Odometer fraud. Sounds sinister when you say it….and it is.
The fact is that odometer frauds are one of the most common tricks that are used when selling a used car.
It’s present worldwide and although there are strict laws against this in many countries, it continues to exist.
In this article, we’ll mention how to avoid odometer fraud and perhaps save yourself from a lot of trouble when buying a car.
Besides this article, you also have a video on the same topic at the end of the article or on our YouTube channel.
WHAT IS ODOMOTER FRAUD?
Odometer fraud means returning the mileage reading (or kilometer reading) on the odometer to a certain lower value.
Put simply, it’s winding the clock back, returning the hands of time, I hope you get the idea.
It’s mainly done to get a higher selling price on a car that’s in bad condition or has higher mileage.
So, in a combination with other methods, an older, high-mileage car that is perhaps bought very cheaply can be presented as younger and in better condition.
Worth knowing on this part is that odometer fraud is punishable by law in many countries.
The odometer reading is sort of a legal testimony of the actual condition of the car. Much like a stamp on a document.
Another widely used term for this is odometer rollback.
ODOMETER ROLLBACK-HOW IS IT DONE?
Before we start with how to check an odometer fraud just a few words about how it’s actually done.
This will perhaps help in better understanding the whole subject. Also, it should help to easier recognize if the odometer has been tampered with.
There are two basic ways (at least that I’ve heard of):
This method was widely spread during the era of older cars while digital and electronic odometers were rare or non-existent.
These types of odometers were a masterpiece of precise mechanics made out of dozens of cogs, springs, pins, and else.
With these, the odometer fraud was done mechanically (physically).
The odometer was usually taken out of the dash and the spools with the digits were mechanically turned.
This method of odometer fraud is more present in modern cars. Modern meaning mostly any car with an OBD port or some kind of access port for a laptop, OBD tool, or else.
In more modern cars, the mileage is recorded in electronic form and stored in the odometer, the ECU (car’s computer) but also in other places.
Because of this, the odometer fraud is mainly done through the OBD port by connecting a laptop or OBD tool and using certain software to access and change the mileage.
A digital odometer rollback is very popular because it’s fairly easy to do and there are usually no physical traces of tampering whatsoever.
It’s virtually undetectable, especially for an amateur.
HOW TO DETECT ODOMETER FRAUD?
1. COMPARE THE CONDITION OF THE CAR TO THE MILEAGE
The first thing that you should do if you suspect an odometer fraud is to compare the overall condition of the car to the mileage.
For instance, if you see a car that has let’s say 60,000 miles on the odometer or about 100,000 kilometers (which is a car considered still to be in prime condition) but looks like it’s been thrown out of an airplane, that’s a big red alert.
For this low mileage, a few scratches, chips, or some minor dents on the paint job are normal signs of exploitation.
In the interior everything should look as good as new, in the engine bay there should only perhaps be a dusty film on the engine and engine cover.
But if you see rust, a shabby interior, and a greasy engine on a 60, 000-mile car, then something is very wrong.
Yes, it could also be a seriously neglected car, to be honest. But in both cases best stay away from it.
Again, have one truth in mind. More wear and poor condition, in 99 percent of the cases mean high mileage whatever the odometer reads.
Exceptions are well-maintained and preserved cars but these are in fact really rare.
2. SIGNS OF DAMAGE AROUND THE GAUGE CLUSTER
If you suspect odometer fraud the next thing you can do is take a quick peak around the gauge cluster.
Check for any signs of manipulation like scratches (like from a screwdriver or trim tool), chipped off or damaged plastic, unequal clearances in the seams where the gauge cluster fits into the dash, and so on.
On some cars, in order to make an odometer rollback, the gauge cluster has to be taken off. In these cases, it’s almost impossible to take it out and return it without at least a scratch.
This is more visible and present in older cars where the odometer rollback isn’t done digitally.
But even if the car is newer, take a peak just in case out and if you see any signs that the odometer has been removed, be careful.
Yes, it could be due to some other kind of repair but is definitely a sign that you should be on alert.
3. CHECK ON A WEBSITE/USE APP
Using a website or application is one more immensely popular, convenient, and easy way to check for odometer fraud.
There are several great websites and apps that you can use for checking mileage, maintenace record, and other very useful data in a very short time.
Just go to the website, type in the VIN and you’ll get the much-needed information.
To do this, the key information you need here is the VIN or vehicle identification number on your car. If you don’t know what a VIN number is and how to decode it, we’ve made an article and video specifically on this topic. Click here to read the article or here to watch the video.
So, you just type in the VIN and you get the needed information. Compare the mileage that you got from the website to the odometer reading.
If there’s a huge difference, don’t buy the car.
Yes, there is usually a fee to pay for this service. But it’s pocket change compared to the loss you might suffer from odometer fraud.
4. CHECK WITH A MECHANIC OR DEALERSHIP
If you suspect odometer fraud and have a good mechanic or dealership at hand, you can ask them to make a brief inspection of the whole car.
They can check the overall condition of the engine, undercarriage perhaps the maintenance history.
According to this, they can give you a very good evaluation if the condition of the car fits the mileage on the odometer.
5. CHECK WITH INSTITUTIONS AND COMPANIES WITH GOOD DATABASES
Another good place for checking a possible odometer fraud is your local institutions and companies. These tend to have access to quality worldwide databases for this kind of information.
If you have this option readily available it’s certainly worth visiting these places. Especially if you’re thinking about buying a used car and spending a hefty sum of money.
Compare the data and the mileage you got to the car and everything should be clear.
If there’s a huge difference in the mileage, stay away.
In the end, I must say that you can never be fully protected from odometer fraud, especially with more modern cars
But the first three options we’ve shown you are the easiest and pretty effective. They are also done in a very short time and while you’re still looking at the car.
In real life, it usually looks something like this. You take a look at the car, briefly inspect its overall condition and compare it to the mileage on the odometer.
Once more, fewer miles in the majority of cases means better condition.
Next, take a brief look around the gauge cluster for any sign of manipulation.
Then, read the VIN number and use a website or app to make a check.
After this, if you want a more thorough check take the car to a mechanic. Afterward, check the car data with the mentioned institutions or companies.
During all this perhaps the most important thing to do is to stay aware, careful, reasonable, think logically, and pay attention to details.
Otherwise, it’s you who will be paying the price for odometer fraud. You’ll probably be buying a heap of junk that will cost you a fortune to repair.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com
HOW TO RECOGNIZE ODOMETER FRAUD? YOUTUBE VIDEO