Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed November 30, 2016
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Who doesn’t recall the infamous odometer-rollback scheme from the popular 1986 film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? In case you don’t, here’s a recap: Three teenagers go joyriding around in their parent’s sports car. The problem? They realize they’ve added over 100 miles to the odometer and try to "fix" it by setting the odometer back. It doesn’t work, of course, but as innocent as it sounds, it’s a federal crime and can land the perpetrator in prison.
Odometer fraud is a serious problem with an estimated annual consumer loss of between $4 and $10 billion dollars annually, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHSTA). Below you will find key information on odometer tampering including a definition, how liability is established, associated crimes, and where to go for legal help if you believe you are a victim.
Odometer Fraud Defined
Odometer fraud is prohibited under both federal and state laws. While each state has its own individual statute, federal law prohibits disconnecting, resetting, or altering of a vehicle’s odometer with intent to change the number of miles indicated. When buying a vehicle, the purchaser must receive a written disclosure of the mileage registered on an odometer from the seller. If the odometer mileage is incorrect, the law requires a statement to that effect to be furnished on the title to the buyer. For instance, in California the seller must complete a Vehicle/Vessel Transfer Form (REG 262) and declare the correct mileage on the title. However, if the vehicle is over 10 years old, the seller is exempt from having to provide any written disclosures regarding mileage.
How Odometer Fraud Happens
Tampering with an odometer can happen in a number of ways. A prime example is when scammers attempt to sell consumers "newer" cars with higher mileage at a lower price by resetting the odometer. Many signs of normal wear-and-tear are removed from the vehicle by "reconditioning" or "detailing" to remove many outward appearances of long use. Keep in mind, this is not the only way odometer fraud can happen and if you have a question, you should consult with a local attorney to learn more.
Who Commits Odometer Fraud
Odometer tampering is a form of auto dealer fraud when committed by a car dealer or seller who rolls back the odometer of a car and resells it to a public buyer. Another way this can happen in online or through classified advertisements. A seller buys a high mileage vehicle, resets the odometer, and then attempts to resell it on popular sites like Craigslist or eBay. Some consumers may even attempt to roll back their odometers to cheat on their warranties or simply evade mileage penalties on their car lease.
Oftentimes these types of crimes are committed as part of a larger operation of people, spanning several states. Some common crimes associated with odometer tampering can include:
While criminal penalties are the typical remedy for odometer fraud, federal law also affords victims the right to civil penalties against scammers, including treble damages or $1,500 (whichever is greater) and actual damages.
Find Out More about Odometer Fraud
If you’ve purchased a vehicle, whether a car, truck, or motorcycle, and you began noticing signs of odometer tampering, you will want to contact a skilled legal professional immediately to learn more about your options. Chances are, if you’ve been scammed, someone else might have as well. Consult with an auto dealer fraud lawyer in your area to get your specific questions answered today.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist in your lemon law or dealer fraud matter.