Odometer Fraud

Used Car Odometer Fraud Still a Problem

Odometer fraud is real, and a real problem. It occurs when odometers are “rolled back” or “clocked” so the odometer reads less than the actual vehicle mileage. A comprehensive odometer fraud study released by CARFAX in December 2013 found that at least 190,000 U.S. cars are clocked every year, costing consumers more than $760 million in fraudulently inflated vehicle values and unexpected repairs. The study also found:

  • 1,013,929 vehicles on the road have rolled-back odometers.
  • 60 percent of odometer rollbacks occur on vehicles 11 to 19 years old.
  • Vehicles 14 to 15 years old are most susceptible to rollbacks.
  • More than half (53 percent) of odometer rollbacks remove in excess of 50,000 miles.
  • The states with the most rolled-back odometers (ranked from 1 to 10) are: California, Nevada, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, New Hampshire, Georgia, Idaho, Colorado and Arizona.

In August 2014, Commander Tom Wilson of California’s Department of Motor Vehicles Investigations Unit told the San Jose Mercury News odometer fraud is “the fastest-growing trend crime in the state of California. It’s a big problem and becoming bigger.”

You can avoid becoming a victim of odometer fraud when purchasing a used car. First, visit AAA.com and get a member discount an a CARFAX vehicle history report that can help rule out any problems in the car’s mileage records. Then, have the car thoroughly inspected by an Approved Auto Repair facility (AAA.com/autorepair), many of which also offer member discounts. And just to be safe, do these things before you hand over your hard-earned money.

8 Easy Steps to Avoid Odometer Fraud

Unscrupulous used car sellers sometimes roll back the odometers on high-mileage vehicles so buyers end up paying more than the car is worth. Vehicles with odometer roll-backs can also require repairs sooner than expected because of wear and tear on critical parts such as the brake system.

Here are some simple steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of odometer fraud:

  1. Look for scratch marks or loose and missing screws around the dashboard, signs the instrument cluster may have been replaced or tools were used to manipulate a mechanical odometer. On mechanical odometers, make sure all the numbers line up straight, particularly the 10,000 digit.
  2. When test driving a car, observe whether the speedometer appears to be operating properly and note the odometer reading. Don’t assume the indicated mileage is accurate just because a vehicle has an electronic odometer.
  3. Check the vehicle’s inspection papers, owner’s manual and/or maintenance booklet for records of services performed at mileages higher than that that shown on the odometer. Missing pages in the maintenance booklet could be a sign the odometer has been tampered with. Also, look for service stickers on door jambs or under the hood that may display higher mileages.
  4. Look for excessive wear on the steering wheel, arm-rests, floor mats, pedals and ignition switch. If any of these items have been recently replaced or refinished, it could signal odometer tampering.
  5. Check the condition of the tires. Newer cars with less than 20,000 or 30,000 miles should still have a matching set of original tires.
  6. Ask to see the vehicle’s title and registration, and look for signs that the mileage readings on the documents have been altered, such as smudging in the background. Insist on the originals, not duplicates. A new title or one from another state may be a tip-off the mileage has been altered.
  7. Ask the seller for a vehicle history report and check for discrepancies in the reported mileages. If the seller doesn’t have a report, obtain the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), then visit AAA.com where you can get a member discount on a CARFAX vehicle history report.

Have the vehicle inspected by a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility (AAA.com/autorepair) before you buy. Mechanical wear and tear is more difficult to hide than cosmetic issues, so the shop should be able to give you a good idea of whether the car’s condition appears consistent with its indicated mileage.