Odometer Tampering a Digital Problem

Rollbacks a growing issue for car buyers

Jorge Parra wanted an SUV that would fit his grandchildren. But when he looked at a car he found on Craigslist, something didn't seem right.

"The guy is saying that the car had 91-thousand miles but the seat is beat up," said Parra.  That got him thinking that someone may have tampered with the car's odometer.  Parra checked out the car on Carfax.com and discovered it had been sold at auction and now the man who bought it was selling the car.

"And between that sale and his sale, they rolled it back 100-thousand miles," said Parra.

That doesn't surprise Christopher Basso with Carfax.  He says odometer tampering is a problem across the country and the worst in California.  When odometers were analog, rolling back the numbers had to be done by hand but not anymore.

"It can be easier to roll back a digital odometer because it is now computerized," said Basso. "A simple device plugs into the car's computer and can change the mileage on the odometer within seconds."

A search online shows a collection of devices that will "re-calibrate" a car's odometer. And the reason people do it is simple, "You're artificially inflating the car's value," said Basso.

What can you do to protect yourself?  

Basso suggests inspecting the car for wear and tear that is not consistent with the state mileage. Check the car's seats, brake pedal and other items that show wear over time.

Always take a used car to your mechanic for an inspection before you buy it.  The inspection will cost $50 to $100 dollars but should uncover any questionable claims.

And check the car's history, Basso suggests Carfax where you can find information on previous owners, locations and mileage.

Jorge Parra did not buy the first car he found but eventually purchased a car where the odometer reading was not in question. But he says you should always investigate a car where the mileage claims are sketchy.

"You're going to buy a used car because you want to save money," said Parra, "You don't want to become a victim of fraud."

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