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Odometer Fraud a Cautionary Tale

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On: Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 4:23PM | By: Karen Cook

Odometer Fraud a Cautionary Tale

So you’re looking at a pre-owned vehicle and it looks pretty good. It’s in decent condition, appears to be clean and well cared for. The tires are good and the engine doesn’t seem to be in need of any maintenance. The odometer shows low mileage too. You seem to have a winner. You sign the papers, hand over the cash, and drive away with the deal of a lifetime. Within two weeks, though, you are headed to the mechanic and you leave with a hefty bill. So what went wrong?

There’s no way to know the history of a used car. Carfax helps but that’s not perfect either and sometimes you get a lemon without any warning signs. The detail department at a car lot is usually pretty good at cleaning a vehicle and new tires are simple. And the odometer said the car hadn’t been driven too hard, didn’t it? Or did it? Odometer fraud has been around as long as cars have had one. Pop off the dash and you can roll back those little numbers pretty easily. Thank heavens we have digital odometers now. They’re impossible to tamper with, right? Nope! There is software available online that makes it possible, if not downright easy. So how can you make sure the car you are looking out is showing the correct mileage?

If the car has an old fashioned rotary odometer check for signs the dash has been removed. Scratches or mismatched screws may indicate tampering. Also make sure the numbers are lined up properly. If they wiggle when you tap the dash or if they stick when you test drive it they may have been rolled back.

These signs may not appear with a digital readout so the best place to start is to do research with Carfax, AutoCheck, or whatever is available from the DMV in your state. Every time a car is serviced or changes owners the mileage is reported to one of these agencies. Ask the dealer to see the current title and check for any signs of alteration; also check the date the title was printed. If that date is recent it may have been issued to hide the odometer change.

You can’t guarantee you will never be a victim of this sort of fraud, but you can reduce your chances with a little due diligence and a good eye.


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