In a blog post last April, I wrote that "If an unscrupulous seller rolls back the odometer, you could end up driving a car that is considerably less valuable and less safe than you thought."
At the time, Seattle police officers had just arrested four suspects on federal charges of odometer fraud. These arrests resulted from a joint investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Odometer Fraud Investigations, the Department of Justice, the IRS, and the Seattle Police Department. The four men were suspected of tampering with odometers in more than 75 vehicles.
And last week, all four suspects pleaded guilty.
According to their pleas, the men purchased vehicles with high mileage and rolled the odometers back. Then, they resold them falsely as low mileage vehicles with higher prices and greater safety risks than their buyers suspected. For example, in 2006, Ricky and Bob Ristick bought a Chevrolet Silverado with 192,000 miles for $7,800; they rolled the odometer back to 64,521 miles and later sold the vehicle for $15,000.
The other pair of conspirators, Miller and Stanley Stevens, rolled the odometer of a pickup truck with 126,000 miles all the way back to 39,500 and resold it. When their buyer discovered the fraud, he demanded his money back. The two men simply sold the truck to another unsuspecting buyer.
Now, for NHTSA's Office of Odometer Fraud Investigations, this is about more than just a discrepancy in the represented value of the vehicles. It's about safety.
If you're thinking about buying a used car, NHTSA wants to make sure you can recognize the signs of odometer tampering. There are several things consumers can be on the lookout for when purchasing a vehicle:
- Compare the odometer mileage with maintenance and inspection records
- Look at wear and tear on the vehicle for inconsistency with the stated mileage
- Run a free CARFAX Odometer Check and consider requesting a Vehicle History Report to check for odometer discrepancies in the vehicle’s history
I’m very proud that the hard work of our odometer fraud investigators resulted in these four convictions. But I hope consumers will take steps to protect themselves from fraud--and unsafe vehicles--in the first place. So, when considering a used car purchase, be sure to take advantage of the guidelines NHTSA offers.