How To Check For Odometer Tampering

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Whether you sell used cars or you’re looking to buy one, be on the lookout for an uptick in odometer tampering. According to an article from Car and Driver, odometer fraud has increased in recent years thanks to new technology, it’s easier than ever to tamper with vehicle odometers. More and more used cars are now found to have had their odometer reading changed to falsely reflect lower mileage and a higher overall vehicle value. How can you tell if your car’s odometer has been tampered with?

NMVTIS vehicle history check

Before buying a used car, whether for resale or private use, the very first thing to do is to run a vehicle history check using an NMVTIS-approved provider. The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) is a national database that stores all registered and titled vehicle history information. A vehicle history check through an NMVTIS provider will give you the full history of the vehicle, along with the odometer reading recorded at each transfer or from a prior sale. With this information, you can compare the mileage on the report to what is actually showing on the vehicle. If the mileage is too low on the car, compared to the history report, this indicates that the odometer has been tampered with. 

What does odometer tampering look like?

For example, let’s say someone buys a car that has 180,000 miles but was last recorded in 2012 as having 90,000 miles. From 2012 to now, there was no mileage recorded because the vehicle wasn’t sold or advertised for sale. Some states require annual mileage reporting along with other regular inspections, but not all states require this, and bad actors will look for cars from these states specifically. Since there isn’t any official documentation to reflect the new odometer reading, this person rolls back the odometer to a bit more than what was last reported, say 95,000 miles. Then, they’ll sell the vehicle to someone else, reflecting the mileage as lower to increase the value of the vehicle. So the buyer ends up with a much higher mileage vehicle that is likely worth half of what they paid for it.

Back before digital odometers, the mileage was shown on a wheel and could literally be rolled back to reflect a lower mileage. This would end up leaving tiny scrapes on the odometer, which would give away that it had been tampered with. Nowadays, the mileage is electronically calculated, and with the right hacking knowledge, it’s a lot harder to spot. 

So make sure you’re running a vehicle history check with the NMVTIS before buying a used car. We expect that over the next few years, odometer tampering will increase, but with these increases in activity will likely come changes in policy and new protections. In the meantime, check the VIN and compare the recorded mileage to avoid being victimized by odometer tampering. 

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