Odometer wind backs have hit the news recently with cases popping up all over Australia. Over 100 cars in Sydney alone were found to have had their odometers tampered with in order to artificially raise the sale price. Even with talk of a new national inspectorate body, buyers of used cars around Australia are right to be concerned with whether or not they have been the victims of fraud.
What is odometer fraud?
It is generally true that the more wear and tear a vehicle has been subject to, the more expensive it is to maintain. For used cars this means the more mileage they have, the lower the value of the car. This can lead unscrupulous dealers to illegally tamper with the odometer to wind back the displayed mileage and then charge a higher price.
Even digital odometers are only a small challenge for someone well-equipped, as dealerships tend to be. Mechanics and service shops will sometimes have the exact software and system interface necessary to make such changes.
What is the cost to the victim?
If you’ve been the victim of odometer wind back, then you have almost certainly paid too high a price for your vehicle. Besides that, there are other ways this kind of fraud can affect you.
Applying for financing requires the vehicle mileage to be submitted to the finance company. A higher number can contribute to higher interest rates.
Another is insurance rates. Your rates are calculated on a number of factors including the car’s overall condition and mileage. Many policies also give the insurance company the right to demand a personal inspection, which you may have to pay for.
Unexpected maintenance issues could also be a problem if your car has had more use than you know. Vehicle maintenance schedules exist for a reason, and you may find that more parts are due for a replacement that you expected.
Finally, the time and money involved in being tied up in a fraud case can be significant. Lawyer fees and time away from work for court appearances will add up, even if the case is eventually settled in your favor.
How to detect odometer wind back fraud?
Unfortunately tampering with an odometer rarely leaves any physical signs, but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself:
Check inspection records – The best place to check the accuracy of the odometer is to find any past vehicle maintenance or inspection records. Usually, these will have a note of the mileage number, and if the records indicate a number higher than what is currently shown, fraud is almost a certainty.
Look for inconsistencies – Sometimes just the feel of the gas, brakes, or tires can give you a sign of whether the odometer mileage is accurate. Most cars below 20,000km will still have the factory tyres, and the wear on the wheel, pedals, and gear lever are also good indicators.
Check the oil – Try to find out when the last oil change took place. Often there is a sticker inside the vehicle that shows what the mileage number was at that time.
Check the numbers – For traditional mechanical odometers, the numbers should all lineup and be easily readable. If you see gaps or crooked numbers then that may be evidence it has been tampered with.
Check for Obvious Tampering – It is extremely unusual for an odometer to have to be replaced. If you see parts that are obviously new in the odometer area, or scratches or missing screws, then consider those big warning signs.
What to do if you’re the victim of fraud?
The Australian government is giving serious consideration to creating a national inspectorate body to oversee tampering cases. It is hoped that such a group would be able to ensure that consumers could have confidence in the number they see on their odometers. That group would also be a central reference point for anyone looking to pursue a fraud claim against a dealership or private individual.
Until this governing body comes into existence, you can try contacting your local office of Fair Trading for more information on odometer wind backs.