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Web extra: Colorado sees spike in cars with tampered odometers

Posted at 6:14 PM, Nov 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-17 20:14:30-05

COLORADO — Rolling back an odometer is illegal, but it can be hard to detect if buyers don't do their research.

The National Highway Traffic Safely Administration estimates more than 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with tampered odometer readings.

"This crime costs American car buyers more than $1 billion annually," the NHTSA says on its web site. "We want consumers to know how to spot odometer fraud, how to protect against it, and who to contact if you think you're a victim of this illegal behavior."

Odometer fraud laws:

Tampering with, disabling or destroying a car's odometer is a crime that can carry prison time. Federal law requires written disclosure of an odometer's mileage on the title when the ownership of a vehicle is transferred.

"If the odometer mileage is incorrect, the law requires a statement to that effect be furnished on the title to the buyer," the NHTSA said. "However, vehicles 10 years old and older are exempt from written disclosure requirements."

This disclosure exemption kept Chloe Chace in the dark about a 2000 Ford Ranger Truck she purchased in July.

She told KOAA 5 that she discovered her truck was flagged for having a mileage discrepancy after she started having issues with it and read the Carfax report.

Odometer fraud doesn't just impact odometers in older model cars:

Digital odometers that have been tampered with or rolled back are even harder to detect when compared to traditional mechanical odometers. News 5 found equipment available for purchase that can alter a car's odometer reading. KOAA 5 has made the editorial decision not to disclose where those items can be found.

"A vehicle's condition and detailed history report are the best clues a buyer has for determining whether 'clocking' has occurred," the NHTSA said.

Statewide statistics:

2017: 28,600 cars in Colorado identified with odometer discrepancies

2018: 30,600 cars in Colorado identified with odometer discrepancies

2019 (YTD): 34,400 cars in Colorado identified with odometer discrepancies

Source: Carfax

Tips from the NHTSA on how to protect yourself against odometer fraud:

-Ask to see the title and compare the mileage on it with the vehicle's odometer. Be sure to examine the title closely if the mileage notation seems obscured or is not easy to read.

-Compare the mileage on the odometer with the mileage indicated on the vehicle's maintenance or inspection records. Also, search for oil change and maintenance stickers on windows or door frames, in the glove box or under the hood.

-Check that the numbers on the odometer gauge are aligned correctly. If they're crooked, contain gaps or jiggle when you bang on the dash with your hand, walk away from the purchase.

-Examine the tires. If the odometer on your car shows 20,000 or less, it should have the original tires.

-Look at the wear and tear on the vehicle-especially the gas, brake and clutch pedals-to be sure it seems consistent with and appropriate for the number of miles displayed on the odometer.

-Request a vehicle history report to check for odometer discrepancies in the vehicle's history. If the seller does not have a vehicle history report, use the car's VIN to order a vehicle history report online.

-If you suspect fraud, contact your State's enforcement agency (Colorado DMV, District Attorney's Office, or Colorado Attorney General's Office).

Colorado lemon laws:

Lemon laws only apply to new vehicles in Colorado.