Odometer fraud is one of the most common scams perpetrated by those who sell cars, trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles with engines. The reasons for changing the odometer generally come down to money. Every mile driven is a deduction in the value of a vehicle regardless of age, so the seller who does it wants more money for the vehicle. If they are really foolish, they try to do it to keep a vehicle under warranty — mechanics usually can identify signs of tampering.
What to look for
While experts know the signs of odometer tampering, the average car owner likely does not. So those looking for a new used car should look for the following clues:
- Check the title: This has the miles notated, so look for signs that the numbers were erased or doctored.
- Check the tires: Tire wear is a clear indication of the miles traveled (they also may indicate if the previous owner drove it hard or did not properly maintain it).
- Cross-reference: Along with the title, also check vehicle mileage in the maintenance receipts or inspection records. Look for oil change stickers on the door frame and windshield.
- Vehicle history report: If the seller does not have one, the prospective buyer can get a vehicle history report online using the auto’s VIN.
What happens next?
The buyer can proceed with the sale if everything checks out. However, sometimes the buyer will miss the signs, so it is not until the vehicle is taken in for repair or general upkeep. The mechanic may indicate that the mileage does not seem right or see actual signs of tampering. The owner can then turn to the Office of Odometer Fraud Investigation or contact an attorney who can seek damages. Either can work for holding the seller accountable for their actions.