Don’t get taken for a ride: 4 ways to check for odometer rollback in a used car

October 27, 2017
Posted by: admin

As many as 1 out of every 100 cars has suspected odometer rollback. So how can you check if the odometer in the car that you’re thinking about purchasing has been tampered with?

The last thing you want when buying a used car is to think that you got a great deal only to find out later on that your car has travelled 100,000kms more than what you thought! Odometer rollback can reduce the value of a vehicle, mask potential mechanical issues, and cause mechanical breakdown if items that should be addressed at certain servicing intervals are not able to be identified (e.g. timing chains).

So what are some ways that you can check for possible odometer rollback?


Tip 1: Check its history

First of all, take a look at the vehicle’s service book and manual. These books should contain vehicle information, such as the make and model, VIN, engine number, and colour. Check in the engine bay to make sure that the VIN and engine numbers match the service books and manual.

When you know that the number match up, check out the service history and – in particular – the odometer readings at each service. These readings should be sequential with realistic readings given the time interval between services.

Pro Tip: Can’t find the VIN or engine number in the engine bay? Check the manual – it should give you a diagram pinpointing where the VIN and engine number can be found in the engine bay.

Make sure you check the service history for the workshop stamps and signatures as well as the type of ink and hand writing. Identical workshop stamps, signatures, hand writing, and/or ink colour used across multiple services could be cause for suspicion – especially in older vehicles. It could indicate that someone has filled out all the service logs at the same time.

When purchasing a used vehicle, you should always invest in a Car History Report. It contains information about the vehicle, including various odometer readings. If odometer readings have been reported in the past (e.g. at a service or point of sale) then you will find the readings listed chronologically in the Car History Report. This report will identify if there is potential odometer rollback, based on these odometer reports. However, keep in mind that sometimes these entries can be honest mistakes made by human error. You need to use your common sense when interpreting this report.


What if there aren’t any service books?

Someone who has deliberately tampered with an odometer isn’t likely to leave service books in the car that would contradict the odometer reading. However, used vehicles can also legitimately come without a service history or original manuals. In fact, we find more often than not, older vehicles will come without a service history, simply due to being lost over time.

So how do you check the odometer reading if you don’t have the service book and/or the Car History Report doesn’t highlight anything suspicious?

Tip 2: Compare the general condition of the vehicle to the odometer reading

An obvious method to look for odometer rollback is to evaluate the general condition of a vehicle. A car that’s only travelled 80,000kms, for example, is unlikely to have cracked leather seats, a faded dash, and holes in the floor carpet. You can pick up some indications through a walk-around (see our previous blog).


Tip 3: Look for specific wear and tear that is inconsistent with the odometer reading

Places that often show wear are the pedals (accelerator, brake, and clutch if a manual), seat belts, and sometimes the door rubbers. Seats can be sprayed to cover up cracks and dashes can be painted; however, the pedals and seat belts are harder to change. These items ere used every time someone drives the car and so usually reflect the true age of a vehicle.

Tip 4: Check out the odometer itself

Take a torch with you when inspecting a vehicle and use it to closely examine the cluster where the odometer is housed. Sometimes odometer rollback simply means replacing the entire cluster rather than tampering with the reading. You can often identify a replaced cluster scratch marks on or around the cluster, and particularly on the screws that hold the cluster in place. Also have a look for fingerprints or dust on the inside of the cluster.

Where does that leave you?

Buying a car with odometer rollback can cause you a headache in the long run as it devalues the vehicle and can make it hard for you to on-sell.

It the odometer has been wound back you could end up with mechanical issues much sooner than you anticipated. Because you don’t know exactly how many kilometres the vehicle has travelled, the transmission and engine could be much older than you think. You might have to replace big-ticket items sooner than expected, which will leave you out of pocket in the long run – whether or not you got a bargain when purchasing the vehicle initially.

Any other tips for checking for odometer rollbacks? Or any burning questions for a car dealer? Let us know in the comments section!

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