Seattle, WA — When buying a used car, you expect the electronic odometer to be accurate and tamper-proof. But that thinking is backwards.
“If you look on the odometer right now, I’ve got 265 showing. And we go 85 that quick,” says odometer expert Josh Ingle.
Ingle showed us how he can roll back 180,000 miles on one truck’s odometer in seconds. Short work makes long money.
“That’ll change the value on this truck about $8500 dollars,” says Ingle.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 450,000 cars are sold nationwide each year with false odometer readings costing consumers over a billion dollars a year.
And according to Carfax, Washington state has thousands of cars on the road with this exact issue.
“In the Seattle area alone, we see about 18,000 vehicles on the road with a rolled back odometer. And that’s a 14 percent increase from 2019,” says Carfax spokeswoman Emilie Voss.
I’ve seen cases like this in the past.
More than 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with false odometer readings. This crime costs American car buyers more than $1 billion annually.— NHTSA
The Mack family bought a 2002 Volvo for $4,000. The odometer had 96,000 miles. But right after they drove the car home, they got a nasty surprise.
“I opened up the compartment between the driver and passengers’ seat, found the invoice from the auction that they purchased it for $400 and what stood out the most was the mileage,” said Marisa Mack.
Yep. The invoice listed the car’s mileage at 122,000 miles.
“Oh I was totally upset,” said Mack. “I felt like I had just gotten ripped off, you know?”
The reason this happened is that our state’s Odometer Disclosure laws exempt vehicles that are ten years or older.
In other words, you wouldn’t need to fill out an Odometer Disclosure form to register the vehicle’s mileage if the vehicle is a 2010 or earlier.
Micheal Domke is with The National Odometer and Title Fraud Enforcement Association. The group helps track odometer fraud across the country.
“I think there’s a misconception that, with computers and digital odometers, that they’re more protected. And I would actually say it’s probably easier now to adjust those and manipulate than it was when we had the rolling mechanical odometers,” says Domke.
Domke says the job catching the bad guys is made even harder with consumers buying more vehicles than ever through the internet.
“And while that brings certain benefits,” says Domke, “it also brings certain risks because it opens a network of vulnerability to consumers when they buy a vehicle and don’t know who they’re buying from.”
So how do you protect yourself?
Get an Inspection
Voss says to have someone, preferably a mechanic, inspect the car before you buy.
“Because they have that trained eye and they’re able to see things that maybe you or I wouldn’t spot. Those advanced signs of wear that might not match up with the current odometer readings,” says Voss.
Inspect the vehicle
Make sure the wear and tear matches the mileage.
For cars with rolled back odometers, Ingle says, the driver’s seat may especially show wear that hints at higher mileage. The gas, brake, and clutch pedals may also show telltale wear.
Research the seller
Be wary making a purchase across state lines.
“Craigslist and online marketplaces - those are the areas where it’s very easy to do because there’s not as many records, there’s not as many forms that need to be filled out. It’s really just - do you want to buy this?” says Domke.
Get a vehicle history report
“If you are going to spend thousands of dollars on a vehicle, take time to spend an extra $50 and get a vehicle history report. And know exactly what you’re buying and then have the confidence that what you see is what you get,” says Domke.
Lastly, Domke says you can ask to see the title. He says not people don’t always think to change the paperwork, too. And if the mileage is on the title is more than what’s on the odometer, that could tip off a buyer something is wrong.
Remember the Mack family? I was able to get their money back. Most other consumers won’t be so fortunate.
“And if you’re not educated and know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to be taken advantage of,” says Domke.