Reviewed by Attorney: Charles Panzarella
Buying a used car can be a risky business. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with illegally doctored odometers, costing unsuspecting consumers over $1 billion annually.
As a consumer, arming yourself with information is the best defense against predatory odometer fraud. This guide will teach you how to detect tampered odometers and ensure you don’t get scammed.
What is Odometer Fraud and Why Does it Matter?
Odometer fraud involves illegally altering a vehicle’s mileage readout to make it appear lower than the actual number of miles driven. This deceitful practice allows dealers to mark up prices and mask worn-out parts.
According to research from Carfax, an estimated 1 in 10 used cars sold have had their odometers rolled back. Victims often inherit unexpected repair costs and accelerated depreciation exceeding $4,000 per vehicle.
Warning Signs Your Vehicle May Have Tampered Mileage
While odometer fraud is distressingly common, there are a number of red flags that can tip off consumers:
- Abnormally low mileage relative to the car’s age
- Gaps or misalignments with the digits on analog odometers
- Inconsistencies between the odometer and maintenance records
- Wear and tear not matching alleged mileage (e.g. worn pedals and steering wheels)
Effective Ways to Investigate a Car’s History
- Obtain a Vehicle History Report
Vehicle history reports like those provided by Carfax and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) compile vital information about a car from sources like state DMVs and salvage auctions. They can reveal odometer discrepancies, title issues, accident history, and more. This public VIN check tool lets you look up basic details for free.
- Review Maintenance Documents
Any car owner should retain records of oil changes, tune-ups, tire replacements, and repairs. Cross-reference maintenance invoices against claimed mileage to sniff out improbabilities. Legitimate sellers will readily provide these.
- Schedule an Independent Inspection
It’s smart to have any used vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic before finalizing a purchase. They can spot telltale signs of high mileage like engine wear and parts needing replacement. If the seller denies this inspection request, move on.
- Carefully Examine the Vehicle in Person
In addition to your mechanic’s expert eye, visually inspect the car yourself for common high mileage indicators like worn brake pedals, sagging seats, faded paint, and corroded battery cables. These may contradict what the documents or odometer readings state.
What Victims of Odometer Fraud Can Do
If you suspect you’ve purchased a vehicle with tampered mileage, don’t panic. Report the incident to local law enforcement and the National Odometer and Title Fraud Enforcement Association.
You can also contact our office to see if you have a case against the dealership for odometer fraud. We’ll go over your situation together and let you know if there is a valid claim for odometer fraud and more. This case review is free of charge, so there is no monetary commitment required from you.