Please Jay Leno, don't lie to us

The latest issue of AutoWeek magazine, which arrived today, has a new column written by Jay Leno. It’s slanted to the DIY crowd. Please understand that I have always been a Jay Leno fan. OTHER than his money, he and I have a lot in common. We’re about the same age. We’re both car guys. We’re both fans of Denise McCluggage (also of AutoWeek). We both like the Tonite Show. Well, at least he DID.

One of the statements that Mr. Leno makes is that he once worked for a car dealership in the “odometer recalibration department”. Granted at the time he says he worked there, rolling back the mileage was not illegal. We’re talking the '60s. Unscrupulous, yes. Illegal, no. He stated that they had a customer who brought a car in for a possible trade. While the customer was trying to make a good deal, the “recalibration department” took his car and clocked it back (or possibly forward in those days) from 88K to 15K. Sounds like a scene out of National Lampoon’s Vacation. Leno claims this was done with an electric drill. I contend that the electric drill is not the weapon of choice on an old fashioned spool type odometer. I THINK they were usually altered with some kind of hook or wire that could latch onto the odometer’s mechanism and move the dials one way or another. Of course I’ve never done it myself.

I know that over the course of one mile, the speedometer cable will turn 1000 revolutions at 60 miles per hour. I googled it. Old geared odometers would remove miles if a car was backed up. Electric speedometers won’t. Consider how long it would take to remove even 100 miles if you had a drill that turned 2000 RPM. Most drills run 500 to 750 RPM as any faster will cause too much heat, dull your bit, and not cut any faster. 73,000 miles? @ 120 MPH, I think it’s 608+ hours, but I’m no math whiz.

Supposedly the customer took his old car away, but came back shortly, once he realized what had happened. He supposedly got the deal he wanted. Probably would have ratted them out if he hadn’t.

I know Mr Leno is a comedian by trade, and maybe he thought he was telling a joke. It’s different when things are set in print. As far as I’m concerned, his car credibility is shot.

Did he say “how” he used the drill ?

You ever think JL might have deliberately got the details wrong so as not to educate a bunch of delinquents on “how to commit odometer fraud?”

Generally speaking, there’s only one reason to alter an odometer reading and that’s to snooker somebody. As to the drill motor method, I’ve never seen or have any knowledge of it being done that way although I have heard a few people claim they just left a drill running overnight…

That being said, I’ve done a number of odometer changes but it was never for any nefarious reasons.
It was always with the intent of fixing a balky odometer or resetting one to zero on a motorcycle or speedometer restoration.
I’ve always done it with speedo or cluster in hand and by using a jeweler’s screwdriver to skip the numbers up.

In a shop setting, if the speedo or cluster was changed due to a legit repair we always engraved it onto the door jam by the VIN plate.
As to Leno, I would hope that he was joking for the most part.

Well, I do believe the electric drill was the tool of choice back then. I heard it many times but never actually witnessed it. I think your calculations are off a little maybe but I’m too tired to try to figure it out. On my 59 VW for example, the speedo cable was inserted directly to the front wheel. So one revolution of the wheel would turn the cable one revolution. 15" wheels so someone could figure out the circumfrence and how many revolutions per mile. I don’t think it took that long to roll the mileage back though.

We traded our 58 Chevy wagon with 60K plus miles on it at the local Chevy Buick dealer for a 61 Chevy wagon. When the car hit the OK Used car lot, the stone chips on the hood had been painted, the car waxed, and the odometer now read 28,000 miles. And that’s a fact that I saw for myself on the way home from school. I told my dad about it and he talked to the main mechanic who was the NRA safety instructor and just kind of shrugged-did as told by the owner. I don’t think they would have hung around for days while the drill was going, and the car was on the lot within the week.

Quoting @ok4450 “Generally speaking, there’s only one reason to alter an odometer reading and that’s to snooker somebody. As to the drill motor method, I’ve never seen or have any knowledge of it being done that way although I have heard a few people claim they just left a drill running overnight…”

Ya gotta wonder, for how many nights…?

@meanjoe75fan No I don’t.

@dagosa I don’t have the magazine here at home. It’s delivered to work. I’m pretty sure the implication was that it was used on the cable. I’ll check Monday.

A car dealer I know here who is now retired used to change instrument clusters to get the desired results. A local salvage a mile away would sell him complete clusters for 45 bucks each. Those clusters usually had 60-80k miles on them and usually went into vehicles (mostly pickups) that had 150k or more. Voila. Low miles truck; value just increased dramatically.

His reasoning was that the “speedometers are faulty”; ergo, needs to be “repaired”. It goes without saying that this was not engraved on the door jams and buyers were not told of this.
The law states that rolling back an odometer is illegal. However, there’s no law against changing a cluster or speedo head and forgetting to tell someone it was done… :frowning:

Perhaps somebody will condemn me for this . . .

On one of my former cars, it didn’t have a tachometer. I found a cluster with a tachometer on ebay.
But this cluster had far more miles than my car. I corrected the odometer to reflect my car’s mileage

On another car, it didn’t have a tripmeter. I got a cluster at the junkyard, which did have a tripmeter. Again, the cluster had far more miles than my car. I corrected the odometer to reflect my car’s mileage

The vehicle’s odometer must reflect the car’s mileage

And that is what I did

I sleep well at night, because I did nothing wrong

By the way, I see no reason to tell any buyers what I did, because . . . the vehicle’s odometer reading is correct

db, that’s what you are supposed to do. In Minnesota, if you repair/replace the odometer or the odometer is not working, this is noted on the transfer paper that you sign that says the true mileage cannot be determined or what the true mileage is. This was not always the case though.

When I was younger and worked in a shop, we used to roll the ODO. At that time they only had five digits. The rolling was done when the cluster was bad and we were putting a new one in, so we would start from zero and go up. The drill didn’t work, very slow. As mentioned above, we used a small screw driver just to skip the numbers. Pretty quick.

With five digit ODO’s the real mileage of an older car was still a mystery. Had it rolled once, twice, three times?

My father worked in a car dealership in the late 50s and early 60s in New York. He said an “odometer guy” would come around about once per month and ask if any odometers needed changing.

The dealer would walk him around the lot saying “Turn this one back 20K, this one back 38K, etc”. He would take about 5 minutes per car. I recall he got paid $5 per car.

I recall reading that, up through at least the early '50s, Cadillac dealers routinely rolled back the odometer on Caddy trade-ins to zero miles. The slogan back then was something along the lines of, “A pre-owned Cadillac is as good or better than any new car”.

Somebody who worked at a Cadillac dealership back in those days could be the source for a lot of useful information.

@db4690 What you did was correct and legal.

I’m sure mileage busting still happens, but it’s a federal offense. I’ve never known of anyone who ‘did time’ for it though.

My state recently changed the law so that a title for a car over ten years old doesn’t have to show the mileage at all. In fact, titles showing mileage listed on them will come back from the capital with a blank in the mileage area. I think that’s a bad idea. I’ve always been proud of both my high and low mileage cars.

When I was in high school, my father traded in a three year old car with 98K miles. He bought it in the current model year with 10K SHOWING. The local dealer tried to sell it with 98K for several weeks. Then the car suddenly showed 60K. Someone bought it who drove 50 miles one way to work. (My mother had driven 40) I ran onto him four years later and asked about the car. He bragged that it now had over 180K, and still didn’t use enough oil between changes to require adding a quart. I let him know that his car really had about 218K miles. He was still driving it a year later. Now here’s the hard to believe part. The car was a 1962 Rambler Ambassador, 327 V-8, 250 HP.

Maybe Jay used the drill to gain access for a pick to move the odometer.

Sometimes I think that the old notion that car engines were done at 100,000 miles was partly due to the prevalence of speedometer rollbacks on used cars.
I practically had to give my old Kawasaki ZRX1200 motorcycle away in order to get rid of it because it had 121,000 miles on it and it’s surprising how many people are actually amazed that such a motorcycle could last that long. It wasn’t just only still running, it still consumed no measurable amount of oil between its oil changes.
Sometimes I think the main factor behind the reputation of longevity of BMW, Harley Davidson, and Honda Goldwing motorcycles stems from the fact that these bikes are mostly owned by grownups.

I had a friend who used to work at a used car lot and he related to me, on more than one occasion, how he used a drill to “roll back” odometers. This was in the late 50’s and well into the 60’s. He said that using a pick would work but it would also leave scratches on the painted surface which was a dead giveaway that a car or truck which had been rolled back. In fact, dealers looked for this as well as savvy used vehicle buyers. I remember that I was told this by my dad and that was in the mid 60’s. I would never be a part of “roll backs” in a vehicle just like I would never eat broccoli at the dinner table. Some things…I just won’t do.

Addendum to my previous comment. I just talked to my uncle who retired from Pontiac over 20 years ago. He said some unscrupulous used car dealers used a drill gearbox to roll back odometers. It worked by speeding up the rotation of the drill and could take off thousands of miles in a few hours. He said this will only work on older mechanical odometers and not the digital odometers that exist today. I just wonder how they prevent digital odometers from being reset by using a laptop computer or similar electronic device?

It would take a LOT less time to ADD 27,000 to the odometer than take OFF 73,000 miles wouldn’t it? Cars of that era did not show 100,000 miles, they “rolled over” as we used to say after 99,999.9 miles.

Your math is off, though. 1000 cable turns is 60 miles. At 60 mph, the cable is turning at 16.7 rpm meaning 16.7 turns is one mile (60 mph = 1 mile per minute). 27,000 miles is 450,900 turns. At 2000 turns (revs) per minute (your fast drill) that is 225 minutes (or 3.75 hours) of running to reach 15,000 miles. If you roll it back rather than forward that is right at 608+ (10 hrs), minutes, not hours.

Either way, that customer didn’t sit in that dealership for 3.75 OR 10 hours while his odo was being changed unless they used a die grinder (10,000 rpm) which would get it down to 45 minutes and probably destroy the cable AND the speedo.

It make a great story though, doesn’t it. That is what comedians DO, tell funny stories! It doesn’t affect his cred in my eyes.

I too remember more than one person telling me about rolling their cars odometer back with a drill. This was way back in the early 70s, but I never actually saw it done.

I do remember trying it when I replaced my Odometer once with one with many more miles on it.
The drill didn’t make a dent in the numbers after a few hours, so I took it apart and changed the numbers much faster.


I just wonder how they prevent digital odometers from being reset by using a
laptop computer or similar electronic device?

They’ve had technology for years which would detect the rate of change for mileage. If a vehicle’s digital odometer was changing too rapidly, they could fault as needed.

I don’t know if the automakers ever decided to utilize that logic.