Buying a used vehicle is a smart way to save money. However, a second-hand car can come with hidden dangers. Most people assume a vehicle’s odometer will display every kilometre it has ever travelled, unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
Scammers are everywhere online. If you’re in the used car market, you may fall prey to odometer fraud; where a seller purposely winds back a car’s odometer to make it appear newer than it really is. This means they can sell the car for a higher than the normal price. So how do you know if the odometer of that used car you have your eye on has not been tampered with? Is the car really as good of a deal as it sounds? Read this article and beware of these odometer tampering signs.
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Most people assume an odometer is a true account of kilometres travelled—unfortunately, scammers can tamper and change digital and analogue odometers. The practice is most common in South Australia and Tasmania. Second-hand Japanese imports are also popular targets for odometer fraud.
How Does An Odometer Work?
Most odometers work by counting the rotation of the wheel on a car. A sensor transmits this data to a computer that calculates the distance travelled based on the specified tyre circumference for that vehicle.
Given these specifications, if you were to change the wheel and tyre on a vehicle the odometer reading will be affected, so the sizing should remain the same.
What Is Odometer Fraud?
Odometer fraud is when a person illegally rewinds or tampers with a vehicle’s odometer to deceive potential buyers, making it look like the car has travelled fewer kilometres. This enables them to sell the car for a higher price. Odometers can be illegally disconnected and replaced, and the numbers can be digitally or mechanically altered.
How Scammers Tamper The Odometers
In the old days, it was called ‘winding back’ the odometer. Fraudsters would physically pull the odometer out of the vehicle and manually wind the display backwards.
Nowadays, they can still physically alter, change or reset the numbers but some will also disconnect the odometer, continue to drive the vehicle and then hook the odometer back up when it comes time to sell.
Alternatively, they can replace the original odometer using an odometer from another vehicle.
Odometers can be legally removed or replaced, but the action has to be registered and approved by government authorities.
How To Spot Odometer Fraud
If this is your first car purchase, do some research to figure out the value of a particular make and model of a vehicle from a certain year. And if you’re not sure where to start with that, check out our guide for determining how much your car is worth. So when you’re shopping for used cars, make sure that the price, condition and mileage seem at least reasonable.
#1: Check Its History
First of all, take a look at the vehicle’s service book and manual. These books should contain vehicle information, such as the make and model, VIN, engine number, and colour. Check in the engine bay to make sure that the VIN and engine numbers match the service books and manual.
When you know that the number match up, check out the service history and—in particular—the odometer readings at each service. These readings should be sequential with realistic readings given the time interval between services.
#2: Check The Vehicle’s Overall Condition
An obvious method to look for odometer rollback is to evaluate the general condition of a vehicle. A car that’s only travelled 80,000kms is unlikely to have cracked leather seats, a faded dash, and holes in the floor carpet. You can pick up some indications through a walk-around.
However, keep in mind that a vehicle with a genuinely low odometer reading could still be in poor condition if it has been subjected to hard use.
You can also search for an oil change and maintenance stickers on windows or door frames, in the glove box or under the hood.
#3: Are There Any Wear And Tear That Is Inconsistent With The Odometer Reading?
Places that often show wear are the pedals (accelerator, brake, and clutch if a manual), seat belts, and sometimes the door rubbers. The seller can use paint to cover up cracks and make the dashes look ‘new’; however, the pedals and seat belts are harder to change. Every time someone drives the car, they use these items. So they usually reflect the true age of a vehicle.
Check that the numbers on the odometer gauge are aligned correctly. If they’re crooked, contain gaps or jiggle when you bang on the dash with your hand, walk away from the purchase.
#4: Check Out The Odometer Itself
Take a torch with you when inspecting a vehicle and use it to closely examine the cluster where the odometer is housed. Sometimes odometer rollback simply means replacing the entire cluster rather than tampering with the reading. You can often identify a replaced cluster with scratch marks on or around the cluster, and particularly on the screws that hold the cluster in place. Also, have a look for fingerprints or dust on the inside of the cluster.
Where Does That Leave You?
Buying a car with an odometer rollback can cause you a headache in the long run. It devalues the vehicle and can make it hard for you to on-sell.
If the odometer has been wound back you could end up with mechanical issues much sooner than you anticipated. Because you don’t know exactly how many kilometres the vehicle has travelled, the transmission and engine could be much older than you think. You might have to replace big-ticket items sooner than expected. It can leave you out of pocket in the long run—whether or not you got a bargain when purchasing the vehicle initially.
The only real way to figure out if an odometer has been tampered with is by having it appraised by a third-party assessor or independent mechanic. If your seller insists such measures aren’t necessary, this may tip you off right away!
Hire A Professional Car Technician In Melbourne
If you are looking to buy a used car in Melbourne that has low kilometres for its age, have a professional carry out a pre-purchase inspection. Especially if something doesn’t seem right, ask for their opinion on the odometer reading.
We have engaged with many clients for independent, personal car purchase advice. Whilst we are not a CAR BROKER, we have assisted clients with discussions on MAKE/MODEL/YEAR/VERSION of vehicle best suited to their needs, and with low ‘grief’ factors. In some cases, clients, especially repeat clients (and we have many), have asked us to either source a car for them, or assist in the negotiations.
As much as some of us think we’re backyard mechanics, you can’t go past actually getting a used car checked out by a professional to determine whether it is mechanically sound. There’s nothing worse than driving away with your new purchase, only to find that it has an issue that is going to cost you dearly.
And if you want to buy a secondhand car, have a professional inspector like German Precision to do a thorough pre-purchase car inspection in Melbourne to ensure that your dream car is operating properly and not a scam.
If you are looking for the best pre-purchase car inspector in Melbourne, do not hesitate to contact German Precision or Prepurchase Check today!