KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- You might think those little mileage numbers on your car’s dashboard are correct, but a national car-tracking company says you could be the victim of a scam.
Six thousand: That’s the number of cars in the Kansas City metro that Carfax estimated have rolled back odometers.
“This is a huge problem, not only in the Kansas City area, but nationwide,” said Chris Basso, a Carfax spokesman.
Basso said it takes abut a minute to roll back a digital odometer. He even showed us, rolling back a truck’s odometer from 230,000 miles to 130,000. The lower reading increased the truck’s value by more than $4,000, he said.
“Those digital odometers that we think make odometer fraud a thing of the past can actually be easier to roll back,” Basso said.
In fact, you can buy the rollback device online and even watch a YouTube video on how to use it.
But keep in mind it’s a felony to roll back an odometer.
Consumer attorney Bernard Brown said odometer rollbacks are on old scam that had their heyday more than 30 years ago -- when most used cars on the market had rolled back odometers.
“It was absolutely rampant," Brown said.
As a young attorney in 1983, Brown said even he fell victim to an odometer rollback. It happened when he bought a used Honda Accord with 48,000 miles from a Kansas City dealership.
“They were slow in getting the title to me, and I started getting suspicious,” he said.
He tracked down one of the previous owners who confirmed his fears: The car had 90,000 miles when she sold it.
“The dealer had rolled it back,” Brown said.
Odometer rollbacks were such a problem that in 1989 a federal law was passed requiring a car’s mileage to be included on the title.
“Once there was a paper trail, that made it very risky,” Brown said, noting the number of rollbacks decreased dramatically.
But there are, even today, still criminals willing to take the risk. Carfax estimated that nationwide there are more than a million cars on the road with rolled back odometers.
So how do you protect yourself?
Before you buy a used car, check the car’s last recorded odometer reading on a site like Carfax. You can do that for free. Plus, take the car to a body shop to have it independently inspected. A professional car expert should be able to spot anything suspicious, including the odometer reading.
“When you talk to a dealer that will help you get your car independently inspected, that's a dealer you want to buy a car from, and that's the car you want to buy,” Brown said.