How sure can you be that the odometer mileage shown on that car you're thinking of buying is an accurate record of how far the vehicle has actually traveled? The shocking truth is that one in ten autos on our roads today have been "clocked" – had their odometer rolled back. That means almost half a million cars are sold with false mileage readings every year.
The crime is such a worry that the Department of Transportation actually has a special department to deal with it – the Office of Odometer Fraud Investigation.
The law is blunt and simple on this issue: It's illegal to disconnect, alter, or reset an odometer with the intention of changing the mileage. If an owner is aware that their mileage is incorrect, they must say so in writing when they transfer title (except if the auto is more than 10 years old).
So, what can you do to check if the number is accurate on a vehicle you're considering purchasing? Here are five key actions:
- Compare the figure in the car's title transfer document to the actual odometer reading.
- Check any service and repair records, which all should carry an odometer reading. Look for discrepancies over time.
- In older cars with mechanical odometers, be wary if the numbers are not properly aligned.
- Get a CARFAX report on the vehicle's history. A dealer may provide one for free, but the $40 cost is low anyway compared with what's a risk if you're scammed.
- Check the general condition of the car, especially tires, to see if it matches what you'd expect for the mileage. Worn tires on a car showing less than 20,000 miles is a dead giveaway.
If you discover you're a victim of odometer fraud, you may be entitled to at least $1,500 compensation, and perhaps substantially more, via a civil lawsuit. Consult an attorney.
A person convicted of odometer fraud faces the possibility of a prison term of up to 8 years and/or a substantial fine.
If you believe you've been the victim of this crime, contact the Office of Odometer Fraud at 202-366-4761 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.