Odometer fraud is a growing problem in the United States, and has been for a while now. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates more than 450,000 vehicles sold every year contain tampered odometers, keeping consumers from knowing their vehicle’s true value and costing them thousands of dollars. Miles driven is one of the best metrics for determining a vehicle’s wear and tear and is one of the largest factors when determining its sale value. As such, odometer tampering is fraud and prosecuted as such.
Before digital technology proliferated, odometers were analog devices using a system of gears to measure the wheels’ rotation and count the miles traveled. These devices could be tampered with through comparatively simple means, such as physically extracting the speedometer and turning the miles back either by hand or using tools. This left easily seen telltale signs, such as misaligned speedometer numbers or irregular spacing between the numbers.
Modern digital odometers were originally considered more difficult to tamper with. However, fraudsters eventually learned how to leverage technology to their malevolent ends. One possible method still involves removing the odometer from the vehicle, except this time the device is connected to a computer. The user then edits the mileage and re-flashes the chip controlling it. Other methods include removing and replacing the odometer chip with one from a compatible vehicle with lower mileage, resoldering the new chip onto the circuit board. Other methods involve connecting devices to the vehicle’s on-board diagnostic ports to alter the odometer reading, eliminating the need to remove the odometer entirely. These tools can be purchased for about $100 online, putting odometer fraud in the price range of even the most cost-conscious criminal.
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Checking if a digital odometer has been rolled back is trickier than an analog odometer, but a savvy consumer can still spot the signs. If the odometer display looks misaligned from the rest of the console, it could be because the odometer was removed and replaced. Fingerprint smudges on the inside of the instrument cluster console could also indicate tampering.
As more vehicles eschew analog odometers in favor of electronic odometers, it’s more important than ever to see other signs of excessive wear. One oft-overlooked sign is the brake pedal: is the rubber and plastic worn away, even so far as to show bare metal? This could indicate the vehicle has more mileage than what the odometer shows. Other components that can indicate higher mileage include replaced spark plugs, brake pads, rotors and calipers, and even the steering wheel itself. A more difficult way to check is looking at the vehicle’s computerized parts to see if any chips have been altered or replaced.
An often overlooked sign of odometer tampering is service stickers on the inside of the car. Many oil change stations place stickers inside the vehicle somewhere indicating at what date or mileage the vehicle should return for its next service. A particularly bumbling fraudster may leave these records in the vehicle somewhere, exposing the vehicle’s true mileage for the consumer to see.
Several websites offer VIN checking services for a price. This will show you not only mileage information but whether or not the vehicle was involved in any accidents or floods, both of which could lower the vehicle’s value or present maintenance complications in the future.
If you think you have been a victim of odometer fraud, contact Allen Stewart. The consultation is free.
One way to avoid being stuck with a high-mileage car is checking its historical mileage record. This is shown on the vehicle’s odometer disclosure statement, which the federal Truth in Mileage Act (TIMA) requires all vehicle vendors provide at the time of sale. It’s one of the many forms consumers sign when buying a vehicle; this one states how many miles are on the vehicle as a matter of legal record. The federal law requires such disclosures for all passenger vehicles, pickup trucks, motor homes, motorcycles, and trucks with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating less than 16,000 pounds that are less than ten years old.
The law allows exceptions for certain vehicles including vehicles 20 years or older, vehicles with Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings over 16,000 pounds, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, vehicles that are not self-propelled, or in the case of a title transfer in which at least one of the registered owners is staying the same, except when the title submitted is from out of state.
The law changed on Jan. 1, 2011 making vehicles 20 years old or older exempt from odometer disclosure statement requirements. For example, a 2011 model year vehicle won’t be exempt from odometer disclosure until 2031.
Are you a victim of odometer fraud? Contact Allen Stewart today.
Rolling back an odometer, whether it’s an electronic odometer or older analog odometer, is a federal crime. Odometer fraud convictions can include fines up to $10,000 for each violation, with each altered odometer counting as a separate instance. A conviction also opens the perpetrator to civil lawsuits from anyone to whom they sold a tampered vehicle, with the law allowing damages three times the amount of actual damages or $10,000, whichever is greater. Those found guilty of odometer fraud can also be sentenced to three years in federal prison.
If you suspect you’ve fallen victim to odometer fraud, you should immediately notify your insurance company. If you are financing the vehicle, you should also notify your bank or finance company. You should also contact a qualified fraud attorney in your area as you can likely pursue an odometer fraud case to recoup your losses.
Texas consumers, for example, are protected by the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA). The act, signed into law in 1973, allows consumers to fight back against false or misleading business practices and get compensation for damages. These malicious practices can include odometer tampering or odometer fraud.
There are legal options for people who feel as if they were sold a vehicle with an rolled back odometer. If you don’t know how many miles your vehicle actually has, you can’t anticipate future repairs and thusly can’t make a truly informed purchase. The attorneys of Allen Stewart P.C. have the knowledge and experience to fight on your behalf and get you the justice you deserve.
The sooner you reach out, the better your chances of a positive outcome for your claim. Don’t wait; contact Allen Stewart P.C. today and get back on the road.