Odometer readings are one of the first things a consumer seeks out when shopping for used cars. Knowing how many miles a vehicle has driven is a time-honored way of determining its relative value, despite advancements in technology making cars last longer. However, many vehicles in this country are sitting in car lots and dealerships right now with incorrect odometer readings. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates Americans inadvertently purchase 450,000 vehicles every year with incorrect odometer readings caused by tampering. Odometer fraud, according to the NHTSA, costs American car consumers more than $1 billion every year. Whether done by the vehicle’s previous owners or the dealers themselves, odometer fraud obfuscates a vehicle’s true value and rips off the consumer. Miles driven helps determine the vehicle’s sale value, meaning odometer tampering is fraud – and a crime.
Detecting the signs of odometer fraud early on can save you a lot of time, money and heartache during the car shopping process. When shopping for a used car, take note if the deal seems a little too good to be true. If the seller is offering a newer model vehicle at a shockingly low price, the car may very well have a higher-than-average mileage and they could be trying to conceal that. Check the dashboard for missing screws or scratches on or near the instrument cluster, especially behind the transparent cover. This could indicate the odometer was tampered with or possibly even replaced. Misaligned digits on an older analog odometer are a dead giveaway of tampering as is fingerprint smudges on the inside of the instrument cluster.
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Digital odometers are, counter-intuitively, easier to tamper with than analog ones. While analog odometers must be physically rolled back, a criminal with less than $100 can purchase the tools needed to access and tamper with a digital odometer. Thusly it’s even more important to look for signs outside the dashboard that the car has seen more miles than indicated.
A quick way to tell if a vehicle has more miles than it should is a glance at the brake pedal. The rubber on the pedal will wear away over time to reveal the metal beneath. The more a vehicle is driven, the more metal shows. If you are purchasing what you think is a low-mileage vehicle, but the brake pedal is bare metal, that car may have seen more miles than the odometer lets on.
Other physical components whose wear can indicate higher milage include recently replaced spark plugs, brake pads, rotors and calipers. While these are meant to be replaced, they are meant to be replaced only after extended periods of wear.
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Another sometimes overlooked way to check for odometer discrepancies is service stickers on the inside of the car. Many oil changing stations put stickers on the inside of the car with the vehicle’s current mileage on them, indicating the date and/or mileage at which the vehicle should return for service. If the mileage there doesn’t match up with what the odometer shows, you could have a problem. Detailed service records should also show mileage records as well, and as such can be used to corroborate the odometer reading if need be.
Odometer fraud has been a federal crime in the United States since 1972. The Truth in Mileage Act of 1986 further codified it into American law, requiring a seller to disclose a vehicle’s true mileage when transferring ownership. This form 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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Certain 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 think you could be the victim of odometer fraud, your first step should be contacting your insurance company. If you are still making payments on the vehicle, you should also contact your bank or finance company to inform them. You should then contact a qualified, experienced auto fraud attorney in your area to see if you have an odometer fraud claim. Odometer fraud laws exist not only to catch and stop criminals from defrauding anyone else, but also to get you financial compensation for the damage you suffered.
Odometer fraud carries criminal penalties including fines of up to $10,000 for each individual altered odometer. A fraud 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 think you have been a victim of odometer fraud, contact Allen Stewart. The consultation is free.
The Federal Odometer Law, also known as 49 U.S.C Chapter 327, protects American auto consumers from odometer fraud and enables prosecution of offenders when it takes place. 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.”
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.
Allen Stewart P.C. has the tools and experience needed to take on odometer fraudsters and will fight to make sure you get the compensation to which you are entitled. If you believe an unscrupulous salesperson took advantage of you and sold you a car with far more miles than the odometer shows, contact Allen Stewart P.C. today. The sooner you call, the sooner you can get the justice you deserve.