Purchase a used car and you hope that it is everything you want it to be. But hope is not a winning strategy. Unless you thoroughly check the condition of the car, there is a chance that a hidden problem may escape you.
Protecting Yourself from Odometer Rollback Fraud
One of those hidden items could be the odometer reading. CARFAX research indicates that nearly 200,000 cars have their odometers rolled back each year. Additionally, there are currently about 1.5 million vehicles on the road with rolled-back odometers.
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Odometer Rollback Fraud
Rolling back an odometer is not just wrong, it is fraud. Furthermore, most states have their own consumer protection laws that give car buyers even greater protection.
Some consumers are under the misconception that odometer fraud disappeared when yesterday’s mechanical odometers were replaced with today’s digital odometers. After all, how do you tamper with your car’s computer?
You might be surprised to learn that the process is fairly easy, especially for anyone with access to certain online tools.
The Financial Cost to the Buyer
Before we look at how best to combat odometer rollback fraud, we will examine the financial damages incurred by the unsuspecting buyer. All things being equal, a higher mileage vehicle typically commands a lower price on the used market, and once the true odometer reading becomes known your car’s value is reduced. How much is your car worth? You can find out by using CARFAX Value.
Even a small adjustment of a few thousand miles will affect values. However, most odometer rollback fraud incidents involve tens of thousands of miles. For instance, that 7-year-old sedan that shows 40,000 miles on the odometer might actually have 90,000 miles or more.
Additionally, discovering a rolled-back odometer can have other repercussions. If you financed your vehicle, you will have to tell the finance company what the correct mileage is, and that true number could mean an increase in your interest rate.
Your insurance company might also raise your premium. Insurance policies are based on a number of factors, including a vehicle’s body style, make, model, model year, condition and mileage. Your insurance agent could also demand that you stop in with your car for a personal inspection. In a worst-case scenario, your insurance might be canceled.
There are also the routine 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 are due for a replacement.
Resolving an odometer rollback fraud case takes time and money. You may need to hire an attorney to represent you. You will also need to devote time to handle the issues mentioned above.
How to Protect Yourself Against Odometer Fraud
The good news here is that odometer rollback fraud can almost always be avoided. It starts by examining the vehicle yourself and asking the seller some questions related to the condition of the car. 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.
You can also take the car to your mechanic to verify its condition. A trained mechanic will notice things you won’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, then that’s a problem. On closer inspection the mechanic may find other troubling signs, including water stains in the trunk or under the carpeting.
Even before contacting a mechanic, you can ask the seller to show you the CARFAX Vehicle History Report. You can also independently verify the odometer reading by using the free CARFAX Odometer Check at the top of this page. Simply enter the car’s 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) and the zip code where the car is being sold.
You will get a number that should correspond to the odometer reading. If it does not, you should walk away from the transaction.
What to Do If You Find an Odometer Rollback
Odometer fraud is a major problem for consumers and happens in every state. So, what do you do if you’re a victim of this scam?
Unfortunately, many people who unknowingly buy a rolled-back car don’t know who they should report it to or contact an agency that’s unable to help them. So who do you call? Local police? State Attorney General’s office? The reality is that the agency designated to handle and investigate odometer rollback cases differs from state to state.
If you’ve bought a car with an odometer rollback, here’s a link to the agency in your state to contact for help:
District of Columbia