I haven’t given much thought to odometer rollbacks since the mileage counters entered the digital era. I guess I just figured those computerized numbers couldn’t be changed, because there isn’t a physical number to “roll back.”
Silly, naive me.
A quick search online revealed all kinds of potential criminal rollback activity and even instructions on how to do it. Not only is that bad news for the scumbags who choose to break the law, but it’s even worse news for potential used car buyers. Is this a prevalent crime or just a blown-out-of-proportion worry that won’t go away?
A story at the Seattle PI says four men have been arrested in a rollback scam involving at least 75 bilked car buyers. The suspected con-men took an estimated 50,000 miles off each vehicle after buying them from private parties and selling them on used car lots around Washington state. The criminals pocketed around $200,000.
An article in the Puyallup Herald quoted a local dealer as saying,
I guarantee it happens all the time. This is the first time that I’ve heard someone getting caught for it but it happens a lot. Consumers have to be smart.
In one example, the suspect purchased a vehicle with 192,000 miles on the clock from a private seller for $7,800. At an auto repair shop the odometer was changed to 64,521 and then the car was sold to a buyer in Washington for $15,000.
That’s not encouraging news for used car shoppers.
So how can you avoid a car that has had its odometer rolled back? If buying from a private party, buy reports from CarFax and AutoCheck and make sure all the numbers match. Check the owner’s manual to see if the seller has kept maintenance records and make sure the mileage is consistent (If a 90,000 mile service was done on a car with 30,000 miles, don’t write the check).
Another good piece of advice is to start a search on DealFinder, where you can find cars that are priced fairly and read customer reviews on the dealer selling the car. It’s still a good idea to check the vehicle history reports, which many dealers will provide for free.
When buying a used car, do you verify its mileage?