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Thread: Suss out odometer fraud

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Suss out odometer fraud

    Odometer fraud is not as common as it once was - in part because newer vehicles have electric odometers that are more difficult for the average fraudster to tamper with.

    But that doesn't mean it's impossible for someone who knows how to hack an ECM and do a digital rollback.

    So what to look for? What signs should make you suspicious that the stated mileage does not jibe with the overall condition of the vehicle?

    Here are a few red flags to watch out for:

    * If the car or truck is advertised as having less than 30,000 miles, it should still be wearing its original tires, drive belts and radiator hoses; spark plug wires ought to be the ones installed at the factory. The shocks (or struts) should likewise be factory original. Rear brake pads/shoes ought to be "factory." (Front brake pads do more work - up to 70 percent of the effort of stopping a car - so it's reasonable that the front pads may have been replaced before 30,000 miles.)

    If the car has new tires - or any of the parts listed above have been replaced - it's a possible sign the mileage is more than claimed. A closer look is warranted - along with some pointed questions directed at the seller. If you don't get a solid explanation as to why these parts needed to be replaced so soon, your best bet is to walk away.

    * The engine itself should be pretty clean if the mileage is represented as being under 30,000. Be suspicious if the engine on an ostensibly low mileage car is filthy - or extremely clean. Excess grime suggests higher mileage - or a leak that might involve expensive repairs. An ultra clean engine compartment suggests this grime may have been steam-cleaned away to fool you into thinking the car has lower mileage.

    What you want to see on a car with less than 30,000 miles is an engine with a light covering of dust and some grease/dirt evident around the intake manifold and cylinder heads. This is normal. Factory paint marks on the engine and firewall - as well as the emissions and service information stickers - ought to be in good shape and still clearly visible. Peek under the car and see how it looks to you. The brake and fuel lines, exhaust pipes, etc., all should look fairly clean on a low mileage (under 30,000) car or truck. If the undercarriage has been spray-bombed with black paint or undercoating, it's best to walk away as you have no realistic way of knowing what that might be hiding.

    * The stated mileage should loosely track with the age of the vehicle; 10,000-15,000 or so annually is considered normal. So a three year old car should have about 30,000-40,000 miles on it. Anything abnormally low for the year should be considered grounds for further investigation. If, for example, you come across a 2008 model year car or truck with just 10,000 miles on the clock, you'll want to find out exactly why the car was driven so sparingly. If the reason checks out - you've found a rare creampuff and probably a great deal. On the other hand, the car may either be a lemon - or have had its odometer rolled back. Neither of these things is a problem you want to inherit.

    * Ask whether service records -- oil changes, tune-ups, etc. - are available. These slips will show the date the service was performed and usually the mileage on the clock at the time. All the records should show a linear progression; if you find a three year old receipt for brake work that notes the miles at that time were 47,627 - and the odometer now shows 38,064, you've got clear evidence that something's rotten. Walk away.

    Regardless of the miles on the odometer, be suspicious of any car or truck for which no records are available. The seller may be trying to hide something - or the vehicle may not have been serviced properly. Always question the seller closely as to the vehicle's history and be cautious about any car or truck for which there are no records available. Even if the mileage thing checks out, you want to know the car was regularly serviced - or if it was serviced at all - and whether it has had expensive problems in the past that may come back to haunt you, such as a transmission that fails every 30,000 miles.

    * Any car with less than 50,000 miles on it should still feel "tight" and run and drive pretty much the same as it did when new. Excess looseness in the suspension or steering indicates either hard use or abnormally high wear; either are cause for concern.

    As a car gets beyond the 50,000 mile mark, it's harder to pick out the gimps that have possibly had their clocks rolled back - because at this point all cars show obvious wear, and have had things like tires and hoses replaced, etc. It's not easy, for example, to tell a car with 70,000 miles from one with 50,000 miles, all else being equal. Still, you can improve your odds by paying very close attention to such things as the condition of the brake and gas pedals, carpet and upholstery. Are they excessively worn? Or do they appear to have been recently replaced with new parts?

    The object is to judge whether the condition of these parts corresponds to the age/mileage of the vehicle. Worn out carpets/upholstery, etc., on a car with suposedly low mileage is suspicious.

    Ordering a Vehicle History Report from www.Carfax.com is highly recommended as an adjunct to all of the above. For about $30, Carfax will run a search of state motor vehicle records, using the car or truck's vehicle identification number (VIN). Irregularities - such as mileage numbers that don't match up from title/registation or state inspections - will cause a red flag to pop up. An added bonus is that the Carfax service also checks for evidence of title problems, "salvage" or flood damage, records of major accidents in which the vehicle was involved - all things you will be glad to know about. Carfax isn't foolproof, but it is helpful.

    If the Carfax report checks out and the car passes your own inspection, per the above, it's probably ok and as advertised. Still, no matter the vehicle and how nice it looks, runs or drives, it's always smart to have any potential used car you are thinking about buying thoroughly inspected by a trained (and impartial) mechanic. The small cost involved (typically less than $100) is well worth the possible hassles you may save yourself down the road.

    Always insist on a once-over of the vehicle by your mechanic (not the dealer/seller's mechanic) as a condition of sale. If the dealer/seller balks at this perfectly reasonable request, walk away.

    Whether it's a rolled back odometer or "motor honey" in the crankcase, you don't want any part of it.

  2. #2
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    Small things like a worn arm rest, a steering wheel thats well worn, or a
    really worn brake pedal (except for Toyota ) Can also indicate the age of the car.

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