Avoid These Common Used Car Scams: Odometer Fraud
Everyone knows that a used car with fewer miles on it is worth much more than the same care with more miles on it. The difference can be thousands of dollars, which is why some people are tempted to tamper with a vehicle’s odometer to roll it back and show fewer miles than the car was actually driven. Needless to say, this is illegal. Every single state as well as the federal government has laws against odometer fraud – in fact, tampering with an odometer is a felony!
Each time a vehicle changes ownership (is sold or the title transferred), the total mileage must be documented at that time. Sellers who know there’s something wrong with the odometer reading are required by law to provide a written statement about it to a buyer. And yet, some estimates say that one out of every ten used cars sold has had its odometer tampered with!
There are different ways of tampering with an odometer: Disconnecting it for a period of time, resetting it, altering the numbers, or replacing an odometer with one from another car with providing the required notification of having done so. In cars that have the old-style odometers with dials displaying the numbers that spin as you drive, it’s pretty easy to get in there wind them back. And don’t think you’re safe from this with newer digital odometers. As it turns out, there is a control module that keeps the actual mileage record for the car, but that doesn’t control the mileage number that gets displayed on the dash. The dash display can be tampered with fairly easily with the right software and devices while the hidden control module still has the actual total mileage for the vehicle. This is good news because you can take the car into a dealership and have them check the mileage on the control module.
Here’s how to protect yourself from odometer fraud:
Vehicle history report. Since the mileage has to be recorded with each ownership/title change, a history report from CARFAX or AutoCheck ought to provide an alert if the number of miles at some point went down instead of up. Keep in mind, however, that history reports aren’t perfect.
Mileage match. When you’re looking seriously at a car, make sure the mileage on the odometer is in line with mileage recorded in recent service, maintenance, and inspection records.
Vehicle condition. A car with really low miles on it ought to have both the original tires and the original brakes. If not, find out why. Does the wear and tear in general seem in line with the mileage on the odometer? Look especially at wear on the steering wheel, gear shifter, and pedals.
Signs of tampering. Look at the odometer itself for signs of tampering. On analog odometers, make sure all the numbers line up correctly, aren’t crooked, and don’t have gaps. Are there signs that the dashboard and instrument panel covering were removed such as mismatched screws or scratches?
If you suspect your car’s odometer has been tampered with, you can sue the seller and get triple the damages, along with attorney and court fees, which means many consumer lawyers will take the case without charging you up-front. Hopefully this won’t ever happen to you, but at least you know if it does there are ways to address it.
These are other common used car scams you should know about: