Analog odometers were a car staple well into the 1990s. They were unremarkable devices, but sure made the change from 99,999 to 100,000 miles a lot more fun because of that slow roll of the five zeros.
They were also fairly easy to roll back in an effort to commit fraud. Selling a car that shows 67,000 miles is far easier to sell than one that shows 102,000 miles, and unsavory sellers regularly partook in this dishonest behavior.
The switch to digital odometers made milestones less exciting, but it has also reassured used car buyers that the car’s mileage is accurate because rolling back a digital odometer is not possible.
Or so we thought.
There’s a post from a guy over at Ford Truck Enthusiasts that asks what year Ford switched over to digital odometers. He said he’s looking to find a year cut-off because he doesn’t want one with the old mechanical odometer that could easily be rolled back.
Turns out we all need to be on the lookout, because a story from Boston’s local CBS affiliate says some new devices that plug into a car’s computer have made it possible to easily roll back digital odometers, too. An estimated 40,000 cars have been affected in Massachusetts alone.
Regardless of your location, if you’re in the market for a used car, you need to take some simple precautions to make sure you don’t fall victim to this common form of fraud.
The first preventative measure is just knowing that digital odometers can be rolled back. If you find a deal on a low-mileage car that seems too good to be true, don’t automatically assume the mileage is correct.
Ask for the maintenance history of any vehicle and, if it’s not available, be suspicious.
It’s always a good idea to buy a vehicle history report, too, which will tell you the details of that vehicle’s past ownership and the documented miles on the car when it was bought and sold. You’ll spot any inconsistencies right away.
It’s not just private-party sales to be concerned about. The Boston story also mentioned that it found a car with a rolled-back odometer that was purchased from a dealer. The dealership’s owner said it must’ve happened before he bought the car, though he reached an undisclosed agreement with the buyer to make amends after the story went public.
It’s easy to fall in love with a car that seems perfect at first glance, but always make sure to dig a little deeper to make sure the car is exactly what you expect. If you want tips on what else to look out for, check our article on How to Inspect a Car Before Buying.
Were you aware that digital odometers can be rolled back?