Despite digital odometers being used in cars for decades, odometer fraud went up throughout the U.S. in 2022 compared to the previous year. The car market has been unkind to car buyers in the last few months, what with outrageous car prices that are only now starting to come down, but we can also add increased odometer fraud to the list of possible pitfalls.
The practice of rolling back either digital or mechanical odometers in used cars, known as “odometer rollbacks,” increased by seven percent year-over-year with more than 1.9 million cars showing false mileage on the clock. Many people believe that manipulating mileage went by the wayside after odometers went digital, but CarFax claims “it’s never been easier — or cheaper — to remove thousands of miles from a car’s history in one fell swoop.” The company explains that digital odometers can be changed by tampering with dash circuit boards, or by using equipment that plug into a car’s electronics via ports.
Total cases of odometer fraud were reportedly highest in California, but these odometer rollbacks increased sharply in Texas, Florida and Arizona. CarFax says the 10 U.S. states with the most cases of odometer fraud were as follows:
- California - 437,600 vehicles (Two percent increase)
- Texas - 245,600 vehicles (15 percent increase)
- New York - 91,720 vehicles (Four percent increase)
- Florida - 84,200 vehicles (12 percent increase)
- Illinois - 73,400 vehicles (Five percent increase)
- Pennsylvania - 68,200 vehicles (Five percent increase)
- Georgia - 65,000 vehicles (One percent increase)
- Virginia - 56,000 vehicles (Two percent increase)
- Arizona - 54,400 vehicles (12 percent increase)
- North Carolina - 45,300 vehicles (Seven percent increase)
People lose an average of $4,000 in value when buying cars with odometers that’ve been tampered with, and that’s only factoring the car’s value at the time of purchase. Major (costly) maintenance that may have been months down the line can suddenly become a concern overnight. And, adding insult to injury, the interest rate the car was financed at could go up based on the correct mileage.
Insurance premiums can increase, too, or can be cancelled outright. It’s a big headache, which CarFax says can require the help of an attorney to resolve. Both CarFax and NHTSA have guidelines to avoid odometer fraud, but an easy way is to have a mechanic verify a car’s condition, looking for discrepancies in mileage displayed and common wear items like spark plugs. I’d add any rubber bushings, too, the condition of which can be like a plant’s growth rings.
The irony is that even in this market that favors sellers, some resort to fraud. It seems buyers are tolerant of higher mileage now, but lower mileage will often command a premium as Bring a Trailer shows. It’s all the more reason to get a pre-purchase inspection before shaking hands and making a deal on a used car.