Purchasing a used vehicle carries some risks. A used car buyer may not know the complete history of the vehicle or if any shortcuts were taken regarding its maintenance. One increasingly common problem preowned vehicle buyers are running into is odometer fraud.
Consumers are estimated to lose billions of dollars due to odometer fraud, according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Odometer tampering is a serious crime that can fool buyers into believing a vehicle has far fewer miles on it than it really does. Sellers are able to fraudulently market cars and trucks at higher prices based on lower odometer readings. People also may able to circumvent mileage quotas on leased vehicles by turning back the odometer.
The U.S. Office of Odometer Fraud Investigations has seen an escalation in this type of illegal activity. Increased demand for low-mileage used cars has made odometer tampering more profitable. The Consumer Federation of America estimates one in 10 cars have had their odometer rolled back.
According to CARFAX(R) Vehicle History Reports, "clocking" or "spinning" an odometer is relatively easy to do. While older cars had to have the odometer dial turned back by machine or manually, today's digital dashboards enable crooks to reprogram digital odometers using inexpensive software. Many consumers do not learn of odometer fraud until it is too late.
Digital odometer fraud is difficult to detect because there are no moveable parts that can appear manipulated. Much like a hacked computer is often discovered too late, so, too, is a tampered odometer. However, there are some steps consumers can take to protect themselves from odometer fraud.
* Compare the mileage on the odometer to the mileage listed on maintenance or inspection records. Check oil-change stickers on windows as well.
* Look for inconsistent wear and tear on the vehicle compared to the miles on the odometer. An older car will have wear on the gas, break and clutch pedals. A vehicle with fewer than 20,000 miles should have its original tires.
* Check the mileage listed on the title with the odometer. If the mileage notation is hard to read, this may indicate fraud.
* Request a vehicle history report to determine whether odometer rollback took place. This will match up the mileage reading according to the VIN number.
* If the guage on a mechanical odometer is crooked or misaligned, this may indicate tampering.
Odometer tampering is illegal. If the vehicle was sold with an altered odometer, the dealer or private seller could be liable. If others are responsible, it is the sellers' responsibility to locate them. Unfortunately, rollbacks are usually done by a third party, removed enough from the seller as not to incriminate the person. This frequently makes prosecution difficult. It is up to the buyer to take proactive steps to avoid odometer fraud.