Here’s how to spot if your odometer has been tampered

Something that’s on the back of the minds of many second-hand car buyers is the odometer rolling.

This is the illegal act of tampering with a car’s odometer to show a mileage record lower than it should be. 

Aside from doing it for profit, unscrupulous sellers also tamper the mileage to hide any vehicle damage.

But how do you tell if a car has had its odometer rolled back? Let us help.

Get the car scanned

scan tool for car
An OBD scanner like this can tell a lot about a car’s condition.

It has become much harder to tamper with a car’s odometer in modern times.

In the olden days, when odometers were literal clockwork set into the dashboard and used gears, it was somewhat easy to roll these back.

But now that odometers are digital, it often has to come down to changing what’s on the odometer through the onboard diagnostics computer (also known as OBD-II) port.

So the first thing you should do is to get the car scanned by a reputable mechanic or local dealership.

Modern cars have their mileage digitally encoded into the computer at set intervals. These are typically locked away from most cheap, aftermarket OBD-II scanners.

It may cost some money, but it will generally tell you the correct mileage of your vehicle.

The OBD-II computer not only records the mileage on the odometer, but also the number of hours an engine has run and other metrics used to determine vehicle health.

Look very closely

mechanic checking oil
Like a squirrel, you must be beady-eyed when you inspect a used car.

Another telltale sign is if the car’s overall condition doesn’t seem to match up to the supposed mileage reading.

It has 30,000 kilometers on the clock, but it needs a brake job? Fishy.

It shows 50,000 kilometers and it needs an engine overhaul? Even fishier.

The point is, make sure to take a real close look at the details of the car. Make sure everything lines up right, from the wear on the pedals to the paint finish.

A professional inspection will reveal all of a car’s sins and secrets.

Most dealership mechanics won’t take time out of their day to come out with you to check on a car, but taking the car to them for an inspection is within the realm of possibilities.

And if you make good friends with your local mechanic, you can ask him or her to tag along wherever you need one to inspect a potential purchase. A full day’s wages and a good meal is more than enough for an hour-long inspection. 

Study the papers

car paperwork
Paperwork with no gaps is a great way to verify the mileage on the odometer.

Part of your due diligence as a car buyer is checking the car’s paperwork.

Though this can easily also be tampered with (how hard is it to simply “misplace” a few receipts here and there, right?), a telltale sign is if the service receipts suddenly stop at some point in the car’s life and then suddenly reappear at a later date at a different shop.

Psychologically, we’re not going to stray too far from one particular shop that does our maintenance, so suddenly switching shops could potentially be a red flag.

Now that you know how to detect a car’s true mileage, go hunt for those second-hand bargains!

Source: Here’s how to spot if your odometer has been tampered

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