ODOMETER FRAUD: What you need to know when buying a used car

An ongoing investigation from Better Call Harry uncovered a common scam used to scam people into buying high mileage cars.
Updated: Feb. 26, 2021 at 1:51 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - When you buy a used car, part of what you look at is the mileage. But, what if what you’re seeing isn’t the truth?

In an ongoing investigation by CBS46′s Better Call Harry, we uncovered a common problem that many don’t even know existed.

It’s called rolling back an odometer, and its illegal. Here’s what you need to know to not fall victim of this fraudulent scheme.

Rolled Back 92,000

A used 2008 Nissan Altima with around 119,000 miles on the odometer was listed on Facebook Marketplace.

25-year-old Tomi Adedayo test drove the car and loved it. His dad made a cash purchase of $3,725 as a reward for good grades. “I told my son if you are doing good at school, I’m going to get you a car,” the proud dad explained.

On the bill of sale, the mileage says “exempt.” That’s because in Georgia, odometer disclosures aren’t required for cars over 10 years old.

Days after leaving the lot with the Nissan, the two discovered the original title in the glovebox. The mileage showed 211,000 miles when the car was sold a year earlier and even that was wrong. According to a Carfax report, the car actually had 232,000 miles on it. It was recorded by state emissions days before the sale.

Almost all car sales are final, but not this one. “Obviously it’s been some kind of misunderstanding I don’t know what happened, one of our representatives that took the application should have actually disclosed everything that’s going on,” the FMS Auto owner told CBS46.

The used car dealership took the car back and gave them a full refund.

Rolled Back 88,000

After CBS46 aired the piece about ’s rolled back odometer, more viewers from Metro Atlanta reached out to Better Call Harry with similar stories of odometer fraud at FMS Auto.

One of those was 21-year-old Spencer Dancer. “It drove fine for the first 20 days and all of a sudden, the transmission started not shifting and the check engine light came on,” the first time car buyer said.

He saved $2,500 to buy a four door sedan from a Georgia dealership. When he bought the car, the odometer said there were 134,000 miles on it. According to the Carfax done after purchase, the car actually had 222,712 the year before. It had been rolled back over 88,000 miles.

Better Call Harry also googled the vin number of the car and learned the card had previously been totaled. After taking our findings to the dealership, they issued him a full refund, because odometer fraud is a crime.

Tips on Buying Used Cars

It can be difficult but not impossible to catch odometer fraud. Experts say you should check the tires, if the vehicle has less than 20,000 miles, it should have the original tires on it. Look at the wear and tear on the gas, brake, and clutch pedal. If it’s not consistent with the mileage, ask questions.

If the odometer numbers are crooked, have gaps, or jiggle when you bang the dash, you might want to walk away.

But perhaps the biggest takeaways are before you buy a used car, you should find a trusted mechanic to do a thorough inspection before any money changes hands.

Vehicle history reports are also a must when buying a vehicle. Carfax and AutoCheck are two popular and trusted sites. Usually there is a small fee, but experts say it can save you thousands of dollars in the long run.

“Even though the seller may give you the report, you should still verify the information with the service. Along with total-loss information, the reports might provide warnings about odometer tampering, non-total-loss collisions, and any outstanding recalls,” according to Consumer Reports.

When it comes to buying a car, don’t take shortcuts, and pay attention to red flags.

If there’s something you would like CBS46′s Consumer Investigator Better Call Harry to look into, fill out this submission form.