Detect tampered odometers: How to stop getting TRICKED

Among the various cheap tricks and scams used in the used car marketplace, odometer rollback is among the most vicious one. Though it is not easy to perform an odometer rollback, it is not something that’s impossible. Contrary to the popular belief that digital odometers can’t be tampered with, odometer rollback can be done on almost any car. This malpractice is quite effective for con artists too as it is not easy to detect such frauds. However, one can get past such fraudsters by following a few steps. Read along to know how the odometers can be tampered with and the ways to detect the same.

Tampering of Analog Odometers

Odometer Rollback Fraud

Analog odometers, as the name suggests, are those odometers where a series of numbered wheels display the distance clocked in kilometres/miles. Though they are not found on modern cars anymore, the used car market is filled to brim with older cars that come equipped with analog odometers. Tampering of the odometer is a relatively easy task for any workshop. The digits wheels can be turned back on an odometer to any figure as per the owners choice by removing the instrument console or speedometer of the car. The main reason behind setting back an odometer is to increase the resale value of the vehicle, as a lesser used car would fetch the owner a higher resale price.

However, more than often this kind of odometer tampering is not be done properly and the digit series get misaligned in the odometer. Also, mostly this kind of fraud is not detected immediately, but after about 10,000 km was run by the new owner when the digits wouldn’t click into place properly.

Tampering of Digital Odometers

Digital Odo Fraud

Almost every car now comes with a digital odometer. It is a common misconception though that digital odo units are much harder to tamper with. That might be the case some 10-15 years ago when the fraudsters and mechanics weren’t much into the tech know-how of the car. However, that’s not true anymore and digital odometers that are tampered with don’t even look out of place and leave no tell-tale signs of odometer tampering. This is because the whole process is mostly electronic. Any guy with decent know-how of car software and electronic system can perform this job.

To alter the readings on a digital odometer, the console of the car is removed and hooked up to a laptop (even smartphones now), and the desired mileage is flashed into the chip that controls the odometer. Replacing the chip and re-soldering them on the printed circuit board that has the odometer chip is also a pretty common practice. Smudgy glass with fingerprints behind the plastic, ill-fitting speedometer console or scrape marks from screwdrivers near the screws holding the instrument console etc are some of the most evident signs of tampering, but tough to figure out if the work is done by a professional.

Disconnecting the speedometer cable is also a widespread practice. This is mostly done by third-party dealers who buy a car from the original seller. They then drive the vehicle around without the speedometer connected until it’s sold to another customer.

How to Detect Odometer Tampering

Odo Meter Check With Documents
Image via – Your Mechanic

The most trustworthy method of checking for odometer fraud is also the most old school one. Before buying a used vehicle, 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). This should give you a clue as to whether the car has had its odometer tampered with or not. Service centres maintain a detailed log of the cars that have been worked upon there and it is a sure shot way of getting the necessary information.

While inspecting the car, look out for any “next service due” stickers in it (inside the glove box, inside the door frame, on the windscreen etc). Look for service station names/numbers on the car that you can call. Apart from this, you can check the car for 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. Tires are also a giveaway of the approximate distance travelled by a vehicle, unless the seller has replaced them recently. If you are feeling doubtful, the circuit board where the odometer chip is housed can also be opened and rechecked. If the chip has been replaced, the new soldering is a clear giveaway of that.

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