Beware, Car Buyers, of Odometer Scams

Consumers should always be encouraged to be mindful of the adage “Buyer beware” — especially when buying a used car.

It’s expected that sellers anxious to get their cars sold may do everything to make it look like you are getting a great deal by getting the car detailed, steam cleaning the engine, and putting on new fresh tires.

It’s often what you don’t see under the hood that can make it a challenge. Even your mechanic can miss the signs when a car has been tampered with, and has had its odometer rolled back.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is warning people in the market for used vehicles to make sure they get what they pay for.

It was previously believed that it wasn't possible to roll back the displayed mileage, but that's no longer the case. Dishonest sellers have figured out how to manipulate the car’s computer systems and roll it back. They then sell the car at an inflated price.

This disturbing practice has become a business with cars bought at auction by unscrupulous sellers who, after rolling back the odometer and spiffing the car up to look good as new, then put them up for sale. Many of these cars are advertised on Craigslist and other online sites.

Devious sellers can go so far as to bring in a couple who claim to be the vehicle’s previous owners to meet potential buyers. This happened to the Yosahira family, who was looking for a safe car for their son to go back and forth to college.

“We found the car on Craigslist and made arrangements to look at it. We called a woman who asked us to meet her and her husband at their apartment building,” family members said. “They were waiting for us on the porch outside the apartment. The car looked really clean and nice and we took it for a short drive. We bought the car and they handed us the pink slip and told us that was all that we needed. But, a few days later after we found the odometer was rolled back and we went back to the apartment, we were told they didn't live there.”

The family learned the car had been bought at an auction and the couple weren’t the owners of the car. They learned the car’s true odometer reading was over 200,000 miles. The car has been in the repair shop several times since the purchase, which turned out to be a very bad deal.

They later noticed the obvious signs of wear: the metal under the rubber on the gas and break pedals was starting to show, and when they removed the brand new steering wheel cover, the actual material on the steering wheel was very tattered. Needless to say, the couple who posed as the sellers were long gone.

Besides paying too much, victims also may encounter unexpected repairs and receive inaccurate car titles. The car title may still show the name of the car owner before it was auctioned and may not be registered under the name of the person who last purchased it in order to hide their tracks.

In this case, a victim failed to ask for a bill of sale or to compare the name on the pink slip with the name of the couple who claimed to be the car owners.

The District Attorney’s Office says there are safety risks, too. Buyers may not realize that the vehicle may need much more maintenance.

Buyers should:

— Compare the mileage to the title, vehicle history reports and maintenance records.

— Request the seller to explicitly warranty the mileage

— Ask the dealership to run a mileage diagnostic test.

If you have been a victim of an odometer scam, contact your local law enforcement agency and the DMV. To learn about other frauds, visit http://da.lacounty.gov/community/fraud-alerts.

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