Tampering with a car odometer means much more than a discrepancy between actual mileage and the number that’s shown on the odometer. In the United States, changing or altering an odometer reading is a federal offense, and it’s one that costs consumers over $1 billion annually.
Referred to as odometer fraud or odometer rollback, it’s something that many car dealerships and individuals selling used cars are, unfortunately, guilty of committing. In fact, there are 1.6 million cars on the road or for sale that likely have odometer rollbacks.
Examples of odometer fraud include disconnecting the odometer, resetting the odometer, or altering the odometer reading.
What is Odometer Fraud?
Odometer fraud, also know as "busting miles" is when a car odometer has been tampered with either by disconnection, resetting, or any type of alteration. Car will have their odometer reading rolled back in order to show less miles, which will increase the value of a car.
Odometer rollback is on the rise
Many people are under the impression that odometer rollback became less common with modern digital odometers, but that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, it is much easier and faster now to tamper with a digital odometer, than it was compared to the older mechanical odometers.
The reason why a person selling a car or a dealership would be motivated to rollback mileage is to sell the car for a higher price than what the car is worth. The more mileage a vehicle has, the lower its resale value.
A car that genuinely has 140,000 miles, but was rolled back to show 40,000 miles, can sell for thousands of dollars more than what it’s really worth, and it’s the buyer that falls victim to this scam.
Odometer fraud repercussions
Unknowingly buying a car that has a rolled back odometer can have costly repercussions to the buyer, including unanticipated maintenance expenses. For instance, having to replace brake pads or shocks, which should’ve been years away based on the mileage shown.
Once a victim discovers their car mileage was rolled back, they’ll need to report it to their insurance company, and if their car was financed, they'd need to tell their finance company. This will likely result in higher insurance premiums and financing interest rates.
Resolving odometer rollback fraud is not so simple and may require hiring a lawyer. You’ll need to devote a lot of time and money to rectify the situation.
Signs of odometer rollback
If you are purchasing a used car, or you want to check whether a vehicle you currently own has ever been reported for odometer fraud, there are free online you can use by entering the car's 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) and the zip code where the vehicle is being sold or was previously sold.
However, just because it wasn’t reported for odometer fraud, doesn’t mean that the car is in the clear. Other steps to take and signs to look for with possible odometer rollback include:
- Compare odometer mileage records with mileage shown - Compare the mileage on the odometer with the car’s vehicle maintenance records and inspection records. The vehicle’s mileage should be included in these reports, which you can add up the total to compare it with the mileage currently shown on the odometer.
- Get a vehicle history report (VHR) - Also referred to as a VIN check, this a detailed document that provides vehicle information on the car’s history. Only the vehicle identification number (VIN) is needed to obtain this report. A VHR will inform you of faulty odometer settings, and if any illegal tampering was done on the car’s odometer. It will also show the average mileage driven for each previous owner of the car.
- Check for physical signs of odometer tampering – Inspect the odometer to make sure that all the numbers are readable, there are no gaps between the numbers, and the numbers do not appear crooked. Any of those signs point to a high possibility that the odometer was rolled back.
- The car looks more worn than the mileage shown –If the vehicle is showing signs of wear and tear that don’t seem ordinary with the amount of mileage it’s showing, that’s also a red flag. You can take the car to a mechanic who is trained to notice things that you wouldn't, such as certain parts having advanced signs of wear that don't match up with the vehicle's mileage.
What to do if you discover odometer fraud
Odometer fraud continues to be a big problem in every state. If you find yourself as a victim of odometer fraud, you should undoubtedly report it to so that it goes on the car’s records and prevents future buyers from being scammed. Reporting it also holds the person or dealership that committed the fraud, punishable by law for their illegal actions.
Each state has a different agency that handles odometer rollback claims. You can contact your local law enforcement agency, and they'll be able to point you in the right direction, or you can contact an attorney who has experience in dealing with odometer fraud cases.
Accurate Mileage Recording
Since the IRS requires accurate logs of your mileage, Everlance can be a great way to ease the burden of having to keep paper logs or even take pictures of your current odometer readings. Does not matter if you are self-employed or work for a company. Just drive and Everlance will automatically track every drive in the background, generate a map image and give you the details of your trip. All you have to do is tell the app what the trip was for and you are all done. Time saved = money saved!