It’s a trick used to make any old car appear less used: winding back the odometer.
Although it is relatively easy to do on older cars with manual odometers, tampering with newer, digital odometers is also possible.
That is just what NSW Fair Trading and police were investigating when they recently raided seven Sydney car dealerships and repair shops – all suspected of illegally tampering digital odometers.
Of the seven premises, four are licenced dealerships and three are licenced repair shops.
One dealership had its licence suspended on the spot by Fair Trading NSW officers as soon as the company director arrived at the premises. The other three were issued notices requiring them to “show cause” as to why disciplinary action should be taken against them. The businesses have been permitted to operate in the meantime.
So far, 100 car buyers have been identified as having purchased tampered cars, although Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe believes many more cars and buyers are affected. All of the vehicles in question are imported, Japanese used cars.
It is alleged that the businesses digitally altered the odometers themselves, although one dealer contends the tampering was done in Japan, before the cars arrived in Australia.
Fair Trading will examine de-registration certificates from Japan, comparing the odometer readings in those certificates with the readings recorded at the car yards.
Mr Stowe expects a number of charges to be laid, including odometer tampering and misleading advertising.
“For consumers, odometer readings are an important way of determining the value of a motor vehicle…So when odometers are wound back clearly it’s misleading consumers about the wear and tear of that vehicle, so it’s a very serious offence.”
The raids come after two years of joint investigation by the NSW Police Force and Department of Fair Trading.
Police indicated that more businesses are to be raided.
Tampering with Odometers
Section 52 of the Motor Dealers and Repairs Act 2013 (NSW) makes it an offence to alter the reading on an odometer, remove or replace the odometer, or render it inoperative or inaccurate.
It is a criminal law offence which comes with a maximum fine of $22,000. An offender can also be ordered to pay the difference between the unaltered and altered value.
Selling a car which you know has an altered odometer can also constitute fraud.
Under section 192E of the NSW Crimes Act 1900, a person is guilty of fraud if they deceptively and dishonestly obtain a financial advantage, including money or property, or if they cause another person to suffer a financial disadvantage.
The maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment.
There are also penalties under consumer law for knowingly making false and misleading representations.
Last year, one family dealership in NSW was ordered to pay over $47,000 in fines, compensation to purchasers and court costs, when it was found to have wound back the odometers of at least 15 cars.
The Motor Traders Association is lobbying the state government to put odometer readings on registration records, to further discourage tampering.
The lesson is: don’t just rely on odometer readings – if a car looks a lot more used than the odometer indicates, it may well be.