In the bad old days, dodgy dealers might screwdriver open the plastic shield and manually wind back the odometer, thus giving the impression that a car had done fewer miles than it really had. However, even in our day of technological prowess this process still occurs but in new and more high-tech ways. It is estimated that ‘clocking’ is actually costing UK drivers in excess of £800 million per annum! Incidences of clocking have actually increased by nearly 25% in the past few years. It is therefore necessary for you to have your wits about you – here are some ways that might help you become more aware of this whole deceitful area.

1. Is It Just Dealers?

It is not just small-time, ‘Only Fools & Horses’ style dealers who might try such a trick in order to boost the sales price of second-hand cars. No, it can also be regular Joes; those who might be on some kind of contract, possibly leasing the car. With the possibility of hacking into the car’s main computer system regular people are no less likely to be tempted to engage in this activity, meaning that dealers are just as likely to be the victims as the perpetrators, these days.

2. How Is It Done?

These days, perpetrators of this fraud can use black market systems which are able to hack the CPU (Central Processing Unit) of a vehicle. A bogus read-out can then be achieved; even a car’s alert and prevention devices can be overridden. It is true that snapshots are taken each time there is a problem with a particular computer module in your car, eg. ABS, airbags. It is possible to override all of these in order to ensure that the total mileage all adds up, overall.

3. What’s The Big Deal?

Aside from the fact that you are probably getting ripped off in terms of the sales price, there is also the regular servicing and awareness about how old the various component parts in your car actually are. Oil changes, brakes and many other checks are usually based on mileage, so if the mileage is totally out then you are going to be getting things checked and possibly replaced at the wrong time; it could even be hazardous or life-threatening, depending on the specific parts that haven’t been checked/replaced. It could even be the case that your faulty, tampered with CPU means that your data will not be able to be admitted as evidence, if you’re involved in a road traffic accident which ends up in court.

4. How Can I Know?

  • Service history: check it and ensure that any inconsistencies, eg. 15,000 miles for consecutive years but then a mere 2,000 miles in one year. There could be a reasonable explanation… or not.
  • MOT log: it is possible to phone a garage which previously carried out an MOT and double-check that their records match up. You don’t necessarily need to check every single one but it could set your mind at rest.
  • Inspection: if a car is claiming to be fairly new but has a high number of stone chippings around its base and a sagging driver’s seat from hundreds of trips, then be aware – all may not be as is claimed.
  • Electrics check: If possible, either run an electrics check or have someone run one – if there are recurring errors and glitches it could be a sign that someone’s been tampering with the odometer read-out. Cars are composed of a range of onboard modules, so meddling with one can affect the others.
  • Do your homework; test drive a few other cars of the same make and approximately the same mileage. If you sense a loose gearbox, bouncy suspension, worn brakes, be suspicious. It’s unlikely, for instance, that this is a nearly new car but one that’s considerably older.
  • Mileage: If you think you find some sort of discrepancy in the mileage when scrutinizing the paperwork, ask the seller and see how they react. They might have a very good explanation backed up with evidence, or they might become defensive and even a little hostile. People who have nothing to hide will generally fall into the former rather than latter camp.
  • A vehicle history check: It is a cheap and useful indicator as to the history of a vehicle, assuming it’s more than three years old (no MOTs or services are mandatory before that point), although you’d be best served by paying for car checks that access the free history MOT database or Cap HPI in order to glean the maximum amount of information available.
  • Ensure you mentally or photographically record the mileage on the dashboard before signing on the dotted line. It’s not impossible for an unscrupulous dealer to alter the mileage after you’ve agreed the sale and are waiting to pick it up.
  • If you discover you’ve purchased a ‘clocked’ car, don’t panic. Under the Fraud Act of 2006 you’re legally entitled to a full refund. The Trading Standards office can guide you in this instance, and you may want to contact the police. If you don’t do this you may become, wittingly or unwittingly, a suspect in any future investigation about fraud. You may be exonerated in the end, but who wants the hassle!

5. What Should I Do Next?

You could consider purchasing your next car via some sort of car purchasing programme in which only approved-used cars are advertised. Such dealers are guaranteed to have signed up to this scheme; their cars are typically not more than half a dozen years old and all have fewer than 100,000 miles on the clock. Genuine manufacturer parts are used when repairs are necessary and a one-month exchange guarantee is in place, to allow you to change your mind if anything doesn’t feel quite right, even after driving around in it for that length of time.

6. What Should I Do If I’ve Bought A Clocked Car?

If you’ve unfortunately discovered that the paperwork is dodgy or there are discrepancies discovered when it’s too late and you’ve driven your vehicle away from the forecourt, go straight back to the place from where you bought it. It may be that the dealer will come up with some sort of excuse and be all too willing to give you your money back, assuming of course that you didn’t have a guarantee, or that it falls outside of it. If this fails, Trading Standards is your next port of call. If this doesn’t yield you the required response, you should seek legal advice and visit a solicitor. Through a ‘small claims court’ you may be able to get your money back, or even seize assets from the dodgy dealer if he fails to deliver

Unfortunately, if you haven’t done your homework beforehand and have signed the paperwork and driven off, the ball is very much in your court. The burden of proof will lie with you and you’ll have to sacrifice valuable time and money in order to get as much justice as will satisfy you. As a final thought, you can google a dealer’s name and see if anything comes up on any online forum. Ultimately, buying a second-hand car always comes with some risk; there are ways in which you can minimise this but you can’t eliminate it.