When you want to know the mileage of a vehicle, especially a used one that you’re thinking about purchasing, you rely on what its odometer tells you. But what if an unscrupulous dealer or seller tampers with the odometer and makes you believe that the car you’re buying is “younger” by several miles?
Also known as “busting miles,” odometer fraud is the illegal practice of rolling an odometer back to make it appear as if a vehicle has less mileage than it does, and selling it to you for more than it’s worth. Unethical businesses and private sellers do this to make a lot more on a car that is worth a lot less. To protect yourself from odometer fraud, watch for these four signs.
- Compare the mileage on the odometer with the mileage number on the car’s inspection or maintenance records. Any time a vehicle is inspected or maintained, the mileage number is usually noted on the records. Check for maintenance or oil-change stickers in door frames or on windows, under the hood, and in the glove box and confirm that they are inconsistent with the mileage on the odometer. Inconsistent numbers are a red flag.
- Obtain a Vehicle History Report (or two). Although not 100% accurate, vehicle history reports collects mileage information for literally millions of cars. They can warn you about a possible mileage inconsistency, and it’s wise to check more than one report as they reporting data may vary from one to the other.
- Check for an odometer replacement sticker. If the odometer developed problems and had to be replaced, it is a legal requirement that the reading be recorded on a decal, which is then displayed on the vehicle. A decal must also be used if the new odometer could not be set to the mileage of the one that was replaced.
- Check the condition of the vehicle and its components. Take a close look at the vehicle to confirm that the overall condition of the tires, brakes, gas, and other components are consistent with the number on the odometer. Even the condition of the steering wheel, pedals, and gear level can raise a red flag. For example, spark plugs and wires should last 100,000 miles, but if they look worn out when the odometer reads 40,000 miles, something is up.
- Check traditional mechanical odometers for irregularities. If a vehicle has a mechanical odometer, verify that the numbers are correctly aligned and completely legible. If they contain gaps or are crooked, it may be a sign that odometer fraud has occurred.
If, despite your best efforts, it comes to light that you have been taken advantage of and now have an odometer claim, you have recourse under both federal and state law.
- The Truth in Mileage Act of 1986, also known as Public Law 99-579, requires that anyone transferring ownership of a motor vehicle must include accurate mileage information on title documents at the time of transfer. The Act treats odometer tampering as a felony and enables a private cause of action, which you may recover treble damages for, or $10,000—whichever is greater.
- Odometer laws vary by state. In Missouri, dealers or private sellers handling used cars must disclose both the number of miles on the odometer and if any modifications or rollbacks have occurred on it. Vehicles with altered odometers must have a notice posted on the inside frame of the left door, containing details about the changes.
If you believe that you are the victim of odometer fraud, call consumer protection attorney Bryce Bell at Bell Law immediately. We will help you ensure that any unethical party who takes advantage of consumers in this manner is held accountable.