Odometer fraud is making a comeback and could cost car buyers thousands of dollars

Dec 7, 2023, 10:22 PM | Updated: Dec 8, 2023, 7:22 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Rolling an odometer used to require cracking open a car’s dashboard and spinning the numbers backward. But now, con artists can do it with a simple push of a button.

Wendie Muhic’s story was the subject of a Get Gephardt investigation this past May. She bought an SUV that was having the sorts of issues you would expect to see on a car with a lot more miles. That’s because it has, according to a vehicle history report she pulled.

“The car actually has 180,000 miles on it and when I bought it, it had 98,000 miles on it,” she said.

Our investigation uncovered that the car’s odometer had been rolled while in Florida, and then bought and resold a few times after that. It was information that instantly cost Muhic thousands in lost car value.

“I was sick to my stomach.”

Now, new data shared with the KSL Investigators shows just how prevalent odometer fraud is. Carfax found that roughly 2.1 million vehicles on the road have tampered odometers. About 19,000 of those cars reside in Utah.

You may think that odometer fraud would go down with the arrival of digital odometers, but the data shows the opposite is true. In fact, odometer fraud is up 14% since 2021.

Josh Ingle, owner of Atlanta Speedometer, says digital odometer tampering tools used to be expensive and hard to find, but not anymore.

We found such tools selling for around $150 online.

Once connected to the car’s OBD2 diagnostic port and a couple of button pushes, those tools can tweak the odometer and make the car instantly seem more valuable.

“That’s a huge incentive for scammers,” said Carfax’s editor-in-chief, Patrick Olsen.

He said on average, someone who buys a car with a rolled-back odometer loses about $4,000. To protect yourself, he touted the value of vehicle history reports. But perhaps the very best thing a car buyer can do is to have a mechanic check out the car before you buy.

“They’re going to see if shocks and struts have a lot more wear and tear to them than they ought to have for the mileage that’s on the odometer,” Olsen said.

Odometer fraud is a crime. In rare cases, the state of Utah can step in and unwind deals after the crime is discovered. But the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division said you are far better off doing your due diligence before you buy rather than trying to sort it out after the fact.

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Odometer fraud is making a comeback and could cost car buyers thousands of dollars