How to spot a car with odometer rollback?

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, updated on August 4th, 2023       

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Scammers are everywhere online. If you’re in the used car market, you may fall prey to odometer fraud; where a seller purposely winds back a car’s odometer to make it appear newer than it really is. This means they can sell the car for a higher than normal price.

According to CarsGuide, one in 100 vehicles may be victim to odometer fraud, also known in the automotive community as “clocking.” The practice is most common in South Australia and Tasmania. Second-hand Japanese imports are also popular targets for odometer fraud.

Most people assume an odometer is a true account of kilometres travelled – however digital and analogue odometers can be tampered with and changed. Here is a guide to protecting yourself from odometer fraud.

How scammers wind back odometers

Many newer vehicles have digital control units or computers that regulate car systems such as steering, fuel injection, climate control, etc. Odometers can be illegally replaced or reprogrammed using fraudulent software found on dodgy websites.

Can you make sure an odometer is correct by looking at it?

It is difficult to just look at a car and see if its odometer matches the wear and tear on the vehicle. Sometimes, this wear and tear has been repaired to some extent. However, some signs – though this may vary – may be obvious replacements of original parts such as wheels and brakes. (Some vehicles may only suggest wheel replacements at 200,000km, which is unusual for a 50,000km car!) If you can, compare the odometer with logbook service records. If you are buying an import, check the original export/deregistration certificate, or get it through a third party. Sometimes, the odometer will have numbers misaligned, which is a tell-tale sign of tampering. You should also check if all the dashboard screws and cluster are original and match what’s in the manual.

Surefire ways to prevent falling for odometer fraud

The only real way to figure out if an odometer has been tampered with is by having it appraised by a third-party assessor or independent mechanic. If your seller insists such measures aren’t necessary, this may tip you off right away! Using sites like CarHistory or checking the Personal Property Securities Register for a vehicle’s previous service history or whether the vehicle has been reported as written-off/stolen.

Reporting odometer fraud

If you suspect odometer fraud, report it to your state’s consumer protection agency immediately. Odometer fraud doesn’t just affect the price of a car, it can also endanger lives. Driving a car with deflated mileage might mean components are older than they really are, which could cause breakdowns and accidents. Odometer fraud is a serious crime. For example, in Queensland, the maximum fine for tampering with an odometer is $25,230 or two years imprisonment.

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