Until the advent of digital odometers, tampering with the analog odometers was perhaps the most common type of fraud involved in used car sales in Connecticut and elsewhere. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration once estimated that more than 450,000 used cars with fraudulent odometer readings are sold in the United States per year. The cost to consumers is estimated to be more than $1 billion per year. What can consumers do to spot and prevent odometer fraud? The answer is “more than you might think.”
Why a lowered odometer setting is fraudulent
Fraud is any kind of false statement regarding a transaction that misrepresents a material fact. Most purchasers of used cars understand that a used car’s value is inversely related to the accumulated mileage, that is, the lower the apparent mileage, the more the car is worth. An odometer whose total miles have been lowered by tampering is making a “fraudulent statement” on behalf of the seller. In Connecticut and most other states, tampering with an odometer to encourage the sale of a vehicle constitutes both civil and criminal fraud.
The signs of odometer tampering
An analog odometer can be reset by using a screwdriver to remove and reset it. The removal and change of setting will both leave marks on the dashboard and the housing for the odometer. These marks are a plain sign of tampering.
Tampering with a digital odometer can be more difficult but not impossible. If a vehicle has traveled more miles than the odometer reflects, the brake and accelerator pedals will show signs of excessive use. If the vehicle has worn tires or brake pads but an odometer with low mileage, tampering is the most likely culprit. Tampering can also be discovered through motor vehicle history reports such as Carfax.
What recourse does the victim of odometer fraud have?
Anyone who buys a car with a fraudulent odometer setting can sue the seller to rescind the transaction and recover the purchase price and associated expenses. The fraudulent sale can also be reported to the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles. Anyone who believes that they were fraudulently induced to purchase a car with a false odometer reading may wish to consult an attorney who is experienced in consumer fraud to review the transaction and provide an opinion about the likelihood of setting aside the sale and recovering damages.