Dear Consumer Ed:
I bought an older vehicle that was advertised as having 104,000 miles on it. I later ran a vehicle history report on the car, which showed that the car had over 180,000 miles on it! The dealer claims he didn’t know the mileage was wrong. Can I get my money back?
Consumer Ed says:
You may be describing odometer fraud. If so, depending on the facts and what you are ultimately able to prove, you may have some recourse. Odometer fraud (the disconnection, resetting, or alteration of a vehicle’s odometer with the intent to change the number of miles indicated) is prohibited by both federal and state laws. Under federal law, tampering with or knowingly misrepresenting an odometer mileage reading is a felony offense, and carries penalties of up to three years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine per violation. Additionally, with few exceptions, it is a misdemeanor under Georgia law to knowingly tamper with, disconnect, alter or take similar actions to cause a lower mileage reading than the actual miles that have been driven on the vehicle. Georgia also prohibits selling a vehicle with an odometer that the seller knows has been illegally altered or tampered with.
Both federal and state laws provide for a private right of action, which allows a victim of odometer fraud to file a civil suit, and if successful, receive certain damages and attorney’s fees. If you are interested in filing such a suit, you should consult with a private attorney to determine whether that is an appropriate course of action for you.
It can be difficult to determine whether your vehicle has been the subject of odometer fraud, however, there are a few things you should consider doing when purchasing a vehicle in order to minimize your risk. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that you:
- 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 that the dealership has committed odometer fraud, given the criminal nature of the conduct, you should consider contacting local law enforcement. You can also file a complaint by calling NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236 or by contacting Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Division at consumer.ga.gov or 404-651-8600. Additionally, you may want to consult with a private attorney.
Submit your own question to Consumer Ed. Remember…we do not give legal advice. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.