Far from harmless, the decision to tamper with the odometer on a vehicle can mean significant stress and additional financial investment by the vehicle owner.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates the effect of fraudulent odometer readings on the auto market – with $1 billion lost annually due to the more than 450,000 vehicles sold every 365 days that have had their odometers tampered with by the seller. This means a potentially significant cost to the new owner if the vehicle needs repairs or they attempt to sell it to someone else. This is why it is wise to research odometer tampering and avail yourself of the readily available knowledge online.
For those on the hunt for a new vehicle, it is wise to be aware of the signs of car odometer rollback fraud.
Those signs include:
— dash screws missing
— digits misaligned
— scratches on or near the instrument cluster
— clicking noise from the odometer when the vehicle is driven
— fingerprint marks INSIDE the plastic cluster cover
— unusual switches on the dash – to help turn the odometer “on” and “off”
— speedometer console not the right fit for the dash
For a prospective car owner, it pays to be aware of ways to avoid being stuck with a vehicle that has had the odometer altered.
First, ask to see the title and compare the mileage listed with the value currently displayed. If the title seems hard to read, it is wise to pay even closer attention.
If possible, check the mileage listed on any stickers for maintenance or the note from the last oil change. Also, compare the mileage to inspection records or other written documentation.
For a vehicle with a traditional mechanical odometer, check for any gaps, any movement or any angled numbers.
If the vehicle odometer reads 20,000 or less, the vehicle should have the original tires. Check the tread on said tires to see if that matches with the displayed mileage. Also, check the vehicle for signs of wear and tear, particularly to the pedals in the vehicle. If the wear seems consistent, it is less likely that the vehicle’s odometer has been tampered with.
Origins of “rollback”
The term rollback originated when odometers were mechanical. At that time, there were methods used that literally rolled the numbers back to show a lower mileage. These days, with digital odometers predominant in the auto industry, the process is more involved. While the previous type of rollback involved more physical tampering, today’s methods are less grunt work and more finesse.
Either the vehicle’s circuit board is removed to facilitate odometer fraud or a device is hooked directly into the vehicle’s electrical system to better allow for tampering.
Amazon and Ebay offer a variety of tools to “correct” the odometer, and YouTube shares numerous tutorials for the topic.
While the tools are marketed as legitimate options for those who work on a vehicle when the instrument panel faults or there is an issue with the speedometer, the truth is there are many more individuals out there with nefarious plans that tend to purchase these products for use.
Mileage is important when considering the value of a vehicle. For example, potential buyers consider the vehicle’s mileage to determine whether it was well-traveled prior to their purchase, to better estimate what will need to be replaced sooner rather than later and what regular maintenance will be due based on mileage accrued.
When considering factors under the Texas Lemon Law, it is also key to know that the vehicle will only be considered a lemon if the persistent defect occurs within the first 24 months or 24,000 miles.
Likewise, when considering the amount to repay someone who has a lemon, the mileage is factored into the vehicle value. This makes a big difference when it really comes down to whether the vehicle owner is on the losing end of the deal and whether they have to just tolerate the issue or they get help through measures like the Texas Lemon Law.
The Texas Lemon Law
As mentioned above, a vehicle must be within the first 24 months or 24,000 miles when a defect becomes apparent and consistently evades repair. That allows for the vehicle, provided it’s covered by original warranties, to be labeled a lemon by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and be eligible for repurchase or replacement by the manufacturer – or repair of the defect in question, if that is determined to be a viable option.
The vehicle also has to qualify under the four times test and the 30-day idle test.
With the four days test, the vehicle must be taken to a mechanic four or more times, preferably with documentation on the visit in the form of a service report, and have the same issue reported as the reason for the vehicle’s visit. If the issue is not resolved in those four (or more) visits, then it fits the lemon law eligibility.
Likewise, if the vehicle is idle for 30 days within the first 24 months or 24,000 miles, it is considered a lemon. Those 30 days do not have to be consecutive, but they do have to be days where a mechanic is not providing a loaner vehicle in order to make the lemon eligible for replacement, repair at the expense of the manufacturer or repurchase.
Once the vehicle fits these criteria (and if it can be proven to not have a fraudulent odometer), then the potential resolution is one step closer.
For vehicles that fit the lemon law criteria, the first step is to pay the fee and file the complaint through the online system for the Texas DMV. Then, a member of the lemon law oversight staff takes the complaint. A mediation is set and both sides must attend.
If the mediation is unsuccessful, a hearing is set and the examiner hears both sides before having 60 days to provide a written decision. Both sides are permitted to appeal if they feel the decision is unfair.
For the auto owner, if the vehicle is a lemon, the potential outcome is one of three options chosen by the examiner in the case. Those are replacement, repurchase and repair.
The vehicle’s mileage is considered here, which is another reason why the odometer reading cannot be falsified. The vehicle’s value is based on the miles traveled since purchase and the initial value, as well as payments made by the owner in the case of repurchase.
For a replacement vehicle, similar criteria is considered. Again, this makes the odometer a key factor for those evaluating the vehicle for a replacement of the same worth.
Finally, repair is considered. This may be determined to be the best option, at which time the vehicle once again is taken to a reputable mechanic to have the issue resolved once and for all.
Understanding the value of the odometer reading and the need for it to be accurate just means it is that much more important to be aware of potential signs of tampering. For a vehicle owner, keeping up with these potential issues may save you time and considerable expense down the road. The time spent to research is well worth avoiding that investment of money and frustration down the road.