Nearly a year into the pandemic, many of those who relied on public transportation to get around in the Before Times have at least considered taking the plunge and getting a car. But it’s not exactly like we’re financially flourishing right now, which makes used cars especially popular this year.
Of course, those selling the used cars want to get as much out of them as possible. And apparently, setting a car’s odometer back (to make it look like it has lower mileage than it actually does) isn’t just something that happens at dodgy used car dealerships on TV and in the movies. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), every year more than 450,000 vehicles are sold with false odometer readings, costing the buyers more than $1 billion annually.
So how do you know if that used car you have your eye on is really as good of a deal as it sounds? Here are a few ways to help determine whether someone has tampered with your odometer.
How to spot odometer fraud
If this is your first car purchase, do some research to figure out the value of a particular make and model of a vehicle from a certain year. And if you’re not sure where to start with that, check out our guide for determining how much your car is worth. So when you’re shopping for used cars, make sure that the price, condition and mileage seem at least reasonable.
In a news segment for NBC affiliate WCNC in Charlotte, a technician from Carfax provided an example. A 2007 Chevy Silverado with 265,000 miles was valued at around $14,000. But, after rolling the digital odometer back to 85,000 miles, the truck’s value shoots up to $23,000.
Fortunately, the NHTSA has some tips for avoiding situations like that:
- Ask to see the title and compare the mileage on it with the vehicle’s odometer. Be sure to examine the title closely if the mileage notation seems obscured or is not easy to read.
- Compare the mileage on the odometer with the mileage indicated on the vehicle’s maintenance or inspection records. Also, search for oil change and maintenance stickers on windows or door frames, in the glove box or under the hood.
- Check that the numbers on the odometer gauge are aligned correctly. If they’re crooked, contain gaps or jiggle when you bang on the dash with your hand, walk away from the purchase.
- Examine the tires. If the odometer on your car shows 20,000 or less, it should have the original tires.
- Look at the wear and tear on the vehicle—especially the gas, brake and clutch pedals—to be sure it seems consistent with and appropriate for the number of miles displayed on the odometer.
- Request a vehicle history report to check for odometer discrepancies in the vehicle’s history. If the seller does not have a vehicle history report, use the car’s VIN to order a vehicle history report online.
- If you suspect fraud, contact your State’s enforcement agency.
Of course, even if you do everything on the list, it doesn’t guarantee an accurate odometer. But knowing what to look for does improve your chances of getting the best value on a used car.