People have tried to stop odometer rollback fraud for years; however, it remains a problem. Despite the fact that modern odometers now use digital numbers instead of the old spinning ones, people still manage to roll back odometer and sell vehicles without accurate disclosure.
You would wonder why anyone would try to cheat on odometer mileage. Well, the reason is to get more money than the car is really worth. You know that mileage does affect the value of a car. Unfortunately, digital odometers make it even easier and faster for sellers to unscrupulously cheat car odometer numbers.
With this risk in mind, this article explains not only how to roll back an odometer but also how a potential buyer can tell if someone is cheating with the odometer and what to do about it.
What Is Odometer Rollback?
According to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), odometer rollback fraud is the disconnection, resetting, or alteration of a vehicle’s odometer with the intent to change the number of miles indicated.
In simpler terms, odometer rollback is when someone alters the numbers on a car’s mileage display to make it look like the car has driven less than it really has. In the US, it is commonly called “busting miles,” while in Canada, the UK, and Ireland, it’s called “clocking.” This can happen with both old-style and digital mileage displays.
When you get tricked into thinking a car has fewer miles and pay more for it, that’s not the only problem – sadly. Odometer rollback does not just alter the price, it can also make the car work worse and not last as long. Also, people roll back the odometer to avoid a lease penalty. And it is not just about money – it can even make the roads less safe.
How to Roll Back Odometer
There are many methods involved when it comes to odometer mileage changes. The methods also depend on whether the odometer in question is analog or digital. You will also expect that most cars today feature a digital odometer.
1. Using a Battery Drill
Someone can use a battery drill to disconnect the speedometer cable at the transmission and connect a battery drill to the inner cable. Pulling the drill’s trigger can help check the odometer’s reading for direction. Using high-speed tools for this method might damage the speedometer.
Some odometers have a free-wheeling mechanism that prevents them from rolling backward. If one chooses the drill method, they might have to roll the odometer forward until it resets.
2. Manual Reversal with a Needle
You do not need to use a drill to roll back odometer mileage. Instead, one can remove the plastic cover from the front of the gauges and use a needle to manually move the odometer back. This method is said to work perfectly if done carefully without scratching the numbers.
3. Using a Drill Bit with Electrical Tape
Take a drill bit, wrap it with electrical tape, and reverse it over the smallest number on the odometer. The claim is that it takes about an hour to remove 100,000 miles using this method. However, caution is taken to prevent the drill from overheating.
4. Gold Restrictor Clip Method
One can look for a gold metal clip that stops the rotation of the odometer digits. A small pair of needle-nose pliers can pop out of this clip, allowing the numbers to spin freely, thus, rolling back an odometer. After setting the desired mileage, the gold restrictor clip can be replaced.
5. Replace the Cluster
A dishonest seller can remove the cluster, which is the panel containing all the gauges, including the odometer. They then go to a junkyard, purchase a cluster from a similar vehicle that has fewer miles on its odometer, and install it in the vehicle they want to sell. This method is more effective on older vehicles, as newer vehicles have systems that may detect inconsistencies when a different cluster is installed.
6. Swapping Odometer Parts
It is also possible to roll back odometer by swapping parts between different gauge clusters or speedometer units. One can carefully remove the odometer part from one unit and place it in another without letting the wheels spin.
Also, be aware of the tamper-proof wire attached to the odometer. Cutting this wire will show that the odometer has been tampered with.
7. Switching Odometer
Some sellers simply unplug the odometer and plug it into another board. The IC chip might be responsible for the calibration needed to turn the needle motor.
8. Using Dremel Tools
The Dremel tools turn in the ballpark of 10,000 rpm. However, this would be too high to be safe for the speedometer mechanism. The speedometer standard is that the cable spinning at 1,000 rpm gives a reading of 60mph. So, a reasonable, safe design speed for the speedo cable to turn would be twice that, or 120 indicated mph.
At that higher rotating speed of 2,000 rpm, in reverse, the odometer will roll back 120 miles per hour. Therefore, it will take 100 hours to roll back 12,000 miles.
9. Odometer Reprogramming
You can reprogram it to roll back odometer mileage reading as explained by the Instructables.
Tools and Parts Required
- Soldering iron, solder, and a de-soldering pump
- Computer with Windows XP and serial port
- 8-pin DIP socket
- Serial programmer setup including breadboard, hookup wire, female serial port header, 5V from the computer power supply, 4.7K ohm resistors, and 5V Zener diodes
- Wire strippers
- Serial programming software (PonyProg freeware)
- A spare instrument cluster
- If you swap an instrument cluster, the mileage is stored on the cluster itself, not in the ECU. The odometer information is stored on a small EEPROM chip on the circuit board.
- Remove the front plastic cover, needles, gauge face, and white backing plate to reveal the circuit board with the EEPROM chip.
- Connect pins 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8 for programming. Solder hookup wires to the leads. Short the crystal located near the EEPROM chip.
- Build an EEPROM programmer to connect the chip to a computer. Use the PonyProg software to read and save the information from the odometer chip.
- Use PonyProg software to read from the chip. The information is downloaded in HEX format.
- Convert the HEX dump to get the odometer reading. Use a HEX lookup table to determine the inverse of each character.
- Edit the HEX bits using PonyProg software to input the corrected mileage value.
- Connect the EEPROM chip with the new program to the odometer board and test it in the car.
- Transfer the new programmed chip back onto the odometer board. Reassemble the instrument cluster.
- Connect the cluster to the vehicle and start it up. The new mileage should be displayed.
Gauges can be calibrated by hand when the cluster is turned off. Use an OBDII scanner for calibration. The odometer does not roll over to 1 million kilometers, but the trip computer still works.
10. Professional Services
Some businesses specialize in gauge and speedometer repair. These businesses might be able to change the odometer reading.
- Re-arranging the tumblers to roll back odometer. This method is to take the odometer apart and re-arrange the tumblers. This is a delicate task as there are many springs and components that can easily get misplaced.
- Adjusting the Rod. A dishonest person can use this method to roll back odometer. It works if a car has a rod holding the numbers in place. They slid the rod loose, adjusted the numbers, and then slid the rod back in.
Can You Change the Mileage on a Digital Odometer?
Yes, you can actually make a digital odometer show less mileage than the car has really driven. Before the early 2000s, you had to physically turn back the numbers on a mechanical device that tracked the car’s distance. But even with new technology, people found ways to do this with digital odometers.
People who want to cheat with a digital odometer can do it in a couple of ways. They might take out the car’s circuit board and change the numbers on the odometer. Or, they can use special equipment that connects to the car’s electronics and messes with the circuit board.
Either way, the result is that the number on the odometer gets changed to whatever the cheater wants it to be.
Does Mileage Affect Car Value?
Many factors affect how much a car’s value. The odometer is one such factor – it gives insight into how long the car has been in use. Generally, the car’s history, such as if it was damaged before (salvage or rebuilt) or how well it was taken care of.
It’s hard to know everything about a car’s history, so the mileage on the odometer is a big clue about how worn out the car might be. The more miles it has, the less valuable it might be, and people might not want it as much.
If the number on the odometer is high, the car is usually worth less money. Vehicles with lower mileage are usually worth more than those with lots of miles. But also, how those miles were added can matter.
Let’s take an example: If you drive on the highway a lot, it’s easier on the car than driving in city traffic, which can be harder on it.
Taking all these into consideration, it’s not surprising that some private sellers and even dealerships might want to change the odometer reading numbers to make more money selling used cars.
How Does an Odometer in a Car Measure Distance?
To make it easier to grasp how this fraud happens, let’s talk about how a car’s odometer actually works.
Before the early 2000s, most cars used manual odometers. These were pretty simple – they had gears and long, flexible cables that ran between the odometer and the transmission. These cables are usually spun inside a tough metal tube.
The speedometer gear is the one that makes these cables spin. It’s connected to a bunch of gears that make a dial show the mileage numbers. For the mileage to be accurate, those gears in the old odometers had to be set up just right.
Many car companies began using digital odometers instead of old-fashioned analog ones at the start of this century. Both digital and analog odometers measure tire movement, but they track tire rotation differently.
Today’s odometers use special sensors that work like magnets or cameras. These sensors keep track of how many times a toothed wheel spins as your tires move. They send this information to the car’s computer using quick pulse signals.
The car’s computer, called the ECU, does some math to figure out how far the vehicle has gone. It uses the tire size and how many times they spun to calculate this. Then, it sends this data to the digital odometer, which shows the mileage on a car.
How to Tell Odometer Rolled Back
It can be tricky to determine if odometer readings are fake. Digital odometers are especially tough to check because they do not have any visible moving parts, unlike mechanical ones.
If buying a used car, you want to start by checking if it has ever been reported for odometer fraud. But even if there are no previous reports, it does not guarantee that the mileage is accurate and has not been changed.
If you think the odometer might be changed or just need to verify that everything is okay, here are the steps you can follow:
1. Check the Odometer on the Title
Try to match the mileage numbers with the title information about the car’s odometer. The vehicle’s maintenance and inspection records also hold valuable information. These reports usually have the odometer readings, making it easy to spot any signs of odometer tampering.
2. Inspect the Odometer Closely
Look closely at the odometer for signs of tempering. When checking, first check that the numbers on the odometer are clear to read, with no gaps or tilting. If you spot numbers that are not lined up right, that is a warning sign that the odometer readings might be changed.
Also, take a look at all the screws on the dashboard and cluster. Make sure they look original and match what’s in the manual.
3. Check a Vehicle History Report (VHR)
A VHR, also called a VIN check, is a detailed document that tells you about a used car’s history. It reveals information such as accidents, loans, and more.
Moreover, it contains the car’s registration history and odometer readings. With this information, you can compare the numbers on the report with what’s on the odometer now. You can also see if the mileage adds up logically over the years. If there are any strange differences, be cautious. If the seller does not have this report, you will need the car’s VIN to get it online.
4. Compare the Looks and the Odometer
Consider checking how the car looks compared to the mileage on the odometer. Sometimes, it’s tricky to tell if the odometer reading matches how worn the car really is. People might fix it a bit to fool you. But, you can learn a lot from the gas, brake, and clutch pedals. Also, take a look at the tires. If the odometer shows 20,000 miles or less, the car should still have its original tires.
5. Request Professional Assistance
If your car has a digital odometer, you can ask a car service shop for assistance. The car’s computer (ECU) keeps track of the pulses from the sensor and has the correct mileage. Car service shops usually have the right tools to check the real mileage if you think something fishy is going on.
Is Odometer Rollback Illegal?
An odometer rollback is illegal under federal law. It is considered a felony and can lead to up to 3 years in jail or a $10,000 fine for each vehicle involved. If you are a victim of mileage fraud, you can sue for damages, up to three times your loss, or $1,500, plus legal fees and court costs. In Georgia, clocking an odometer is a misdemeanor under Georgia law.
In the US, generally, you must disclose the true mileage when you sell a car using the Odometer Disclosure Statement form. Federal and state laws require the seller to disclose the mileage and condition of the car when transferring ownership to someone else. If the correct mileage is not provided to the new owner, the seller may be subject to fines and imprisonment as a penalty for odometer tampering.
Odometer fraud isn’t just about making a car seem more valuable. Incorrect mileage can make the car less reliable and safe, leading to problems and accidents that put lives at risk.
How to Report Odometer Fraud
Despite technological advancements, odometer fraud remains a problem in every state. If you are a victim of odometer tampering, you can report it. Reporting ensures that this incident becomes a permanent part of the vehicle’s history. This way, future buyers can check the records and avoid falling victim to scams.
Reporting odometer fraud not only assists others but also ensures those responsible for the fraud face legal consequences. The law may punish them.
However, the specific agencies responsible for reporting odometer rollback claims can vary from one state to another. So, who should you report odometer fraud to?
- You can start by contacting your local police. They can guide you on what to do next.
- Notify your state’s consumer protection agency if you think there’s odometer fraud.
- Alternatively, you can get in touch with a lawyer with experience in odometer fraud cases.
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