Used cars: How to detect tampered odometers

One of the biggest risks you face when buying a used car in India, especially from second-hand car dealers is tampered odometers, where the mileage of the car displayed on the odometer is far lower than what the car has actually run. How do you deal with this menace?

There have been instances where people have bought second-hand cars with just 60,000 km on the odometer only to discover a few days or months later that the car has clocked far greater mileage. These discoveries have usually come from some service sticker in the car or from authorized service stations themselves, which have a record of the car.

hyundai i 10 instrument cluster

When buying a used car in India, one of the biggest things to look for is a tampered odometer, and that can be a bit of a headache, but a process worth going through to make sure you are getting a fair deal. In rare cases, the instrument console may have been replaced by the previous owner for a genuine problem with it, and this is tough to detect.

Tampering of analog odometers

In earlier cars, which had analog odometers (where a series of numbered wheels displayed the KMs clocked), tampering of the odometer was a relatively easy task for any workshop. The instrument console or speedometer of the car would be removed and the digits (especially the 1,00,000 or 10,000 digit wheels), would be turned back on the odometer to any figure that the owner deemed fit. A lower mileage figure that was believable enough would fetch the owner a higher resale price with a “sparingly used” car.

This kind of odometer tampering, more often than not, would not be done properly and would leave the digit series misaligned in the odometer. Often this kind of fraud would not be detected immediately, but after about 10,000 km was run by the new owner, the digits wouldn’t click into place properly. Also read:5 reasons to buy a used car instead of a new one!

scorpio-speedometer-photo

Tampering of digital odometers

Most modern cars have digital odometers, which were earlier thought to be much harder to tamper with. Unfortunately, that’s not true, and digital odometers that are tampered with don’t even look out of place and leave no tell-tale signs of odometer tampering, as the whole process is mostly electronic. There are a number of “meter repair” shops that can easily do this. The console of the car is removed and hooked up to lap top, and the desired mileage is flashed into the chip that controls the odometer. Sometimes just replacing chips and re-soldering them also is done, on the printed circuit board that has the odometer chip. Some signs of tampering are an ill-fitting speedometer console, smudgy glass with finger prints behind the plastic, scrape marks from screwdrivers near the screws holding the instrument console etc, but these are tough to figure out.

Sometimes used car dealers who buy a car from customer disconnect the speedometer cable from the vehicle (most vehicles have electro-mechanical speedometers these days that take readings from the transmission – some of this data is needed by some cars’ ECUs as well). They drive the vehicle around without the speedometer connected until it’s sold to another customer. Also read: How to buy a used sedan under Rs. 8 lakhs

How to detect odometer tampering

There is no fool-proof way of ensuring that a car that you are buying is displaying the genuine mileage on its odometer. The most trust-worthy method though is to ask for a detailed service history of the car, or at least find out where the car has been serviced mainly. You can then call the service station and find out when the vehicle last came in for service (and at what odometer reading). That should give you a clue as to whether the car has had its odometer tampered with or not. Look for any “next service due” stickers in the car (inside the glove box, inside the door frame, on the windscreen). Look for service station names / numbers on the car that you can call.

Other tell-tale signs are the wear and tear on the steering wheel, brake and clutch pedal, gear knob, condition of the seat cushions etc. Cars with over 100,000 km on the odometer would generally have these parts also displaying signs of wear. Also read: How to buy a good second-hand car

Share any experience you’ve had with odometer tampering when buying a used car to make other buyers aware of this menace.