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How to Check a Used Car for an Odometer Rollback

Even if a car looks and sounds great, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be concerned about. For example, a vehicle’s odometer reading is major factor in determining how much it’s worth. Most people think that looking at this dashboard tool will reveal the truth about how many kilometres the car has travelled – few consider the possibility of odometer fraud. It is possible to tamper with the vehicle’s odo to make its reading appear lower than the car’s true mileage. It’s important for buyers to check for signs of an odometer rollback.

What is an odometer rollback?

Just as any component of a vehicle may be altered, the odo can be rolled-back to take hundreds, or even thousands of kilometres off the number displayed. This reading is an important data point for prospective buyers, and unfortunately, the odometer rollback is a trick people have been using for decades.

Back in the day, an odometer rollback meant manually rolling back the numbers on a mechanical instrument that records the distance a vehicle has travelled. Odometers have since become digital, with the last round of mechanical odometers hitting the road in the early 2000s. Digital odometers can be rolled back by removing the vehicle’s circuit board to change the odometer reading, or using rollback equipment that hooks right into the vehicle’s electronic circuit.

Determining if an odometer has been rolled back

Always have a pre-purchase inspection and get a vehicle history report before buying any used car. Not only will the history report alert you to the vehicle’s damage history, unfixed recall status, lien status and more, it will provide a registration history which includes odometer readings. Compare these numbers with what you see on the odometer, and make sure the pattern is logical.

Compare the vehicle’s wear and tear with the reading on the odometer. Is it in line with the vehicle’s current condition including wear on the steering wheel, gear level and pedals? For example, a low mileage car will likely still have its original tires and brakes.

The average Canadian drives about 20,000 km per year – this can give an idea of a reasonable odometer reading for the vehicle. Remember, this average accounts for both long-distance commuters and weekend-only drivers, but combining this info with the conversation you have with the seller should give you an idea if what you’re being told is legit.

The hidden dangers of an odometer rollback

Knowing how to detect an odometer rollback is important for many reasons. Buyers want to purchase a reliable vehicle they’re confident will last. Knowing how far a vehicle has travelled in its lifetime is a good indicator of how much life it has left. Plus, the value of a used car is heavily influenced by how much road it’s travelled. Buying a car with a rolled-back odometer likely means paying more than the vehicle is worth.

If you suspect odometer fraud

The mileage on modern vehicles is tracked via both the physical odometer, and the control module. The control module does not control the number displayed on the dash. In some cases of fraud, the number visible number on the dash will be altered, while the control module still holds the accurate mileage. Checking the module requires a tool that most dealerships have available. If you’re concerned about potential tampering, ask your local dealer to pull the number from your control module. Odometer tampering to misrepresent a vehicle’s condition is a crime, so always report it to your local police department or your province’s governing body. Click here for more information on other ways to avoid surprises when buying a used car.