A new report sheds new light on an old problem: odometer fraud.
Odometer fraud, also known as rollback, is when a vehicle’s odometer is rolled back from its actual mileage to a much more sellable number.
There are more than 190,000 cases per year of odometer tampering in used cars, costing car buyers $760 million in lost value and unexpected repairs.
The majority of rollbacks have at least 50,000 miles taken off their odometer, according to Carfax, which makes and sells vehicle history reports compiled from over 12 billion vehicle records.
The loss in savings and safety can be astounding. In addition to the loss in value of an older car that has been sold as garage kept or rarely used when it may have three or four times the actual mileage shown, the car parts are dangerously old.
“Older, deteriorating parts might lead to unexpected repairs while unperformed maintenance for the true mileage may compromise the safety and performance of these cars,” says Larry Gamache, communications director of Carfax.
Victims can lose thousands of dollars purchasing a car with a tampered odometer.
The most susceptible cars are 14 to 15 years old. In one case profiled in a segment on the Today Show, a car was listed as having 85,000 miles when in fact it had over 250,000.
Though con men are exploiting longer vehicle life spans, new cars with digital odometers are as susceptible to odometer fraud if not more so than older analog odometers.
Digital devices called odometer correction tools proliferate online. Intended for mechanics as a diagnostic device to correct faulty electrical pulses, the devices are simpler to operate than manually rolling back an analog odometer. A thief can plug the device into the car, enter in the make and model, then put in whatever number you want. They can cost anywhere from $100 to $1,500.
Professional crime rings make thousands off of each sale.
“These rings operate everywhere,” says Chris Basso, a used car expert for Carfax. “In every state there are vehicles with an odometer roll back.”
Typically the used cars with tampered odometers can be found on private postings like craigslist.org or on corner lots.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those are the kind of cars you find on the side of the road,” Basso explains. The tampered cars are usually cheaper and fit the budgets of used car shoppers. Scam artists will act as if there is an urgency to buying now.
If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
“If something strikes the consumer as off, don’t be afraid to probe or walk away,” says Phong Ly, CEO of used car research site iSeeCars.com.
Carfax recommends several steps used car buyers can take to prevent being a victim of odometer fraud.
*Check that the car’s wear and tear is consistent with the odometer reading.
*Ask the seller for service records and note the mileage on each receipt.
*Be wary of too good to be true deals and overly aggressive sellers who want a quick sale or who withhold vital information.
*Have a trusted mechanic thoroughly inspect the vehicle and check its computer.
*Purchase a Vehicle History Report from Carfax.com or a competitor such as Autocheck.com
Vehicle history reports can cost between $30 and $40 and provide a wealth of information. Carfax pulls info from 77,000 sources, ranging from DMVs to service stations, to determine the health of a particular vehicle.
Everything from title transfers to recalls to emissions inspections are filed on the vehicle’s identification number, or VIN, which is the social security number for a car. Mileage is reported throughout a car’s lifespan so the first step a used car buyer should do, suspicious or otherwise, is get the VIN number and research it.
Carfax offers a free odometer check on its website. Users enter the VIN number and zip code of the vehicle in question.
An estimated one million rollbacks afflict each state, though consumers in California, Nevada, Massachusetts, New York and Texas are subject to the greatest amount of fraud, according to the Carfax report.