Protecting Yourself From Odometer Fraud
Consumers may think that odometers in the digital age are less of a target for fraud – but they’d be wrong. For cheaters, it’s never been easier – or cheaper – to remove thousands of miles from a car’s history in one fell swoop.
Carfax research indicates that more than 1.9 million vehicles on the road have rolled-back odometers, a 7% increase from the previous year.
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Whether you have an older vehicle with a mechanical odometer or a newer car with a digital odometer, the threat of false odometer readings remains.
“Many people think odometer fraud disappeared with the invention of digital odometers,” said Emilie Voss, Public Relations Director for CARFAX. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re still seeing the number of vehicles on the road with a rolled-back odometer rise year-over-year.”
These are the 10 states nationwide with the most vehicles with rolled-back odometers, all of which saw increases:
The Financial Cost to the Buyer
All things being equal, a higher mileage vehicle typically commands a lower price on the used market, and once the actual odometer reading becomes known, your car’s value is reduced. According to Carfax data, consumers lose an average of $4,000 in value from unknowingly buying a car with a rolled-back odometer, which doesn’t include unexpected maintenance costs.
There are regular maintenance items you might have thought were months or years away but now require immediate attention. Specifically, if you compare the actual odometer reading with the maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual, you may discover that something like the shocks or struts have been due for a replacement for some time now.
Even a slight adjustment of a few thousand miles will affect values. However, most odometer tampering incidents involve tens of thousands of miles. That means the 7-year-old sedan showing 40,000 miles on the odometer might have 90,000 miles or more.
Discovering a rolled-back odometer can have other repercussions. If you financed your vehicle, you would have to tell the finance company what the correct mileage is, and that actual number could mean an increase in your interest rate.
Your insurance company might raise your premium based on that same info. Policies are based on several factors, including a vehicle’s body style, make model, model year, condition, and mileage. In a worst-case scenario, your insurance might be canceled.
Resolving an odometer rollback fraud case takes time and money, and you may need an attorney to represent you.
How to Protect Yourself Against Odometer Fraud
“It takes con artists a matter of minutes to wipe thousands and thousands of miles off a vehicle’s odometer,” said Voss, “and unfortunately, these swindlers likely see this unprecedented used car market as a way to make a quick buck.”
The good news is that odometer rollback fraud can almost always be avoided. It starts by examining the vehicle yourself and asking the seller questions about the car’s condition. These include questions about its odometer reading. If the deal seems too good to be true, then chances are your instincts are correct. If the seller puts undue pressure on you, that’s a warning sign too.
Take the car to your mechanic to verify its condition. A trained mechanic will notice things you won’t – and has vantage points to check the car that you don’t – and may question why certain parts or components show advanced signs of wear that do not correspond to the vehicle’s mileage.
For example, if the car’s spark plugs and wires should last 100,000 miles but look like they are due for replacement when the odometer reads 40,000 miles, that’s a problem.
Before contacting a mechanic, ask the seller to show you the Carfax Vehicle History Report. You can also find out if odometer fraud has been reported using the free Odometer Check tool at the top of this page. Enter the car’s 17-digit identification number (VIN) and Zip code. You’ll get an alert if odometer fraud is suspected.
What to Do If You Find an Odometer Rollback
Odometer fraud is a significant problem for consumers and happens in every state. So, what do you do if you’re a victim of this scam? The agency that handles and investigates odometer rollback cases differs from state to state.
State Agencies in Charge of Odometer Fraud
The federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also has a website that lists which agency handles odometer fraud in each state and information about federal investigations into odometer fraud, some of which use Carfax data.