Driver's Guide

How to Detect Odometer Fraud in a Used Car

Howdy, Driver? It is important to know how to detect odometer fraud to avoid buying a vehicle that the mileage has been altered.

how to detect odometer fraud

What is odometer fraud? Odometer fraud occurs when an insincere seller resets or disconnects the odometer of a vehicle to change the number of miles recorded for the vehicle illegally. According to NHTSA, an estimate of over 450,000 vehicles with false odometer readings is sold per year and the fraud costs the consumers over $1 billion yearly.

To reduce the loss and discourage odometer fraud, therefore, you must learn to detect when the odometer of a vehicle has been changed before buying it.

How to Detect Odometer Fraud

I have been a victim of odometer fraud, but there was nothing I could do, especially that I ordered the vehicle online.

On 7 occasions and counting, I have discovered used cars that the odometer had been tampered with, which is a sign that the mileage has been modified.

Before you discover the steps, check out how a seller can change the odometer reading in a car.

Below are the steps to detect odometer fraud:

  1. Perform a Vehicle History Check

I do not advise request a vehicle history report from the seller. What if they faked the report? Run the check vehicle history check yourself using the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of the vehicle.

Some of the best sites to look up the VIN of a used car are:

Note: You may have to pay to get a complete history of the vehicle.

Do not rule out the possibility that the VIN of the vehicle was changed by crooks in a bid to conceal the odometer or if the vehicle was stolen. VIN cloning is quite rampant recently and you should educate yourself even before arriving to inspect the odometer of a vehicle for fraud.

  1. Request the Title Certificate

The first step to detect an odometer rollback fraud is to request the title of the vehicle. If you are dealing with a private seller, be careful not to be given a fake car title. Note, also, that it is possible to be given a washed car title that could have been modified to match the altered mileage of the vehicle.

If the title was forged to match the vehicle, follow these steps to spot a fake title certificate.

Now, you want to compare the mileage on the odometer of the vehicle with the mileage report on the title. If the title certificate is damaged and the damage affects the area with the mileage report only, it is a sign of odometer fraud. And if the odometer reading does not match with the report on the title, it indicates tampering on the odometer reading.

If a seller claims that the title of the car is missing, ask them to request a new title before you pay for the used car.

  1. Check the Vehicle Maintenance Record

After scrutinizing the mileage record on the title, request the vehicle maintenance record. If the seller has no maintenance record such as the auto repair receipt, it is a sign that the odometer reading was modified and they are hiding it from you.

Most auto repair shops keep the data of cars brought to them for a checkup. Carfax shops, for example, record the mileage of vehicles in their facilities for repairs, and the data is stored in the Carfax database.

You should also look for the maintenance stickers on the vehicle. If you find none, it could have gone off. But make sure to check underneath the vehicle, glove box, door frames, and the wheels of the vehicle.

  1. Inspect the Interiors

The interior of a used car is an excellent place to detect odometer fraud. Your focus on the interior should be whether the condition of the frame materials, carpets, and seats match with the current mileage of the vehicle.

The interiors of a typical 250,000-mile vehicle would not be the same as a 20,000-mile vehicle.

If there is excessive wear on the seats and carpets, and it looks too old for the mileage on the vehicle, it is a sign that the odometer was rolled back.

Depending on the specified mileage on the vehicle, check whether you will find sole marks on the carpets on the driver’s side, but the mileage of the vehicle is too low for such, consider the odometer to have been changed. Another part to inspect in the interior is the dashboard, vehicles with older mileage tend to have rough dashboards.

Also, study the wear and tear on the clutch, gas, and brake pedals to determine whether it matches the mileage on the vehicle.

  1. Examine the Odometer Closely

Scratches on the odometer area, notable replacements, and dash screws indicate illegal modifications on the odometer. If you spot such unnecessary alterations, it is best to cancel the transaction.

  1. Check the Alignment of the Numbers on the Odometer Gauge

Some of the vehicles I inspected for odometer fraud had a misalignment of numbers on the odometer. It indicates that the instrument cluster was removed for an odometer rollback to take place. Simply, strike the dash with your palm gently and check whether the numbers jiggle. If they jiggle, walk away from the purchase unless the seller informed you of the odometer modifications earlier.

  1. Check the Warning Lights

How to tell if odometer has rolled over

Most modern vehicles are designed to detect alterations on the odometer. If the used vehicle is modern, refer to the manual for the warning light that indicates alterations on the odometer.

  1. Examine the Exteriors

The parts you will focus on include the tires, undercarriage, and framework.

Begin with the tires; if the odometer of the vehicle reads 30,000 or less, the tires should still be new. Do not rule out the possibility of the tires being replaced to suit the new mileage if there was an odometer rollback on the vehicle.

Next, inspect the undercarriage. If the undercarriage appears too old for the current mileage of the vehicle, it indicates that the odometer reading was changed.

  1. Compare the Number of the Previous Owners with the Mileage

Carfax states that researching the number of previous owners of the vehicle and comparing it with the current mileage can help to detect odometer fraud.

Though it may be challenging to determine an odometer rollback on a car, I find it helpful. The setback for this tip is that it will not work on used cars with open titles. The vehicle could have passed through the hands of various unlicensed sellers that did not register the vehicle in their name to avoid sales tax on the vehicle and registration charges.

Nonetheless, if you discover that the vehicle was owned by many owners previously, but the mileage seems too low, it is a sign that the odometer was changed.

How do I know if my mileage is genuine

How to Report Odometer Fraud

If you bought a car but discovered later that the odometer was changed, request a refund from the seller or dealership.

If the transaction was with a dealership but they refuse to refund, you can file an odometer fraud case against the dealership for selling you a vehicle with the changed odometer reading.

If you bought the vehicle from a private seller, you can file an individual odometer fraud case against them through your state enforcement agency or the Office of Odometer Fraud Investigations.

Is it a Fraud to Rollback Odometer

Yes, it is a crime to rollback, reprogram, or correct odometer reading to falsify the mileage. Following the law, a seller must issue a title to the buyer with a written mileage disclosure statement registered on the current odometer upon the transfer of ownership. If the odometer is not correct, there must be a statement on the title issued to the buyer that indicates the effect. In most jurisdictions, however, vehicles older than 10 years may be exempted from current odometer disclosure.

Can digital odometers be rolled back?

Yes, digital odometers can be rolled back and they are even difficult to detect than mechanical odometers because they have no visible moving parts. The best way to detect an odometer rollback is to perform a detailed history report and check whether the condition of the vehicle is suitable for its current mileage.

Final Thoughts

To detect changes in the odometer of a car can be challenging, but it not impossible if you pay closer attention to details in the vehicle.

If you are a first-time car buyer, I suggest you hire a mechanic or a professional to inspect the vehicle on your behalf.


How to detect mileage rollback?

Odometer Fraud.

Latest posts by Bernard Juchli (see all)

Bernard Juchli

Bernard Juchli is an experienced racer, mechanic and team owner who trusts Avon Tyres.Bernard is the lead driver and force behind his Big Dog Garage Race Team. He is the General Manager and Chief Mechanic of Jay Leno’s Garage. Bernard and his crew of seven are responsible for all repairs, restoration and fabrication of Jay’s incredible automobile and motorcycle collection.

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