Odometer Fraud: Don’t Believe Your Eyes

When does one plus one not add up to two? Answer: when there is odometer fraud. If you’ve ever shopped for a used car and thought the low mileage odometer reading was too good to be true, you might’ve been right. According to the National Traffic and Safety Administration, each year some 3,000 cars have their odometers rolled back an average of 30,000 miles each. That’s fraud, and the difference can cost an unsuspecting consumer several thousand dollars.

Unscrupulous sellers know all the tricks for commiting fraud. And so should you. Finding the truth takes a little detective work, but it’s not hard.

What to Look for on the Odometer Itself:

  • Scratches or marks on the odometer dial.
  • Misaligned numbers on the odometer.
  • Correct spaces between the numbers.
  • General Motors cars with a mechanical odometer should have black spaces between the numbers. If there has been tampering the spaces will be silver or white.
  • Electronic odometers have been designed to show an asterisk or other sign as a result of tampering. Check the owner’s manual.

What Else Suggests Possible Odometer Fraud?

Notice the tires. AAA says that many tires are made to last up to 60,000 miles, so new tires on a car whose odometer reads 30,000 should raise questions.

Fleet cars: These are unlikely to have low miles. They are driven an average of 32,000 miles per year, and are rarely taken out of service early. By the time a fleet vehicle is sold, most of its useful life is over.

Stickers: Stickers on the door or window will indicate the mileage at the time of the last oil change. But don’t rely only on that alone since the oil change may have been done after the rollback.

Maintenance records: These may be in the glove box. Do they make chronological sense compared to the current odometer? If the last maintenance record says 80,000 and the odometer says 50,000… run, don’t walk away. But don’t let the fraudster go free, see below to find out how to contact the authorities in charge of odometer fraud.

Still Not Sure if There is Odometer Fraud?

Ask a pro: Have a certified technician check out the vehicle and verify that the odometer reading matches the condition of the rest of the car.

Or go online: Carfax.com is one Web site that will provide you the history of most vehicles made after 1981 and help you avoid becoming a victim of odometer fraud. If you have the VIN you can get a free check. A more comprehensive report will cost about $20, and for about $25 you can do unlimited searches. Sites like Carfax can not only give you the likely odometer range, but also a variety of other information about a used car before you buy it. Odometer fraud is just one of many ways you can be cheated in an automobile purchase, but Carfax can help you get the real story.

Already Bought The Car?

If you’ve already purchased a car and you suspect you’ve been a victim of odometer fraud, contact Speed-O-Tach. Their state-certified odometer specialists can inspect your vehicle for fraud. Call 1-800-442-4491 or email them at justaskus@sotelectronics.com.

One Consumer’s Story

Not all attempts at odometer fraud happen by someone rolling back the dial. Here’s a more subtle way it can happen.
After carefully checking the maintenance records that supported the odometer reading and having a mechanic look it over, a woman bought an attractive used car. Later, after some minor repairs, she went to pick up her car. While she waited to talk to the repairman, she chatted with his wife, who told her “My husband loves your car. He says it has been beautifully maintained. In fact, he’d like to buy it from you.” Ten minutes later, when the car owner went outside and spoke to the repairman himself, she heard a different story. “This car is a heap. It’s falling apart. The maintenance has been neglected and it’s obvious that the odometer has been rolled way back. ButâÂ?¦ I’m a nice guy. I’ll take it off your hands for $500.” The owner smiled. “I’ll passâÂ?¦ but I’ll be sure and tell my friends all about you.” And she did.

This story just shows that there are all types of fraud out there. While this repairman couldn’t have been arrested for his strictly verbal attempt at odometer fraud, his reputation surely suffered. Because the consumer had done her homework and knew the odometer was accurate, she saved herself from being ripped off. Awareness pays.

If you think you may have been a victim of odometer fraud, call OFI at 202-366-4761 or NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236 (TTY for individuals with hearing impairments: 800-424-9153). Or send an e-mail to odometerfraud@dot.gov.

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