You used to be able to turn an old analogue odometer back with a screwdriver and a bit of sweat. These days digital instrumentation has led to an explosion in dodgy software to do everything from turn your mileage back to actually taking over control of someone’s car. Such is progress.
The number of cars in the UK that are suspected of having their mileages lowered has risen by 25 per cent just since 2014, which is a major issue when you consider that wiping out say 60,000 miles off the clock adds about £2,000 to £4,000 to the car’s value.
For example, let’s take a 2015 Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost. With 50,000 miles showing on the dial the car is worth about £2,700 more than if the real mileage was double that.
While dodgy traders are certainly guilty in some instances, the increase in PCP and PCH finance deals has led to owners pushing demand. Barry Shorto, from Cap HPI, reckons the strict mileage limits on these contracts means some owners will not want to pay the high charges for each mile over the limit.
He says: ‘This has led some to turn to mileage correction firms that offer to dial back the odometer to dodge the financial penalties.’
Oddly, it’s not illegal to turn back a car’s odometer, although it is illegal to alter the car’s odometer and then sell it on without mentioning that fact. The RAC says of this situation: “It’s absolutely ludicrous that shady operators are able to advertise their services, putting motorists at risk of buying a car with a tampered mileage, disguising its true history and likely level of wear and tear.”
The digital systems of new cars mean you can often just plug a laptop in and make the changes. Even more bizarre, companies advertise online that they will come to you and change your car’s mileage, for a cost of only about £100. Given that doing well over your mileage agreed in your PCP deal can cost you £1,500 over three years, some will be tempted.
Naturally all this has safety implications if you think the car you’ve bought has done less miles than it really has. Everything from brake pads to timing belts will be past their scheduled life and you’ll be unaware.
This is a ridiculous situation and the motor industry is putting pressure on the government to tighten up legislation but, in the meantime, what can you do to protect yourself?
When buying a used car properly check the paperwork so there are no major gaps in the paper trail. Do the mileages look realistic year on year or is there a sudden absence of miles going on one year? If you go to: gov.uk/check-mot-history-vehicle you can see previous MoTs, even if you don’t have the paper version. If in doubt, walk away.
Even though cars are well-built now, you’ll still see signs like stone chips in the bonnet or a worn driver’s seat that indicate high mileage, higher than what is on the clock.
If there’s a particular model you’re interested in try and drive at least a couple of examples to get a feel. Higher-mileage cars will feel sloppier in everything from gearbox to brakes and suspension. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid to walk away.
And if you do decide to buy a car, and you’re happy with the mileage, make sure when you pick it up that it still has the same number showing. It’s not unknown for a trader to put the proper mileage back after you’ve paid for it but before you pick it up – that way they can’t be accused of anything.