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Odometer rollbacks on the rise

By Tara Baukus Mello ·
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Posted: 9 am ET

It seems there's a trend of computer-savvy criminals rolling back odometers on off-lease cars to make them appear as if they have lower mileage than they really do. A recent review of off-lease cars in the Northeast by AiM Mobile Inspections, a nationwide company that evaluates new and used vehicles, showed an estimated 30 percent increase in the number of cars with potential odometer tampering since January 2011. AiM's detailed evaluations include a thorough assessment of the car itself, analysis of the oil and transmission fluids and the paper trail outlining the car's history.

While tampering with an odometer is a federal offense, it's relatively easy to do on a car with a digital odometer -- with videos available for free on the Internet and websites that sell software to make the change. "Today's criminals with computer savvy are clocking (rolling back) digital odometers at an astonishing rate.  No matter if you disguise the rolled back odometer by washing the car, changing the tires and getting an oil change, we can spot these vehicles," said Eric Widmer, vice president at AiM, in a press release.

Consumers shopping for a used or off-lease vehicle should be cautious of cars with excessively low mileage or those that are priced below average. While these good deals will get you a lower auto loan monthly payment, they may cost you more in the long run.

An oil analysis can provide some insight into the condition of the engine, which may also help determine if the odometer has been rolled back. Look for signs of excessive wear and tear for the mileage that is claimed and then cross-reference that with the maintenance records and annual smog inspection data, which should also note the mileage at the time of that visit.

Tara Baukus Mello writes the cars blog as well as the weekly Driving for Dollars column, providing  practical financial advice for consumers as well as insight into the latest developments in the automotive world. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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