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We handle cases across the United States. Allen Stewart is licensed to practice law in Texas, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Arizona.

How Mileage Matters

How Mileage Matters

American consumers looking to purchase a new or used vehicle deserve to know the mileage a vehicle has before making a buying decision. You’d think a simple glance at the odometer would be enough but for thousands of Americans every year, you’d be wrong.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states an estimated 450,000 vehicles every year are sold with incorrect mileage readings, whether they are wrong because of odometer malfunctions or deliberate tampering. Mileage readings tell you how many miles in total the vehicle has traveled, and give a consumer a rough estimate of how much wear and tear the vehicle has undergone and influences the vehicle’s value. If the vehicle’s odometer reading is inaccurate, the consumer may waste their money.

Mileage isn’t the only factor when determining a vehicle’s worth, but it’s an important one. As automotive technology advances, vehicles remain roadworthy for a much longer time. An Automotive News article stated in 2016 the average age of an American vehicle is closer to 12 years; the highest it’s ever been. Part of that can be chalked up to economic concerns, but it’s also because many modern vehicles can simply operate longer with regular maintenance. As such, a strict maintenance record can be as important as mileage: a vehicle with 50,000 miles that is infrequently serviced can be in worse shape than a vehicle with 100,000 miles but was meticulously managed and watched over.

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Another factor in determining a vehicle’s mileage-related wear and tear is how the vehicle got that mileage. If a vehicle was driven exclusively in town with frequent stopping and starting, that vehicle put more strain on its brakes, gears, clutch and other parts than a vehicle used mostly for long-distance highway travel.

There are some key parts that will always wear with age and use, however. Brake pads and discs, tires, belts and pumps, clutches and flywheels wear over time and must be replaced, and those replacements can vary in price from trivial to major. A higher mileage vehicle can save a consumer more money up front, but will eventually require costly maintenance sooner than a low-mileage vehicle. Thusly, it’s important to know the vehicle’s correct, actual mileage before the point of sale: the consumer needs accurate information to determine if the vehicle is worth the asking price.

The federal Truth in Mileage Act (TIMA) requires vehicle vendors provide an odometer disclosure statement at the time of sale or transfer of ownership. This is one of the many forms a car buyer signs when buying a vehicle; it is the seller stating clearly how many miles are on the vehicle and the buyer agreeing. Odometer disclosures are required on 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.

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Some vehicles are exempt from odometer disclosures, 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.

If you learn the mileage on your vehicle’s title doesn’t match the mileage on the odometer at the time of purchase, you’ll want to have the title amended as soon as possible. Each state has different processes for amending vehicle titles and some states differ in what can be corrected without processing an entirely new title. No matter what you should never mark out, cross out, erase or use white out on a title as it will void the title entirely.

How Mileage Matters

If the mileage is incorrect on both the title and the odometer and the vendor cannot provide an accurate mileage, you may be a victim of odometer fraud. When you sell the vehicle, that vehicle’s title will likely now have a “brand” on it warning potential buyers about the mileage discrepancy. There are many types of title brands that provide detail on specific problems that vehicle has. Title brands include incorrect odometer, lemon title brands, water damage, salvage branding, rebuilt branding and more.

There are several telltale signs of odometer fraud an eagle-eyed consumer can spot. Since many vehicles now have computerized, digital odometers it can be harder to see direct damage or tampering. However you can find signs the vehicle is older than stated.

One thing many overlook is the brake pedal: if the pedal is worn to the metal and the floorboard beneath is ragged and eroded, that’s a sign the vehicle has been used far more than the apparent mileage would indicate.

Newer tires can also indicate malfeasance. The average set of new tires lasts up to 60,000 miles. If the vehicle appears to have that many miles but has brand new tires, they could have been replaced to help hide

For more information on arbitration and other frequently asked odometer tampering questions, click here.

If you suspect your vehicle’s odometer has been tampered with, contact your insurance company immediately. If you are financing the vehicle, contact your finance company or bank. Your next step should be reaching out to a qualified, experienced attorney to pursue an odometer fraud case to recoup your losses.

Odometer tampering is a serious crime and the law treats it as one. A federal odometer fraud conviction 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 they defrauded, with the law allowing damages three times the amount of actual damages or $10,000, whichever is greater. Most importantly anyone found guilty of willfully engaging in odometer fraud can be sentenced to three years in federal prison.

Buying a vehicle with more wear and tear than you expected can hurt you financially and, depending on the type of malfunction, could put your safety at risk. The fraud experts at Allen Stewart P.C. have the knowledge and experience needed to fight on your behalf in a court of law. The sooner you reach out, the better your chances of a positive outcome. Don’t wait any longer; contact Allen Stewart P.C. today.

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