One of the key pieces of information to consider when buying a used car is the mileage. The mileage tells you how much wear and tear has been put on the vehicle, whether the car has been driven more than average, and how much life is possibly left in the car. Shady sellers know this and often roll back the odometer to trick buyers into thinking the car has fewer miles on it than it actually does. Another trick sellers use is to replace the odometer with one showing fewer miles. Both of these practices are illegal under federal law. In fact, sellers are required to provide a written disclosure to the buyer if the mileage indicated on the odometer is incorrect. However, when the car in question is 10 years old or older, it is exempt from the written disclosure requirement. This means that when buying an older used car, buyers must be extremely cautious.
The Federal Odometer Tampering Law
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal odometer law prohibits the disconnection, resetting, or alteration of a motor vehicle's odometer with intent to change the number of miles indicated thereon. This law applies to a vehicle of any age, no matter who is selling it. This law also requires the seller to write the mileage indicated on the odometer on the vehicle’s title when ownership is transferred. If the seller knows this number to be inaccurate, he is also required to provide a written disclosure of this fact. If the vehicle is 10 years old or older, however, the seller can simply note that no disclosure is required or write “exempt” in the space for where the odometer disclosure is made. Even if the vehicle is considered “exempt,” if the seller does not write “exempt” and makes a mileage disclosure on the odometer disclosure form, this statement must be accurate or it’s a violation of the Odometer Law, as well as a violation of that state’s deceptive trade practices act, and possibly fraud. Since the vehicle may have had multiple prior owners, the seller may not know the mileage history of the vehicle being considered, and thus can truthfully state that the odometer reading is actual mileage to the best of his or her knowledge, a savvy buyer will look for signs that the odometer has been changed.
Buyer Beware With Used Cars
When buying an older used car, your best bet is to have the car inspected to determine the actual condition rather than relying on the mileage to tell you anything about it. You can also look the car over for dated inspection stickers, conduct a search on the vehicle’s title, and check with the manufacturer for the mileage when any recall work was done on the vehicle. However, if you later discover that the used car you bought has an incorrect odometer reading, there will be little you can do about it, so do your research before buying that bargain used car! Remember, CarFax reports sometimes fail to advise of prior accidents, floods or other problems. They are not foolproof and are no substitutions for and inspection by a mechanic of your choice and a body shop to tell you if there is any prior accident damage.