RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - When you are looking for a previously owned vehicle, the lower the mileage the better. But these days, crooks can roll back the mileage on a car with ease and that can cost you money in more ways than one.
Mileage manipulation is a trick almost as old as the automobile. These days, crooks can do it in a matter of moments.
If you’re buying a previously owned vehicle, you’ve got to be a bit of a detective to keep from getting burned.
Rolling back a mechanical odometer took a bit of skill and it sometimes showed subtle signs of tampering, but today’s digital odometers can be changed almost instantly.
Carfax’s Chris Basso showed our sister station CBS 17's Steve Sbraccia a pickup truck that had 230,000 miles on its digital odometer.
With the help from a mechanic, they rolled back the mileage, taking off 100,000 miles with the click of a button by using a piece of software that tapped into the truck’s onboard computer.
When scammers roll back the mileage, they are adding dollar value to a used vehicle. On average about $4,000 because the vehicle looks like it’s been used less frequently.
“We’re talking about millions of dollars this scam is costing consumers without knowing the odometer was rolled back,’’ said Basso.
And a vehicle that’s been driven more will cost you more in repairs.
In North Carolina alone, Carfax estimates more than 10,000 vehicles on our roads have manipulated mileage. Nationally, it’s more severe.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says over 452,000 cases of odometer fraud are reported in the United States costing consumers more than a billion dollars annually. Click here to go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for more information.
The State License and Theft Bureau says it works a lot of odometer fraud cases involving cars that have had their mileage altered.
Reputable car dealers aren't going to risk their business rolling back odometers.
State Inspectors find it happening more with private car sales and cars whose leases have expired because people don’t want to pay the high fees incurred when they go over mileage allotments.
Carfax’s Basso says there are also big gangs who are behind a lot of the odometer fraud.
“In order to make this a lucrative scam, there are organized criminal gangs doing this to dozens if not hundreds of vehicles at a time, ripping people off,” he says.
So, how do you check for altered Mileage?
A Carfax report can show you how many miles have been put on the car. If the report and the odometer don’t match, that’s a red flag.
A special link on the Carfax webpage can show if the vehicle ID number (VIN) of the car you want to buy has been reported to authorities as having its odometer tampered with. Click here to go to Carfax.
You can also be a detective and look for signs of wear and tear inside the used vehicle, like on the floor mats, gas or brake pedals.
Tires can be a clue. A vehicle purporting to have 20,000 miles or less should still have its original tires and they shouldn’t be worn down to anything.
Seats in a high mileage vehicle may be worn or have stains, indicating that they have been used for a lot more time than the seller is trying to portray.
And before you buy, have a pro check out your intended purchase.
“The trained eye of a mechanic knows what to look for regarding wear and tear, as well as accessing the computer to see if anybody tampered with the odometer,” said Basso.
Falsifying an odometer reading is a felony in North Carolina and if you think you’ve been victimized you can report it at (919) 861-3143 or online at this link.
You can also send a direct email message to the NC License and theft bureau here.