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How to spot odometer rollback fraud on your used vehicle

Posted at 11:01 AM, Jan 24, 2019

Tim Tunney just purchased a slightly used 1991 Jaguar XJS while on vacation and knew he needed to have it.

“My wife saw this when on vacation in Florida, and it was sitting in the field,” he recalls.

For $5,000 and with only 42,000 miles on it, it seemed like an incredible deal.

What Tunney thought was a fixer-upper, has rolled into a rebuild. The car has now been in the shop for four months.

“Obviously, if it was a car with only 42,000 miles, it wouldn't have the hoses deteriorating and the brake pads and calipers and exhaust,” Tunney says.

A Carfax report helped him understand the problem. He later learned his car had more like 142,000 miles on it.

"There is a significant rise in the number of cars that are out there on the road that have an odometer rollback,” says Chris Basso with Carfax.

Basso says his company currently knows of 1.6 million cars on the road or for sale that likely have odometer rollbacks. It costs a victim an average of 4,000 in value and maintenance.

"The average person loses about $4,000 when they're buying a car with a rollback odometer unknowingly,” Basso explains.

Basso says the number of victims appears to be increasing over the last five years.

"People, unfortunately, don't realize that odometer fraud is on the rise,” Basso says. “They think it actually has gone away with the introduction of the digital odometer, and that's not the case. Those odometers can actually be easy, easier to manipulate."

Josh Ingle, with Atlanta Speedometer, legally repairs broken odometers and demonstrated how shockingly easy it is to rollback a speedometer.

"If you want to make this a brand-new car, I can program 20 miles into it,” Ingle explains. “Once I input my value, it will reset and now I’m showing 19 miles on the odometer."

It’s not only easy, it’s fast.

"My 8-year-old daughter probably wouldn't have a problem doing this because she can read,” Ingle says, laughing.

Tunney has now spent $17,000 on this car, and he's still got parts of the breaks to replace. He expects it to take a couple more months.

If you’re purchasing a used vehicle, look for signs of a rollback. Are the brake pedals worn? Is the steering wheel tattered, but the car only has 40,000 miles?

You can get a Carfax report from most dealerships for free. But if you want to see if the car parked in your driveway right now has been rolled back, Carfax will let you check their system for free. Just visit Carfax.com/ODO. You will have to create a free Carfax account.