When you're thinking about buying a used car or truck, one of the first questions a smart consumer asks is, "How many miles does it have on it?"
And that's why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Odometer Fraud Investigations works closely with the Department of Justice to protect consumers from the threat altered odometers pose to their wallets...and their safety.
Buyers check the odometer to learn what they can about a vehicle's history. We have come to trust the odometer as an authoritative window into what we can expect from a vehicle, but sometimes an unscrupulous seller abuses that trust.
Last week for example--thanks to an OFI investigation--a federal grand jury in Philadelphia unsealed an indictment charging two individuals from Florida with making false odometer statements, securities fraud, and conspiracy. According to the indictment, as early as 2004, the defendants devised a scheme to buy high-mileage vehicles, alter the odometer readings, and resell them in Pennsylvania. Through at least 2010, they allegedly defrauded the buyers of approximately 247 vehicles.The indictment claims that in some instances, the true mileage of the vehicle was greater than 100,000 miles more than what the title indicated.
But it may surprise you to learn that the odometer is also a crucial safety instrument. That's why tampering with a vehicle's odometer is more than just consumer fraud; it's a safety threat.
Automakers often recommend part replacements based on a car's mileage. So a vehicle's odometer is one of the easiest ways to judge expected wear and tear on parts that can affect your safety like ball joints, suspension and timing belts.
If a seller rolls back the odometer, you could end up driving a car that is considerably less valuable and less safe than you thought. One way NHTSA's Odometer Fraud unit protects consumers is by arming you with information before you make a purchase. They offer helpful tips so buyers can identify the signs of odometer tampering:
- Compare the odometer mileage with maintenance and inspection records,
- Look at wear and tear on the vehicle and make sure it seems consistent 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.
Like everyone at NHTSA, our odometer fraud investigators work hard to keep America's drivers safe. But remember, if you're buying a vehicle, your own careful observations are the best safety feature on the market.