanging behind the desk of every car salesperson in Ontario is a framed certificate from OMVIC — Ontario’s vehicles sales regulator. It’s your guarantee that the person selling you a vehicle is registered with the provincial authority and that they are monitored.
In May, a Maru public opinion poll found Canadians most highly respect firefighters, nurses, and farmers.
The list goes on, finding pharmacists and airline pilots, scientists and teachers all sharing high status. Who’s on the bottom? Owners of social media platforms.
But only a point-and-a-half separated them from the second-worst: car salespeople. It’s a tired joke, perhaps, but I’ve worked in this industry too long to pretend it doesn’t need more cleaning up. In Ontario, OMVIC goes a long way towards doing that. Alberta has AMVIC, but it doesn’t have the teeth that Ontario’s program does.
Last week, OMVIC scored a win when a provincial tribunal “blocked a Toronto man’s bid to restart his automotive sales career after he used forged documents, bought cars written off by insurance companies, and leased them to unsuspecting Uber and Lyft drivers.” Sai Lu had worked as a legitimate sales rep at a dealership, but decided to freelance in 2016, and set up his own company. His own illegal, unlicenced company. He started buying at salvage auctions — cars that have typically been totally written off by insurance companies.
“Though these auctions are closed to the public, Lu falsely portrayed his business as a licensed OMVIC dealer, using doctored documents to support the claim. Lu also submitted falsified insurance documents to the Ministry of Transportation.” For three years, between 2016 and 2019, Lu continued his side business of buying salvage cars, hiding their history, and leasing them to unsuspecting clients – mostly Uber and Lyft drivers – via Kijiji and similar sites. When the leases were up, he sold the vehicles again.
I’ve worked in this industry too long to pretend it doesn’t need more cleaning up—in Ontario, OMVIC goes a long way towards doing that
Because he represented himself as a regulated OMVIC seller, complaints were made to that body. “Two witnesses who leased cars from Lu told the tribunal the cars’ history was not disclosed. A third witness testified they bought a car from Lu for $5,000, only to have it suffer problems a few days later. This third witness was not told the car was a write-off and suffered $11,000 worth of accident damage.”
Lu may have been a regulated seller in his day job, but that documentation did not extend to his side gig. OMVIC deemed him a “curbsider.” His personal certification lapsed in 2019, and when he reapplied, it was denied. When he tried to certify his side business, he used forged documents in his attempt. He was fined $3,500.
OMVIC is an excellent tool for Ontario buyers to use. They licence all salespeople and all dealers, and they inspect all dealers, new and used. If you have an issue with a dealer or rep, you can call them and talk to a real person to find a solution. They have the power to lay charges and yank licences, and they do. They tell you how to avoid curbsiders; you can look up which salespeople or dealers are under investigation, or have been convicted, anywhere in the province.
When you buy a car, new or used, you’ll notice a $10.00 charge on your invoice. That is the funding that OMVIC uses — no additional government funding is supplied. Charges they bring against sellers go through the courts, so any fines generally go to the municipality in which they are levied.
For consumers, one of the best aspects of OMVIC is its compensation fund. If you get ripped off by some sketchy curbsider you meet in a mall parking lot for a private sale, your money is gone. But if you make your purchase from a registered dealer or salesperson, you have the support if you have a complaint. That compensation fund ensures you can get some recompense even if the dealer can’t. The cap on claims is $45,000, and the fund is built from fees to dealers upon registration.
OMVIC bringing down the hammer on Sai Lu is important for several reasons: forged documents led buyers to assume he was certified by OMVIC for transactions he was not; buying salvage vehicles (auctions are not public) and reselling them as safe is filthy; leasing and selling them to Uber and Lyft drivers means not only were those drivers at risk, but so were all their passengers. Cars are written off by insurance companies for a reason. If you want to use them for parts or scrap, have at it. But too often, someone will weld two of these together to make a Frankencar and pass them off to an unsuspecting buyer. If you want to see how intricate Lu’s scam was, read the decision here.
Be wary. If it’s a private sale, you have to have a technician look at that car, on a hoist. If it’s too good to be true — you know the rest. But if you want the power of a regulator behind you, start with the OMVIC site for valuable information, and stick with those accredited by them. They police their own. Whether you love buying cars or not, you have the right to a fair transaction, to receive the vehicle you were supposed to get and receive compensation if something goes wrong.