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Odometer fraud

This isn’t a question, just a short cautionary story for the unwitting. I just bought a used car and made the mistake of not running a Carfax report on the VIN first because I was in a hurry and didn’t have Internet access. The car is a 2005 model year with a digital odometer that I assumed was resistant to rollback. Wrong!!! The odometer reads 114,000 miles, but after buying the car I did run a Carfax and found the actual mileage is 212,000. Then I read online that digital odometers are very easy to “roll back” with the right software, and that almost 500,000 used cars sold per year in the US have rolled back odometers.

Lesson learned: always run a Carfax (or equivalent) report before buying a used car! That would have saved me an expensive mistake.

When someone files a Carfax report on a vehicle, is the mileage electronically read from the vehicle, or is it manually entered by the person filing the report?

Suppose I intended to eventually sell my car or cars on my lot with “rolled back” mileage. What’s stopping me from submitting Carfax reports with bogus low mileage numbers?

Joe, my understanding is that private owners can not submit to Carfax and other such tracking companies.

Carfax is perhaps the most unreliable source of data ever created. I strongly recommend that unless you have hard evidence that the mileage on your recent purchase is incorrect, you believe the odometer and enjoy your new ride.

Ask your DMV what their records show for mileage. If it actually had 212,000 miles on it, the odds are high that it changed hands more than once. Get all the odometer readings at title transfer and see if any of them are over the current mileage. If they are, get a refund. You might also consider telling the authorities about it so that they can investigate the issue. The seller might be in for fines or worse, and they would deserve it.


You were in a hurry to buy a car?

Thanks, TSM. In this case, the Carfax data is entirely consistent with previous owner’s history (where they lived, date a new title was issued, when car was sold, etc), and shows the vehicle was routinely serviced by a local oil change place that recorded the mileage over a number of years at each oil change, right up to the 212,000 number. So it’s not just one random data point that could be bad, it’s an entire service history that appears to be correct.

The last title issued was in 2010 showing 108,000 miles. I received that title when I bought the car, and was told that the car had been mostly parked since then, which would explain why only about 6,000 more miles had been driven in the ensuing years, to reach the current odometer reading of 114,000 miles.

The guy I bought it from was a used car dealer who had taken it on trade from the previous owner. The dealer had it in his possession only a short time before selling to me. He’s the one who told me the story about the previous owner having parked the car for most of the last 7 years. Now I don’t know whether it was the previous owner who rolled back the odometer before trading it in, or the dealer who sold it to me. And I wouldn’t be able to prove the dealer did the rollback himself or even knew about the rollback, so I guess I’m stuck with it.

In this case, it was a quick lube place that submitted the mileage reports during routine oil changes over a period of several years. I don’t use quick lube places, but I have this one to thank for keeping apparently correct records over a number of years on this one car that they serviced regularly.

If you do in fact have the info substantiating the roll back, someone owes you some money or take the car back. You need to contact the AG in your state and let them investigate it. It’s not your problem whether it was the dealer or the previous owner that did the roll back. Let the AG sort it out. Do you really think the dealer would not have done a simple Carfax check? This sure doesn’t happen much today though I don’t think. The risks are just too high.

I told the story before when my folks traded in their 58 Chevy wagon at the Chevy/Buick dealer. I think it had 65 or 70K on it. A week later it showed up in the OK Used Car lot with an odometer reading of 26,000. All shined up, looking good, and just a few years old. Problem was it was used for commuting 100 miles a day. That was before the change in the law.

Thanks, Bing. My state’s (Massachusetts) consumer affairs blog says they estimate 30,000 cars sold every year in MA are affected by odometer fraud. So it’s a bigger problem than I would have guessed. I will report the dealer to the AG and see what happens.

The federal odometer statement is only required for vehicle 10 years of age and newer, this might be the reason there is odometer fraud taking place on older vehicles.

In my state the department of motor vehicles regulates car dealers and investigates problems. In a case like this they might take action after a number of complaint towards the same dealer. If this is the first complaint on a vehicle where the odometer reading might influence the value by $500, they might just put it aside as it could be difficult to prove when the vehicles odometer was tampered with.

I suspect that if the OP looks at their paperwork it might indicate Sold As Is and there might be a disclaimer that mileage is not deemed accurate. It would not hurt to talk to selling dealer but don’t expect much.

Just curious since I’ve never had to encounter Car Fax yet, who exactly is it that reports this data to Car Fax? Are they required to do it, or do they do it for another reason? My Corolla has never been in a shop, other than for emissions testing. Does the emissions testing service report that event to Car Fax? Can anyone check the Car Fax report on their own car for free? If so, how?

From what I’ve read online, Carfax buys information from DMV, insurance companies, auto repair and service shops. Which explains why an average quick-lube place would bother to compile data on all the cars they service…because they get paid for it by Carfax.

Well, in this case, their system worked. And it would have worked better for me if I’d used it first.

apparently so

Because the last few used cars I bought, the “complimentary” carfax . . . the seller supplied it, I didn’t ask for it . . . showed the car’s smog history, as far as the dmv was concerned

Nothing, but the repair/maintenance records from before you got your hands on it often include mileage, so you’d be throwing up a big red flag when suddenly it got a lot younger right after it got on your lot.