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Motor Vehicle Commission Offers Tips to Help Identify Odometer Tampering

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 | 09:12am

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission encourages consumers to know the signs of odometer tampering, a crime that involves the reduction of mileage on a vehicle to inflate its value.

Odometer fraud affects consumers in two ways. First, a person may pay considerably more than the vehicle is worth. Second, they will believe that they have purchased a relatively safe, low-mileage vehicle when the vehicle is actually high mileage and potentially unsafe.

“Investigating a car’s history before buying can help protect both your wallet and your well-being,” said Motor Vehicle Commission Executive Director Paula Shaw. “To avoid falling victim to odometer tampering, we urge Tennesseans to always conduct thorough research before purchasing a vehicle.”

The Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission, which is a part of the Department of Commerce & Insurance’s Regulatory Boards, offers the following guidelines to help identify signs of odometer tampering:

  1. Compare the mileage on the odometer with the mileage number on all available past vehicle titles, maintenance records, or inspection records. Check the last oil change sticker and look for paperwork that might be in the glovebox detailing repairs with dates and mileage information. The vehicle title will contain the odometer reading from when the vehicle was sold and the date. Does the current reading seem reasonable compared to this information? Consumers should also consider obtaining a vehicle history report from a third party provider.         
  2. Evaluate the wear and tear of the vehicle (brakes, tires, etc.) to see if it is consistent with the mileage number displayed on the odometer. The interior of the car also has a story to tell.  Examine the usage and wear of the wheel, gear lever and pedals and compare this to the mileage number on the odometer. Consumers should also consider having the vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic for these potential red flags.     
  3. Most automobiles will be operated an average of at least 15,000 miles per year. Multiply the age of the vehicle by 15,000. If the mileage reading on the odometer is significantly lower than the sum of that calculation you should exam the vehicle closely and compare to the other factors. If it is significantly higher that could be an indicator that the vehicle has been used as a fleet, rental, or other type of commercial vehicle.
  4. For vehicles with a traditional mechanical odometer, check to see if the numbers are aligned evenly and are readable. Crooked numbers or numbers that contain gaps are often an indication of odometer fraud. Flickering numbers on a digital odometer can be an indicator of tampering or other electrical problems.
  5. Check the vehicle identification number on the driver’s side dash and compare it to the number on the sticker on the driver’s side door jam. They should match. If they do not, this could be an indicator of odometer or other types of vehicle fraud.
  6. Be very cautious when purchasing  a vehicle sold on social media sites such as “Craigslist” or “Offer Up.”  Ask to see the vehicle title and make sure that the person representing the vehicle is the person listed on the vehicle title. Dealers are required to sell from a licensed location, not  a random parking lot.  Many times consumers fall victim to scams thinking that they are getting a “good deal” and later discover problems with the vehicle like odometer discrepancies, salvage histories or even that they have purchased a stolen vehicle. 

Odometer fraud is a criminal offense. If you suspect odometer tampering has taken place, report it immediately to local and state authorities.

To view additional consumer resources, visit the Motor Vehicle Commission’s website: