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Protecting Yourself from Odometer Fraud When Buying a Used Car

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When you’re shopping for a used vehicle, the mileage it has is a big factor in your decision to buy it and the overall value of the vehicle. 

Unfortunately, scammers can use the odometer against you to sell you a vehicle for more money than it’s worth. 

The NHTSA estimated that nearly half a million vehicles are sold each year with false or incorrect odometer readings. 

This page will provide you with an overview of odometer fraud and how to protect yourself when buying a used vehicle

What is Odometer Rollback Fraud?

Odometer rollback describes a vehicle in which the reported mileage does not match the actual mileage. 

This can be achieved by physically changing the reading on the odometer, swapping out the odometer, or using other means to “freeze” a vehicle’s mileage readings. 

Odometer fraud is a crime and many states have consumer protection laws to protect against it. 

How to tell if your odometer has been rolled back?

The best way to avoid being a victim of odometer fraud is to learn how to detect it when shopping for a used vehicle. 

The main ways to detect odometer rollback include a physical inspection of the vehicle and running vehicle history reports or VIN checks

Some signs of odometer fraud include:

  • Incorrect or inconsistent mileage listed on the vehicle’s title when compared to the actual odometer reading.
  • Discrepancies or inconsistencies in the vehicle’s maintenance records.
  • Obvious tampering or damage to the vehicle’s dashboard or odometer itself. 
  • When the wear of the components (tires, spark plugs, etc.) do not match the stated mileage. 

Instances of odometer fraud or odometer discrepancies will show up on a vehicle history report. Ordering one is a good way to do your due diligence when shopping for a used vehicle. 

How to tell if a 5-digit odometer has rolled over?

Before odometers were digital, they consisted of a mechanical device consisting of 5-digits to record the vehicle’s mileage. 

A cable connected the mechanical odometer to the engine and the numbers on the dial would increase as mileage did. 

However, mechanical odometers could only record up to 99,999 miles. Once the vehicle hit 100,000 miles, the odometer would roll over. 

The first way to tell if a 5-digit odometer has rolled over would be to check the title and see if it indicates that the odometer reading exceeds mechanical limits. 

Next, you can review the maintenance records and vehicle history to see what mileage had been recorded at different times during the vehicle’s past. 

Finally, you can take the age of the vehicle and the wear of the vehicle into consideration. 

If a car’s 5-digit odometer has a low reading, but the vehicle itself is in a worn condition, it is likely that it has rolled over. 

Is odometer rollback a federal crime?

There is a federal odometer law to protect consumers from odometer fraud. 

The current federal odometer law requires an odometer disclosure statement to be signed by the seller for vehicles that are less than 20 model years. 

The odometer disclosure statement requires the seller to list the mileage of the vehicle and to certify whether that mileage is accurate or if there are any discrepancies. 

Vehicles that are model year 2010 or older are exempt from the odometer disclosure requirements. 

Various states also have consumer protection laws to help prevent and protect your from odometer fraud. 

Commiting odometer fraud can carry heavy fines and even jail time. 

What to do if the odometer has been tampered with?

If you have been the victim of odometer fraud or suspect someone of odometer rollback, you should contact the NHTSA or your state’s local enforcement agency. 

The NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Hotline can be reached at 888-327-4236 and the address for the Office of Odometer Fraud Investigations is:

Office of Odometer Fraud Investigation
U.S. Department of Transportation/NHTSA
Room W55-301
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE.
Washington, DC, 20590

Each state has a specific agency that deals with cases of odometer fraud. Refer to the table below to find the website of the odometer enforcement agency in your state.