How to protect yourself from odometer fraud when buying a car


According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),  more than 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with false odometer readings. Odometer fraud costs Americans $1.056 million every year.

Learning what to watch for can help you avoid becoming a victim when buying a used car. And if you are concerned that it has already happened to you, take action right away.

How Odometer Fraud Happens

You might think that tampering with an odometer would be more difficult now with digital dashboards and computer systems in modern vehicles. However, experts say that disconnecting, resetting or otherwise altering an odometer is easier and more common than you might expect.

“It’s a huge misconception that odometer rollbacks are a thing of the past, and it doesn’t happen with these newer digital odometers,” Carfax spokesperson Emilie Voss told ABC Action News.

Scammers can purchase a tool online meant for legitimate odometer repair. For just a few hundred dollars, they can change the mileage on an odometer in mere seconds.

It’s worth the minor investment. By seemingly stripping years of use off an engine, they can sell a vehicle for several thousands of dollars more.

Protect Yourself When Shopping For A Car

So, how can you be sure a vehicle you are considering has an accurate odometer reading? If you are in the market for a used car, taking these steps can decrease your odds of getting scammed.


  • Request the VIN of the vehicle. Run the number through the Carfax odometer check. This free service will notify you if an odometer rollback has been reported on the car.
  • Ask the seller to let you look at the title. Make sure the odometer reading is clear and easy to read and that it doesn’t look altered. Compare the number on the title to the physical odometer.
  • Take the vehicle to a trusted mechanic for a thorough inspection. Not only can a professional point out any costly fixes or concerns about a car, but a good mechanic can often detect changes or tampering that might have been recently done. An experienced technician will also notice wear and tear that doesn’t line up with the mileage displayed.
  • Look closely at maintenance records and oil change stickers. Compare the mileage recorded on them as well as the date to make sure they match up and make sense.
  • Touch and inspect the odometer gauge. Make sure it lines up with the other gauges and that there are no gaps, physical damage or movement when you tap or grab it.
  • Be especially careful with vehicle models from 2010 or older, as odometer disclosure is no longer required for these cars.


Filing a Fraud Case

Every state has different laws and procedures regarding odometer tampering. However, odometer fraud is a crime according to federal law.

To report odometer fraud with a dealership, contact NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236.

For an individual odometer fraud case, contact your state enforcement agency.


About the Author
Tricia Goss

Tricia is a professional writer and editor who lives in North Texas with her family and one smelly dog. She is a wannabe problem solver, junk food maven professional coffee practitioner, web guru and general communicator. More.