Odometer Fraud

What Is Odometer Fraud?

Odometer fraud, also referred to as odometer rollback, is the illegal act of changing or altering the mileage readings on a vehicle to make it appear to have a lower total mileage. In the United States, odometer fraud is a felony offense.

Examples of odometer fraud may involve:

  • Disconnection of the odometer.
  • Resetting the odometer in any way.
  • Altering the numbers.
  • Replacing the odometer from a vehicle without providing required notice.

Unethical private sellers or retailers can roll back a mechanical or digital odometer by utilizing fairly simple methods. Often, this results in the customer paying thousands of dollars more than the vehicle is actually worth.

Odometer Fraud & the Law

When a vehicle is sold or a title is transferred, the law requires written documentation of the total mileage as recorded on the odometer. If the odometer mileage is known to be incorrect for any reason, the seller is required to provide a written statement of this knowledge on the title to the buyer.

Often, odometer fraud is done in conjunction with other crimes in order to make a used vehicle appear to be newer or have less wear than it actually does. These may include:

  • The reconditioning of the external appearance of the vehicle.
  • Changing title paperwork to conceal the actual mileage reported at the time of sale.
  • Title fraud includes:
    • Altering the title.
    • Forging the title.
    • Replacing the title document.
    • Destroying original title documents.
    • Obtaining duplicate certificates from state DMVs.
    • Entering a false, lower mileage.

Preventing Odometer Fraud

In order to prevent odometer fraud, it is important to conduct a thorough investigation of the vehicle's history. Before you decide on a purchase, make sure you:

  • Compare the actual mileage on the odometer with mileage recorded on:
    • Vehicle maintenance records.
    • Inspection records.
  • Get a vehicle history report (VHR), which can:
    • Provide an odometer rollback alert.
    • Reveal any inconsistencies related to odometer readings during title transfer or inspection.
    • Check for excessive ownership.
    • Report average mileage for each owner.
  • Look to see if the wear and tear matches up with the reported mileage.
    • A low mileage car should still have the original tires and brakes supplied by the manufacturer.
    • Look for recorded mileage on oil change stickers.
    • Inspect the usage of the interior, such as wear on the:
      • Steering wheel.
      • Gear lever.
      • Gas and brake pedals.
  • Inspect the odometer for signs of tampering, and ensure the following:
    • All the numbers are easily readable.
    • There are no gaps between numbers.
    • The numbers aren't crooked.
  • Pay special attention to signs of odometer replacement such as:
    • Scratches and screws that don't match or have been replaced.
    • Dashboard removal.

Reporting Odometer Fraud

If you think you've been the victim of odometer fraud, you must contact your local law enforcement agency. For large scale investigations, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Office of Odometer Fraud Investigation can provide assistance. You may help an investigation by reporting a suspicious VIN to the NHTSA Office of Odometer Fraud Investigation at (202) 366-4761.

The NHTSA Office of Odometer Fraud Investigation may help you with general inquiries about odometers and may be able to help you to determine if other legal or law enforcement authorities need to be contacted. Contacting your state motor vehicle department can also help you as each state law, on handling odometer fraud, will vary.

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