Watch Out, New Devices Roll Back Digital Odometers


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 the 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.

Were you aware that digital odometers can be rolled back?


Find Certified Pre-Owned Cars and Used Cars in your area at CarGurus.


  1. The ecu only tracks the milage from the cluster. Installing a new odometer cluster may require a dealership to reprogram the milage to match your vehicle. That been said, Digital odometers can clearly be changed… Not saying dealerships are dodgy but it does prove they can be adjusted with the right equipment.

  2. On the other side of the coin, I have a 2002 with low miles (less than 76K) and the instrument cluster needs to be replaced. However, once it is done, the odometer will have way over 76K on it. They no longer make this part, so the mechanic had no choice but to go with a used one. Seems there SHOULD be some way for a licensed dealer/repair tech to set the odometer back.

    • ??? Ok. I’m confused. It was my understanding that the vehicle’s mileage was stored in the ecm. Not the cluster?? Installation of a cluster shouldn’t effect it. Or am I wrong?

  3. I bought a 2015 Jeep grand charekee srt 8 and I took pictures of the dash when I bought it and I recently noticed that is said it’s been 40000 miles since it has gotten in oil change and the car was showing it only has 14000 miles . So there is clear fraud and I have the picture to prove it and on top of that I found out the car was in an accident and it didn’t state that on the car fax what are my options and how should I go about this ?

  4. I just got a 2015 mustang from a dealer and pulled the car fax to find that the odometer looked to have been rolled back at the dealer ship before. Do I have grounds to go after the dealer ship before the one that I got it from.

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