How to Check for Odometer Fraud

In the market for a used car? If so, triple check the odometer. New research shows odometer fraud is on the rise, and it's something used car shoppers need to be on the lookout for.

Kristin Young's recent car purchase is leaving her with buyer's remorse.

"We go ahead and sign papers, exchange the money, and I drove the car home and the whole way home, I keep thinking, 'I don't know what I just did,'" said Young.

Feeling uneasy, the Texas resident ran a Carfax report and learned the vehicle she just bought had its odometer rolled back about 60,000 miles, leaving her with a potentially dangerous car and one worth thousands less.

"Five thousand dollars invested,” she said. “It's probably worth about $1,500.”

Young says she was the victim of odometer fraud. It's an old scam with a modern twist.

"You no longer have to roll back an analog odometer to fraudulently reduce the miles on the car," said Chris Basso of Carfax. "Now, it's simply a matter of plugging the device into the car's computer and changing the mileage like that."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates more than 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with false odometer readings, costing buyers more than $1 billion annually.

"It's really all about making money," said John Paul, a car doctor for AAA. "Higher mileage cars sell for less than average. Lower mileage cars sell for more than average, so if you can somehow make a car with high mileage make it look like it has less mileage on it, it's worth more on the retail market."

Experts say the majority of these cars are sold through online sites. To protect yourself, it's best to ask a dealer for the vehicle's service records before making a purchase.

"You never know, sometimes they are just in the glove compartment," said Paul. "Look for when the oil was changed last, when the car got a vehicle inspection — things like that. And see if the mileage lines up with what is on the odometer."

The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation urges buyers to have an independent mechanic inspect the vehicle. It'll cost you between $100-$200, but it will buy you peace of mind and could save you thousands of dollars down the road.

It's illegal to tamper with an odometer. To check your car for odometer fraud, click here.

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