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Old 4th February 2013, 17:54   #1
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Default How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

Odometer Fraud & How to Identify it!

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Tampered Digital Odometer? (Is it possible to tamper digital odometer ?)

Background:

I wanted to share this with everyone after a meeting with a friend of mine over the weekend.

Today’s cars give prospective owners the misguided belief that we can’t be subject to the oldest trick in the automobile fraud book: Odometer Fraud.

The Odometer is the single largest factor in determining whether to buy a used vehicle or not. In all honesty, this was probably why manufacturers decided to switch from mechanical to digital odometers, in the hope that it would cut out odometer fraud. But my discussion this weekend was an eye opener in realizing this isn't the case.

My friend works at one of the Toyota dealerships in Chennai. What we saw and discussed shattered all my impressions on digital being equal to secure. Sure, this may not surprise anyone, but the sad truth is that odometer correction software is now easily available on the net, thus making it easier than ever to tamper with your odometer, and even harder to detect than it was in the days of mechanical odometer tampering.

He showed me a '09 Toyota Fortuner which, according to its odometer, had clocked a mere 16,200 km. “What’s so unbelievable about that?” you may ask. What was unbelievable was that:

a) It was a taxi.

b) Thus, there is no way in hell any taxi company would run that vehicle for just 16,200 kms in 3 years!

c) He (the friend) showed me the records for the scheduled 80,000 km service. They had recommended service updates at that point, which the previous owners had declined, saying they were going to sell the car. So, there was no point in investing. All they did was get the car washed, waxed and tuned. Not a single new component was added nor was a single old component replaced during the last visit.

Some poor sod had seen the ad for the vehicle, fell for it hook, line and sinker and bought the car. Didn’t do his homework, so never insisted on seeing service records. The guy bought it for 16 lacs. He’d brought it into the dealership where my friend works after taking delivery for some upgrades of his own. That's when this sordid mess came to light.

The new owner is considering police and legal action against the previous company, but let’s face it, he’s not exactly going to see justice anytime soon, and his 16 lac bill is only going to keep increasing once you bring the cops and lawyers into the picture.

So, what is Odometer Fraud?

Odometer fraud happens when someone resets or alters a vehicle’s odometer or documentation, so as to show less than the vehicle's actual mileage. The odometer is the number one way to know how much use the car has seen, and also helps indicate the vehicle's condition and impending necessary repairs. As any mechanic will tell you, there are certain things that need to be checked, changed or repaired every 10,000+ km.

If the vehicle’s odometer has been tampered with, it may not receive the servicing it actually needs, putting the new owner at risk of additional damage and unnecessary repair costs. It’s the car version of asking a woman her age: You ask for her age and she replies by reducing anywhere between 12 months to 8 years off the actual year . The only difference is that, in this case, it's no joke.

How to keep an eye out?
  • Compare the kms on the odometer with the kms on the vehicle’s maintenance and inspection records. Also, look for maintenance stickers, usually found on windows, door frames, glove box or under the hood. These always include servicing intervals and the km count.
  • If you’re looking at a mechanical odometer and not a digital one, check that the numbers on the odometer gauge are correctly aligned. If they’re crooked, have gaps or wobble when you hit the dash with your hand, there is possibility of tampering.
  • If the vehicle seems to have a shockingly low mileage despite being old, you should be suspicious, unless the owner has a valid reason.
  • Examine the tyres. Tyres last anywhere upwards of 25,000 km, so if the odometer shows 30,000 km or less, it should still have the original tyres. If they don’t, be skeptical and ask questions. This is your hard earned money after all!
  • Look at the wear and tear on the vehicle. Pay careful attention to the accelerator, brake, clutch pedal and rugs; the amount of wear should correspond with the odo reading.
  • Have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle. He will be able to tell if the wear and tear is consistent with the mileage.
  • The previous owner. Identify what line of work the previous owner is in. A sales guy would be covering a lot of kms. A doctor may not. My ex-CEO covered over 40,000 kms in his Honda Accord in a 2 year span, most of which was used up in driving to and from the airport – Fact!

Last but not the least: Trust your instincts. If it feels too good to be true, it probably is.

Last edited by GTO : 5th February 2013 at 13:14. Reason: Adding image
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Old 5th February 2013, 13:08   #2
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Default Re: How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

The crooks keep improvising and their under-clocking techniques are impossible to detect.

Common sense and due diligence helps though. When I came across my '07 Civic in the market, it had done only 7,400 kms in 3 years of ownership. How I verified the odo's accuracy:

1. Got details from the owner that the office was 1 - 2 kms away. Primarily used for work <-> office commutes.

2. The car was entirely serviced at the authorised shop. All service records & intervals matched the odometer kms. It was incremental and evenly spread out.

3. The car was wearing its OEM tyres with a manufacturing year of 2007. The tyres showed a minimal of ~7,000 kms of wear.

4. The condition of the car reflected its low mileage. It felt tight, had no rattles and drove like a nearly new Civic. Of course, you must keep in mind that some cars age really slowly. For instance, a well-maintained Innova with 75,000 kms on the clock can pass off as a 35,000 kms example.

5. The car had some PUC certificates and the timestamps / kms tallied with the claimed mileage.

It also helps to call the authorised service center where it was serviced, provide the car number and procure maintenance history. If this Fortuner owner had spent 10 minutes doing that, he wouldn't have ended up burned.

Golden Rule : If anything seems fishy, walk away.

Here's an interesting post:

Quote:
Originally Posted by viper View Post
Yes its a very simple procedure done bu guys who repair meters. Have seen it being done in my presence and no one can make out unless and until the pcb is opened. The difference will be there in the soldering.

What they do is replace the chip that stores the odo reading by another one with the reading desired. This is done by writing a blank chip hooked up to a chip burner and a laptop. They charge about 1500 in Mumbai and takes approx 25-30 mins.

Last edited by GTO : 5th February 2013 at 13:22.
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Old 5th February 2013, 13:59   #3
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Default Re: How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

This is good information!

Can't this happen to even a new car buyer? What stops an authorized dealer to pass off a used test drive vehicle to an unsuspecting buyer after fudging the odo?

Thanks for sharing!
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Old 5th February 2013, 14:31   #4
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Default Re: How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

I test drove the new Alto 800 and noticed that the speedometer is in disconnected condition and the engine warning lamp was continually on. Then one thing is sure, not all cars which dealers take for display and for enticing customers are test drive cars but are cars to be sold to unsuspecting customers. Therefore always the date of arrival at the dealership of particular car selected or shortlisted is to be ensured.
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Old 5th February 2013, 14:41   #5
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Default Re: How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

I didnt read through the whole thread so sorry if i am repeating someone. You can take the vin number and ask the local dealership to see if they have any records...
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Old 5th February 2013, 14:41   #6
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Default Re: How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

Quote:
Originally Posted by GTO View Post
It also helps to call the authorised service center where it was serviced, provide the car number and procure maintenance history. If this Fortuner owner had spent 10 minutes doing that, he wouldn't have ended up burned.

Golden Rule : If anything seems fishy, walk away.

Here's an interesting post:
Thanks Gto. You're spot on.. If people spent more time analysing their purchases before purchasing it in the first place, they'd have a much better chance of catching the con as it happens!

Quote:
Originally Posted by smekad View Post
This is good information!

Can't this happen to even a new car buyer? What stops an authorized dealer to pass off a used test drive vehicle to an unsuspecting buyer after fudging the odo?

Thanks for sharing!
Smekad, my guess is that the OEM's policies is what keeps them in check. That and the fact that pulling a stunt like this on a test drive vehicle could backfire sensationally on them. I doubt the risk of bad publicity is worth the reward of flogging one or two TD cars at new car prices.

But that is a worrying point. I guess getting an inspection from an independent mechanic would be the best way to find out for yourself if your new car is indeed new!

Quote:
Originally Posted by rajeev k View Post
I test drove the new Alto 800 and noticed that the speedometer is in disconnected condition and the engine warning lamp was continually on. Then one thing is sure, not all cars which dealers take for display and for enticing customers are test drive cars but are cars to be sold to unsuspecting customers. Therefore always the date of arrival at the dealership of particular car selected or shortlisted is to be ensured.
Rajeev, how often will dealers give you that info? Usually the most we as consumers can know is the manufacture date. When it arrives at the dealer's lot etc are inputs the dealer won't be willing to share anyway, right?
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Old 5th February 2013, 15:07   #7
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Default Re: How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

I have seen electronic odometers being clocked back first hand and you will not believe how simple a process this is.

In the older Marutis' which were not OBD2 compliant but had digital odometers, the reading was not stored in the vehicles ECU. It was stored in the instrument cluster. So to turn back the meter all that was needed was a small voltage applied across two pins in the clusters connection terminal and hey presto the odometer reading would start decreasing.

With the right tools this can be done on any car even on expensive imported exotics.

Odometer fraud was also one of the biggest reason Maruti started to save all vehicle service records on their severs irrespective of where one got their car serviced.

The only fool proof way to detect odometer fraud is to have a careful look at the service records.
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Old 5th February 2013, 15:14   #8
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Default Re: How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

Quote:
Originally Posted by joey645 View Post
[*]The previous owner. Identify what line of work the previous owner is in. A sales guy would be covering a lot of kms. A doctor may not. My ex-CEO covered over 40,000 kms in his Honda Accord in a 2 year span, most of which was used up in driving to and from the airport – Fact![/list]
Do not believe in any mythical stereotypes. Real life is not black or white and needs attention to detail.

A certain well known dentist in the motorcycling fraternity (Limca records holder and what not) lives 2.5km away from his clinic, and yet trotted out 40,000km per year on his karizma. So much for stereotypes!

There is no substitute to painfully boring due diligence esp of the service records.

PS: I would personally still believe his 2L km done bike would be in better condition (and ready for a 5000km ride) than most college goers' 50k km done bike.
PPS: I don't know if he has sold his karizma - its just a counter example, nothing more than that!

Last edited by phamilyman : 5th February 2013 at 15:16.
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Old 5th February 2013, 15:38   #9
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Default Re: How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

Quote:
Originally Posted by vikram_d View Post
I have seen electronic odometers being clocked back first hand and you will not believe how simple a process this is.

In the older Marutis' which were not OBD2 compliant but had digital odometers, the reading was not stored in the vehicles ECU. It was stored in the instrument cluster. So to turn back the meter all that was needed was a small voltage applied across two pins in the clusters connection terminal and hey presto the odometer reading would start decreasing.

With the right tools this can be done on any car even on expensive imported exotics.

Odometer fraud was also one of the biggest reason Maruti started to save all vehicle service records on their severs irrespective of where one got their car serviced.

The only fool proof way to detect odometer fraud is to have a careful look at the service records.
It really annoys me that there's no guaranteed way to detect fraud. Manufacturers spend tens of millions on researching things like how best to integrate voice commands on their HU but can't be bothered on eliminating something as common place as odo fraud. Ridiculous!

Quote:
Originally Posted by phamilyman View Post
Do not believe in any mythical stereotypes. Real life is not black or white and needs attention to detail.

A certain well known dentist in the motorcycling fraternity (Limca records holder and what not) lives 2.5km away from his clinic, and yet trotted out 40,000km per year on his karizma. So much for stereotypes!

There is no substitute to painfully boring due diligence esp of the service records.

PS: I would personally still believe his 2L km done bike would be in better condition (and ready for a 5000km ride) than most college goers' 50k km done bike.
PPS: I don't know if he has sold his karizma - its just a counter example, nothing more than that!
Phamilyman, I accept your argument. But the kind of exceptions to the rule are just that.. exceptions. How many doctors have the time to go gallavanting? How many sales guys do you know who don't travel odd hours and insane kms?

While stereotyping is, like you said, not the answer in itself, I think it can be used a benchmark to arrive at your own answer.
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Old 5th February 2013, 15:42   #10
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Default Re: How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

Typically, another good indication are the pedals. See if the rubbers on the pedals are worn.

Same for the steering wheel, on some cars the steering wheels starts showing some wear, or starts looking very smooth and polished after prolonged use.

Same for the chair. Especially the driver seat. high mileage tell tales are worn side of the chair, because of the getting in- and out-.


If you have an OBD reader put it on and check. Most ECUs store mileage independently from the odometer!

Jeroen
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Old 5th February 2013, 16:01   #11
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Default Re: How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeroen View Post

If you have an OBD reader put it on and check. Most ECUs store mileage independently from the odometer!

Jeroen
So Odometer and ECU store mileage data independently is it? This is news to me. I always thought Odo meter reflected whatever is present in the ECU memory. If this is the case then we have found a fool proof way to check if the ODO is tampered or not!

Last edited by sagarpadaki : 5th February 2013 at 16:03.
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Old 5th February 2013, 16:07   #12
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Default Re: How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

So, the general tips to detect ODO fraud are :
1. Gut feeling. Educated guess.
2. Service history.

My question: is it legal to ask for the service history of the vehicle from the service center? Isn't that violating some privacy with all this RTI that's flying around?

Alternatively, I can ask the owner to get me a service history but to ensure that they are untampered, is another discussion.
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Old 5th February 2013, 16:10   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sagarpadaki View Post
So Odometer and ECU store mileage data independently is it? This is news to me. I always thought Odo meter reflected whatever is present in the ECU memory. If this is the case then we have found a fool proof way to check if the ODO is tampered or not!
I think it does vary from car to car, but there are plenty of cars around where the odometer reading is stored separetly on a chip in the odometer.

Also, I just realized, I'm entirely sure if mileage is a so called generic code on the standard OBD interface or whether it's manufacturer specific.

Let me see if I can dig up some more.

Came across this link which shows exactly what we are talking about: http://www.ross-tech.com/vcds/tour/EDC-15-Mileage.html

What version of OBD is used in India?

Jeroen

Last edited by Jeroen : 5th February 2013 at 16:15.
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Old 5th February 2013, 16:12   #14
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Default Re: How to detect *Odometer Fraud*

Thanks Joey645 and GTO. That's really a good piece of information. Most of the time we tend to ignore small things like these either due to the excitement of getting our hands on the car as soon as possible or sheer negligence. This definitely helps.
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Old 5th February 2013, 16:24   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mempheS.D View Post
So, the general tips to detect ODO fraud are :
1. Gut feeling. Educated guess.
2. Service history.

My question: is it legal to ask for the service history of the vehicle from the service center? Isn't that violating some privacy with all this RTI that's flying around?

Alternatively, I can ask the owner to get me a service history but to ensure that they are untampered, is another discussion.
The last time I bought a pre worshipped car, I took it in for an inspection to the same garage where the previous owner serviced it, and they gave me copies of all the records as part of the 1000 bucks that was charged for a "road worthiness" inspection (that's what the bill called it!)

So why shouldn't it be anything but legal? You're maintaining records of the vehicle, not the vehicle's owner.
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