Odometer Rollbacks: More Common Than We Think?

Jeep odometer

Are odometer rollbacks a thing of the past?

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?


Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus


  1. @ Randy
    Jeez, Randy, do you think? That would be terrible if so… I wonder if there’s any way to find out for sure. I don’t know if i’d even want to know! The cars runs great!

  2. It probably happens all the time. The guys who got caught probably never imagined they would. Wouldn’t be surprised at al if we start hearing more stories like this. In high school kids used to brag about turning back odometers. Those kids are probably today’s slimy used dealers!

  3. This is disturbing. I bought a car that had 91,000, but when I checked the CarFax it showed 96,000. I don’t know why anyone would go to the trouble of taking off 5k miles so I don’t know if this fraud or just a mis-reporting issue… but it’s disturbing that this happens more than we realize.

  4. State vehicle agencies can go a long way to combat such crimes by requiring the SELLER to present the vehicle for mileage verification before issuing a certificate that allows sale of the vehicle. The mileage is recorded and it be consistent when registered to the new owner. If an interstate sale, then the seller must still register the mileage before shipping the vehicle. (interstate shippers required to have a mileage certification before they can transport the vehicle.) Here in Michigan, a potential buyer can get a record of the vehicle’s previous registrations with mileages recorded each time the vehicle was purchased. Obviously, mileage going down between sales would be evidence of fraud.

  5. I remember pulling off the back of a speedo to “adjust” the mileage. A little piece of paper fluttered out, I opened it and it read “Oh no, not again”

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