Rolling back an analog odometer to fraudulently reduce a car’s mileage was a straightforward but relatively tedious process. With digital odometers now ubiquitous, this can be accomplished in a matter of seconds.
Criminals need only plug in a device into the vehicle’s computer system and they will alter the readings to whatever number they want thus making a car look more valuable than it actually is.
Sadly, many buyers don’t think about the possibility of odometer tampering when they are evaluating the selling price of a car they are interested in.
While a car with a changed odometer reading may appear in good condition, it won’t take long before the wear and tear commensurate to its true reading begins racking up your repair costs.
It’s a double-whammy because you pay a price that’s higher than its true value and still have to cough up even more to keep it on the road.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be another victim of odometer fraud. Here are three useful tips.
1. Check Service History
Sometimes, the people who change the odometer reading don’t cover their tracks well. So start your investigation with the obvious.
A good place would be the car’s service history. Each time a vehicle is taken to the garage or service station for routine maintenance or repair, the odometer reading is noted down in the repair or maintenance order.
Ergo, going through the car’s service history can indicate the mileage readings at various points in the car’s history. If the current reading seems inconsistent when compared to the trend of mileage accumulation of past readings, you might want to reconsider buying the car.
Also, if the car’s documented service history is hard to come by or seems to have large gaps between recorded readings, it could just be that the seller is hiding this information so as not to raise suspicion over the current odometer reading.
2. Inspect the Vehicle for Wear and Tear
Vehicle maintenance and repair has come a long way over the last couple of decades. The quality of workmanship today is high and cars with hundreds of thousands of miles can still look pretty good. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to hide all the signs that can show the true wear of a car.
You can inspect the vehicle yourself for wear (e.g. by examining floor mats and brake pedals) but it’s more prudent to have your mechanic do it for you. They have the experience and skills to identify the signs of vehicle use.
For example, if a car’s odometer reads 40,000 miles but it has new parts that usually wouldn’t need to be replaced before 60,000 miles, then there’s a good chance that the reading has been changed.
3. Benchmark Against the Market Average
People buy and use automobiles for different reasons. And even when the reasons are the same, actual circumstances vary considerably.
For example, some people’s drive to work may be just 5 miles while others cover 50 or more miles. That being said, there’s a distance range that the majority of functioning cars will cover each year. In the United States, this is usually in the ballpark of 13,000 miles.
Therefore, if a vehicle is 6 years old but its odometer reading is far below 72,000 miles, you could be looking at a fraudulent figure. The seller may offer an explanation but you have to ensure the vehicle passes the test on the previous two tips we’ve discussed to ascertain that what they are saying is true.
Bonus Tip: Get an Auto History Report
An auto history report contains diverse information on a vehicle’s past including previous owners, accidents, repairs, open recalls and yes, odometer readings.
You can get one for free on websites such as VINCheck.info or through a car dealership. It’s a useful and low cost means of finding out whether a car has any hidden issues.
Of course, the report shouldn’t prevent you from embarking on the due diligence we’ve mentioned in the previous tips. Rather, it should provide the supporting information that you need to make your final decision.
Odometer tampering remains a huge problem in the used car market. With these tips you can protect yourself from such fraud.