Unscrupulous car sellers using a new technique to roll back odometers

A 3 On Your Side Investigation Reveals More Than 36,500 Vehicles Are Affected
Using a small device, Russel plugs it into the port found on all vehicles and resets this...
Using a small device, Russel plugs it into the port found on all vehicles and resets this truck's odometer.(Arizona's Family)
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 6:00 AM PDT|Updated: May. 12, 2022 at 12:13 PM PDT
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Almost 200 million miles are driven on Arizona roads every day. Some fast. And some are a lot slower. Mile after mile, odometers turn over. Or do they?

A 3 On Your Side Investigation found that not all of those miles are showing on vehicles for sale because the miles have been disappearing. “So, this is a nice-looking truck. What year is it? 3 On Your Side’s Gary Harper asked Russel Brown. “It’s a 2008 Chevy Silverado,” Russel replied.

Russel is about to use this pickup to expose some dirty little secrets about used vehicles. And although the practice has been around for years, the methods that scammers are using today are quite different. “It seems like odometer fraud is pretty prevalent. Can you tell me about that? Harper asked. “Oh, it’s fairly easy to do.”

He’s right. Using a small device, Russel plugs it into the port found on all vehicles and resets this truck’s odometer indicating 89,000 miles. You’ll see he rolls it back to just 49,000 miles.” It’s hard to detect sometimes, depending on how much they roll back the odometer,” he said.

3 On Your Side will illustrate more examples in a moment. But first, let’s take a look at some Arizona statistics. Carfax says that the Phoenix metro area ranks 10th in the nation for having rolled back odometers at least 36,500 vehicles driving around with incorrect mileage. Emilie Voss is with Carfax. “What’s even more concerning is the percentage jump that we saw from 2020 to 2021 is that Phoenix had the largest jump compared to any city in the country,” she said.

And Emilie says if you think manipulating mileage only happened in the past, think again. Remember the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? “We get these images of getting into the car and rolling back the old analog odometers,” she said, referring to the movie. But these new electronics are so easy to manipulate, and it could cost the value of a car by thousands of dollars.”

Back to Russell. He’s a legitimate and reputable electronic expert who runs a Valley company that repairs broken gauges like electronic odometers and speedometers. However, he says he’s cautious about returning broken odometers for consumers to the correct mileage using that small device we showed you earlier. “I bought it on Amazon and paid between $300 and $400 for it,” Russel said of the little gadget. But scammers are now buying the same device to defraud unsuspecting used car buyers. Check out the time clock and watch in real-time how 159,000 miles on the odometer are rolled back to only 59,000 miles in just five seconds.

And the machine lets scammers put in any number they want. Russell even jokingly put in almost a million miles to roll the odometer back to 64,996. Russel said, “It obviously adds value to the vehicle. How much depends on the vehicle. A lot of it depends on how much and the vehicle.”

And scammers are also using another method to reduce mileage, particularly on older vehicles. First, they remove the cluster, which is the panel containing all the gauges. Then they go to a junkyard, purchase a cluster from a similar vehicle with fewer miles and install it. “If you install it and it doesn’t match up with what it expects, then the cluster doesn’t work properly. That’s the more recent vehicles. But on older vehicles, that’s not the case.”

So, how do you know if the car you want to buy has the correct mileage? The first step is to take it to a reliable shop like Allen’s Auto, which can detect possible odometer fraud by seeing if the mileage is consistent with the car’s condition. “We’re going to put the car up in the air and inspect it,” Mike McCarty of Allen’s Auto told 3 On Your Side. “We make sure the suspension and exhaust are good. We’re going to scan it with a computer for codes. We’ll look to see if data has been deleted.”

Carfax also has a free tool that will allow you to run a vehicle’s VIN to see if it matches previous records. You can find it at www.carfax.com/odo.

So, before you purchase a new vehicle and hit the road, do your research. The last thing you want is a car that has a lot more wear and tear than you think. Emilie said, “We hear these stories of people who find out too late. It’s important to do your homework upfront and to not feel the pressure in the current used car market to act too quickly.”

For more information on odometer fraud, go to https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/odometer-fraud