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How to Detect Odometer Fraud

Odometer fraud can be a buyer’s worst nightmare. You think you just snagged the car of your dreams for the perfect price, only to have it break down on the freeway two weeks later. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate, one in ten vehicles have had their odometers rolled back at one point in their life. While the digital meters found in most modern vehicles were thought to be less susceptible to tampering, they turned out to be even easier to manipulate for a fraudulent odometer reading.

Since digital odometers have no visible moving parts, detecting fraud is a lot more difficult than a mechanical odometer. Auto manufacturers originally developed the digital odometer to fight tampering; like any new technology, scam artists quickly found a way to use it for the wrong reasons.

Odometer fraud

Digital odometer calibrators can easily be purchased online, and despite disclaimers from sellers, are being used to reset digital odometers. Just like a hacker with a computer, an individual with the right software can do whatever they want to a digital odometer. As consumers, how are we able to combat these scam artists?

Detecting Odometer Fraud

Although it can be extremely difficult to detect when a vehicle’s odometer has been tampered with, there are guidelines you can follow to help identify the problem.

  • Check the title: compare mileage with the vehicle’s odometer. Red flags should be raised if the mileage is difficult to read. A new title could be in place to hide mileage alternation.
  • Original tires: if the mileage is less than 30,000, then the vehicle should still have its original tires.
  • Compare the mileage: compare the millage on the odometer with the mileage indicated on the vehicle’s maintenance or inspection records. Also, look for oil-change and maintenance stickers on windows or doorframes, in the glove box or under the hood that are inconsistent with the mileage on the odometer.
  • Request a CARFAX vehicle history report: use this to check for odometer discrepancies in the vehicle’s history. If the seller doesn’t have a vehicle history report, use the car’s VIN to order a CARFAX vehicle history report online.
  • Inspect the odometer closely: see if the numbers on the odometer gauge are aligned correctly.
  • Look at the wear and tear: check the gas, brake and clutch pedals. If they look inconsistent with the number of miles on the odometer, then there is clearly a problem.
  • Take your car to a mechanic: this is the most important piece of advice. The mechanic should be able to conduct a thorough inspection of the car to determine if the wear and tear is consistent with the odometer reading.
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