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Tampered Mileage

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are over 450'000 cars sold annually with fake mileage costing at least $1 billion every year through fraudulent sales in the USA. In Europe, there is a similarly grim picture and the European Commission estimates that as many as 30% - 50% of cars that are traded cross-border are sold with fake mileage causing damage of €9.6 billion a year. This is especially bad in Eastern European countries where cars coming from the west such as Germany, France and Belgium have been manipulated.



Consequences


When buying a car with fake mileage there will be severe consequences. First of all, you will be drastically overpaying for your car because lower-mileage vehicles are traded at higher prices. That's usually between 20 - 40% which you pay extra. Another factor is that your car will have more wear and will cause considerably more repair and maintenance costs in the future. There is also the factor that you don't know if services have been done regularly since there won't be any proof of when and at what kilometre reading it was done. This could also mean that the engine is already worn out and damaged. You could end up with a car that is a total write-off. But the worst case is if you are going to sell your car again in the future without knowing that the mileage has been tampered with you will be committing a criminal act and can be sued and heavily fined for this.



Dialling back Mileage


Back in the analogue age cars had physical odometers consisting of dials. Turning back the mileage involved removing the instrument cluster, opening it and dialling them back with a screwdriver. Today with digital odometers and OBDII it's as easy as never before to alter the mileage. There is nothing that prevents this because a garage might need to alter the mileage due to a new ECU being installed. This is called "mileage correction". Such an odometer correction tool costs around $250 and it works on all vehicles from 2000 with an OBD2 port.


How to Spot a Rollback


Finding out if the odometer has been rolled back can be difficult. There are four things you should check before buying a used car:


  1. Documentation

  2. Visual Inspection

  3. Official Dealership

  4. VIN Lookup

  5. OBD Check

It is crucial to check all four of these points so you can be confident that the mileage wasn't tampered with. Although, this is still no guarantee and the car can still have its miles rolled back.


Documentation


First, check the car's documentation if it's consistent and complete. Invoices from maintenance and repairs should display the mileage over time. The annual or periodic car inspection should show the mileage too. There shouldn't be a big time gap between invoices and inspection records (Maximum 2 years). If the owner hasn't maintained the car or put it off the road for a long period it's already a concern for fake miles. Especially classic cars are affected by this because of age, inconsistent documentation and their 5-digit odometers. Julio from The Motor Chain recommends always recording all maintenance and repair events to have a clear and traceable car history. His IOS app helps you with this and records the events on the blockchain where they are immutably saved.



Visual Inspection


If the documentation leaves open questions, check the car visually for tell-tales. If the odometer has been dialled back the higher mileage can be spotted by excessively worn steering wheels, brake and clutch pedals. Also, keys, locks and door handles are often worn out. If any of these things show excessive wear, you are looking at a +200k km car. The driver's seat is also a great indicator since the side bolster is often worn out on higher-mileage cars. Unfortunately, this method is very inaccurate to estimate the true mileage. It will only help if the miles have been rolled back in the 6-figure range.



Official Dealership Checkup


When buying a car, you should always do a checkup at the official dealership. Make sure you choose the garage or dealership and that it is not the one where the seller gets his repairs and maintenance done. The official dealership will charge around €100 for a used car checkup but they will be able to tell the true mileage of the car and will likely spot rollbacks. If the seller refuses or suggests his own garage this will raise already a red flag. A seller should be willing to hand over the car to an authorised dealership for a checkup. When asking the seller if this is possible the untrustworthy sellers will hesitate and search for excuses why this is not possible. Paying for the checkup and full health report is well worth the investment if you can avoid buying a car that has many issues and tampered mileage.



VIN Lookup


Another preventative measure you can do is run a lookup on your VIN or chassis number. If the car has been reported in an accident, as stolen or any other major event it is often listed with data brokers such as Carfax. These services collect and aggregate information based on the VIN which can then be purchased for a small fee. They get their information from various motor vehicle sources such as bureaus, insurance companies, auction providers, repair and service facilities, rental companies, inspection offices, law enforcement agencies and vehicle manufacturers. Often, they provide good insight into the car's history. But this should just be an additional check and under no circumstances should you rely only on the information provided by these services. By no means do they have all the info. They merely complement the picture of the car's history.



OBD Check


The last and probably most important check is the one you do yourself. With a simple OBD scanner, you can read the recorded miles from the ECU. All cars from 2000 have a universal OBD interface that can be accessed via software on a laptop or phone. The miles are not just stored in the instrument cluster but is also recorded in the ECU and other engine management modules. If the mileage was manipulated it was often done only in the instrument cluster or via a replaced ECU unit. The OBD scanner checks all modules and shows you the highest recorded mileage. If the displayed mileage in the instrument cluster is lower than the one recorded in any of the modules and doesn't just show a minor inaccuracy, the mileage has been tampered with. In the picture below you can see a check I did with my scanner. It displays a total mileage of 185'931 km and is not the same as the 145'000km shown in the instrument cluster. I'm using an OBD scanner called Carly which connects to my phone via Bluetooth and shows you the car's data such as miles, error codes, VIN and other useful information via an app. It is very easy to check the car's health and read out the different km logs. The app also displays the car's health and error codes that have been recorded over time.



You can order your own OBD dongle via the link below. Use the following discount code to get 15% off.



15% Discount Code:
(Valid until 20/08/2022)

EVC8




If you want to learn more about classic car maintenance and repairs as well as tips and trick, consider the book "The Ultimate Classic Car Guide". It will give you everything to take care of your own classic car without having expensive garage bills.



Nils Willner


Nils is a Swiss-German engineer who is obsessed with old cars and engines. He is the author of "The Ultimate Classic Car Guide - How to Buy, Maintain & Repair Classic Cars" and the founder of EVC. My passion has always been with old cars and everything that has wheels and an engine.

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