Detecting Odometer Fraud in a Used Car

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By: Lauren Fix
June 21, 2015

Detecting Odometer Fraud in a Used Car

Mileage is one of the biggest factors in determining the price of a used car. But across the country, especially in New York, many buyers soon find out that the number on their odometer doesn’t come close to matching their car’s true mileage.

We use mileage to determine when to get our oil changed, when to rotate our tires, and how much our vehicle is valued, but that mileage on your new “used” vehicle may not be what you paid for. 

CARFAX tells us that unfortunately odometer fraud is not a forgotten scam.  It’s been around for decades but with the advent of the digital odometer many people mistakenly believe that odometer roll-backs are no longer possible.  However, going digital has actually made odometer fraud easier, as it’s just like hacking a computer.  

Just like a hacker can do damage to a computer, someone with the right software and hardware can make a digital odometer read whatever number they want.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates consumers will lose billions of dollars to odometer fraud this year.  Despite efforts to combat odometer fraud – including tougher laws and increased enforcement, like certain states passing odometer disclosure statement laws – consumers are increasingly at risk to this age-old scam.

Unfortunately, digital odometer tampering is even harder to detect than the tampering of a traditional mechanical odometer (since digital odometers have no visible moving parts).  A vehicle’s condition and a CARFAX Vehicle History Report are the best clues a buyer can use to help determine whether clocking has occurred.

Detecting Odometer Fraud  

  • Ask to see the title and compare the mileage listed on the title with the vehicle’s odometer. Examine the title closely if the mileage notation seems obscured or is hard to read.
  • Compare the mileage on the odometer with the mileage indicated on the vehicle’s maintenance or inspection records.
  • Look at the wear and tear on the vehicle – especially the gas, brake and clutch pedals – to see if the wear seems consistent and appropriate for the number of miles displayed on the odometer.

The Federal Truth in Mileage Act (TIMA) requires sellers to provide actual, truthful odometer readings and to disclose any known inaccuracies.  TIMA makes odometer fraud a felony.  Failure to disclose that an odometer has been changed or repaired (altered in any way) and/or falsifying mileage documentation will result in fines and/or imprisonment.