Odometer fraud is on the rise in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates more than 450,000 vehicles sold every year contain odometers with incorrect mileage readings. Malcontents hoping to deceive consumers by lowering these vehicles’ apparent mileages and making them appear more valuable than they are. These unlucky consumers may think they are getting a deal, until these vehicles start presenting problems indicative of much higher mileage. This can cost consumers thousands of dollars in unexpected maintenance – expenses they never saw coming thanks to odometer fraud.
One would think as cars become more complex and traditional mechanical odometers are replaced with digital versions that odometer fraud would be harder. One would be wrong. It’s important that car consumers seeking a used vehicle keep an eagle eye out for potential odometer fraud and its signs.
Conventional mechanical odometers were built with interlocking gear systems that counted miles traveled by measuring wheel rotations. The gears slowly turned physical number readouts letting the driver know how many miles the vehicle had traveled since it was built. As such, a malefactor could physically turn the gears back by hand or directly changing the readout, obscuring the vehicle’s true mileage. They could, in turn, sell the vehicle at a higher price than they could were they being honest about the vehicle’s mileage.
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Instead of tampering with the odometer by hand, modern fraudsters can hack into a digital odometer using tools easily purchased online. Once they access the vehicle’s computer using on-board diagnostic ports, they can list whatever mileage they choose. They could also replace the chips inside the digital odometer with the same chips from a similar vehicle with lower mileage, but this can also leave behind physical evidence of wrongdoing. If the odometer was physically removed, the housing may be slightly misaligned from the rest of the instrument cluster. They could also leave behind fingerprint smudges inside the instrument cluster on the other side of the transparent plastic panel; a dead giveaway someone was tampering with the odometer.
A savvy consumer can find signs of odometer fraud far from the odometer itself. A vehicle with more miles than the odometer lets on will show signs of wear a newer, less traveled vehicle would. One example is the brake pedal. A vehicle’s pedals are made of metal coated with non-slip rubber. Over time this rubber wears away from use. The key there, of course, is “over time.” A higher-mileage vehicle will show more wear on the brake pedal, potentially even showing the bare metal underneath. If your brake pad looks more worn than it ought to be given the apparent mileage, that could be a sign of odometer fraud.
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Other often overlooked components that could show wear unbecoming of a low-mileage vehicle include brake pads, rotors and calipers, as well as spark plugs. Even the steering wheel itself can show wear from years of heavy use, betraying a higher mileage than what is shown on a falsified odometer.
Another way to spot odometer fraud is by finding maintenance stickers inside the vehicle. Sometimes overlooked by more foolish fraudsters, service stickers show the vehicle’s mileage at the time of service. Some garages will also note the mileage on a maintenance record stored in the glove compartment, showing the vehicle’s true mileage if the odometer doesn’t.
Car consumers looking for a used vehicle should be aware of odometer fraud’s rise, and how to protect themselves from getting scammed. A vehicle’s historical mileage record shows a vehicle’s complete and true mileage record and must be provided when you buy the vehicle. The federal Truth in Mileage Act (TIMA) requires all vehicle vendors provide the record at the time of sale. It’s one of several 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.
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That 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.
Odometer crime is more than just a deceptive trade practice and a generally terrible thing to do; it’s a federal crime. Odometer fraud convictions can come with fines up to $10,000 for each violation, with each altered odometer counting as a separate instance. A conviction also leaves the perpetrator open to civil lawsuits from anyone to whom they sold a tampered vehicle, with the law allowing damages three times the number 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 bought a used car and suspect odometer fraud, you should immediately inform your insurance company. If you are currently financing the car, notify your bank or finance company as well. You should then seek out a qualified, licensed attorney and talk to them about potentially filing a fraud claim. Consumers are protected at the federal level by the Federal Odometer Law, also known as 49 U.S.C Chapter 327. The law, passed in 1972, prohibits the “disconnection, resetting, or alteration of a motor vehicle’s odometer with intent to change the number of miles indicated thereon.”
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State laws also protect consumers in their respective states. 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.
The odometer fraud attorneys of Allen Stewart P.C. have the knowledge and experience needed to take the fight to odometer tamperers in court and get you the compensation you deserve. If you believe a used car vendor took advantage of you and sold you a car with far more miles on it than the mileage suggests, contact Allen Stewart P.C. today.