RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – When you are looking for a previously owned vehicle, the lower the mileage the better.
But there are lots of cars out there with odometers that have been “clocked,” or reset. Figuring out if the vehicle you want to buy has accurate mileage may take a little detective work on your part.
Investigators in North Carolina say odometer fraud cases are growing.
Steven Watkins, director of the North Carolina License and Theft Bureau, said they do a lot of work with odometers.
Across the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says nearly a half million cars sold last year had fake odometer readings, resulting in over a billion dollars in losses to consumers.
But reputable car dealers aren’t going to risk their business rolling back odometers.
State Inspectors have found that “clocking” or “busting miles” is happening more with private car sales and car leases.
“When you lease a vehicle, if you go over your (mileage) agreement, you have to pay. Rolling back an odometer can save you money, but it is a crime in North Carolina punishable by jail time,” says Watkins.
Inspector Kenneth Jones says there are ways to tell if the mileage shown on the odometer is legit.
“If it’s a low mileage vehicle and it’s really cheap compared to the going rate for that vehicle, that’s one red flag,” says Jones.
According to the inspector, a low mileage vehicle should have few signs of wear and tear inside it, like on the floor mats, gas or brake pedals. A lot of wear and tear indicates high mileage use.
Jones also says the seats in a high mileage vehicle may be worn or have stains, indicating that it’s been used for a lot more time than the seller is trying to portray.
The Bureau further recommends checking under the hood or along the inside of the doors for maintenance stickers, which may tell car owners past mileage.
Additionally, you should check for any paperwork in the vehicle like the copy of the state safety inspection report required for the annual sticker. That document includes a mileage figure, and while it won’t be exact, it should be fairly close to what’s reading on the odometer.
There are two types of odometers.
Older cars will have analog ones, with numbers that spin around on a wheel. These can be manipulated manually.
More recent car models will have electronic or digital odometers.
Manipulating these takes some more technical knowledge, but don’t assume scammers will let that stop them.
“There’s applications people can purchase on their smartphone where they can rollback that odometer, and things can be purchased online to roll back that odometer,’ says Watkins.
Because odometer mileage must be entered on car’s title when sold, falsifying it is a felony.
If you know about it, speak up. The state license & theft bureau has a direct email address you can use to report odometer fraud or other illegal activity, as well as a web page with a link to a complaint form.
For more resources from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about odometer fraud, click here.
Email CBS North Carolina’s Steve Sbraccia if you have a consumer issue.