Don’t Get Scammed: Avoid Odometer Fraud
What is odometer fraud? Odometer fraud is when someone rolls back the number of miles on the odometer to make a vehicle appear as if it has been driven less than it actually was. If you’re purchasing a used car, this should be a great concern. According to reports from AAA, odometer fraud has risen 57% since 2010 and continues to rise. There’s a big incentive to roll back the odometer on leased vehicles to avoid mileage penalties. These vehicles are then sold to an unsuspecting purchaser looking for a reliable used car. This year alone approximately 3 million leased vehicles are expected to be returned and resold.
Odometer fraud is big business with perpetrators making thousands of dollars off of hard working, unsuspecting customers. The average odometer rollback typically reduces the actual mileage on a vehicle by 30,000 miles. According to AAA, that rollback would cost you approximately $3600 in reduced value. But even more important that the decreased value, is the potential repairs that await on car that are older than they appear. With mileage as the best indicator of how hard or long a car has been driven, there’s a huge difference between 70,000 and 100,000 miles. The cost of maintaining any vehicle with over 100,000 miles is much more expensive. As reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, odometer fraud results in a consumer loss of $4 billion dollars annually.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. The best way to prevent being victimized by odometer fraud is to understand what to look for and how it works. One of the easiest ways of disguising odometer fraud is called “title washing”. This is when someone rolls back the odometer and applies for a new title (with false mileage) with DMV. When the new title is issued it’s been “washed”. This method can be used by virtually anyone. So how can you determine if an odometer has been rolled?
Know the signs:
- 12,000 miles a year is average for a car. If the mileage is much lower than that, the car could be a peach or a problem.
- Original tires generally last up to 60,000 miles. So, if the car is supposed to have low mileage, but it has new tires, that could be a clue.
How to Avoid Odometer Fraud
Rentals and leased vehicles are a large part of the used car market. People who are approaching the end of their lease or rental period may roll the odometer to avoid mileage fees. Many roll back the odometer to make more money selling a used car. With an average roll back of 30,000 miles, the price of the vehicle increases and in many cases results in thousands of dollars of profit for the person rolling back the odometer. You can avoid being disadvantaged by knowing the signs of a rolled odometer. Check for fraud by thoroughly examining vehicle records (titles, maintenance records, inspections stickers) and looking for vehicle use signals (tire depth, replacements parts). Knowing how to detect odometer fraud can save you thousands and ensure the value of your used car.
1.Examine the odometer for the number of miles.
- Most drivers average 12,000 miles per year. If the car’s 5 years old and has an odometer has a reading of 25,000 miles, it’s possible that the odometer has been rolled.
- Some models, will generate an asterisk if the odometer has been changed.
- Other models have a black space between the odometer numbers. If the spaces are silver or white, that’s an indication that the odometer has been manually altered.
2.Ask the seller to show you the original title, not a duplicate.
- Always ask the seller for the original title. If the original title isn’t available that’s a red flag that should generate questions about title washing.
- Thoroughly examine the original title paying close attention to the mileage number.
- Original title or duplicate title, look for smudges, erasures and mismatched fonts to detect fraudulent readings.
3. Ask to see oil change and maintenance receipts and inspection stickers.
- Review the mileage in any available repair or maintenance documentation.
- You should also check the inspection stickers that are generally located on windows or door frames.
4. Look for missing screws on or near the dashboard.
- Check for any anomalies around the dashboard area. If there’s not a smooth seamless fit, the odometer may have been rolled.
5. Inspect the brake pedal and floor mats.
- If the brake pedal or floor mats show excessive wear but the mileage is low, the odometer may have been altered.
6. Take the vehicle to a mechanic and ask him to examine the car for wear and tear.
- Mechanics can determine if parts are replacements or original. They can also tell you the expected life span of any replacement part. If the odometer reads 30,000 miles but there are replacement parts for items that should last for 60,000 miles, it’s possible the odometer has been altered.
7. Measure the depth of the tread on the car’s tires.
- If the odometer says 25,000 miles, the car should still have its original tires, with tread deeper than than 2/32 of an inch (1.5875 mm). Ask the mechanic to check tire tread with a depth gauge.
- It’s easy to check tire tread depth yourself. By placing a penny upside down into the tread you can determine tire wear. If the tread covers part of Lincoln’s head, you should have 2/32 of an inch. That’s the expected tread for 25,000 miles. Tires are generally good for 60,000 miles.
- There are additional clues to a cars’ wear and tear. Worn out pedals and carpets, excessive chips on the paint and windshields or mismatched parts could all indicate odometer rollback if the wear doesn’t match the mileage. If you observe some or all of these items and the odometer has a reading of 40,000 miles, use caution.
- You can check vehicle history through a number of online locations in the United States. One of the most reliable sites is vehiclehistory.gov. This site, National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, was established by Congress and is sanctioned by the Government.