Report: 1 in 10 cars has rolled back odometer

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(WPRI) — Price and the mileage – probably the first two things you would look at when buying a used car. But, how would you feel if you found out that the car you just spent thousands of dollars on may be worth a whole lot less?

It turns out one in 10 cars has a rolled back odometer, according to vehicle history reporting company CARFAX. In fact, the company says Rhode Island has close to 2,000 cars suspected of rolled back odometers on the road right now.

Digital odometers were supposed to make it hard for criminals to tamper with them, but thieves have apparently found a way to hack in. Target 12 Consumer Investigator Susan Hogan discovered several local cars for sale with odometers rolled back; in one case, by as much as 90,000 miles.

We spoke to one Warwick man who was selling a car on Craigslist. He had a 1999 Toyota Solara listed with “162,000” miles, “very good shape… drives great.”

But not so fast.

consumer guide buying used car
Consumer Guide: Buying a Used Car »

The Toyota owner who was advertising his car with 162,000 on it told us he had no idea that the vehicle history report showed it actually had more than 192,000 miles on it. In fact, he tells us when he bought the car in 2012 it had 148,000 miles. He also said he never pulled a vehicle history report.

Target 12 did. Not only is there possible odometer tampering, this car was in a major accident in 2007 and classified as a total loss. That’s a fact this seller says he was never made aware of until we told him.

With the help of vehicle history reporting agency CARFAX, Target 12 did some checking of other cars for sale in our area, and in no time we found two others with potential odometer rollbacks.

We found a 2000 Honda Accord listed for sale with 132,000 miles on it. But when we pulled the CARFAX report it showed the same car had more than 182,000 miles on it in 2009. That’s a difference of 50,000 miles.

In another instance, a Lexus was listed on Craigslist with 146,000 miles, but the CARFAX report showed the mileage at 240,000 in 2013. That’s a 94,000 mile difference.

What does that mean in terms of the value of this car? According to Chris Brasso, a spokesperson for CARFAX , “A car that has 50,000 to 100,000 more mileage on it than you expected it to have, the parts are going to wear prematurely before you expect them to. You’re likely going to be paying more for that car upfront, thinking it has a lot less mileage than it actually does.”

So what can you do when shopping for a used car?

“If you want to see if your car has a potential odometer rollback you can do that absolutely free, go to CARFAX.com/odo and type in your 17 digit VIN and we’ll tell you for free if we identify a potential odometer roll back,” said Brasso.

Rolling back odometers is a felony.

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